The University in the Digital Era

Today our Ministry of Education and Research is hosting its annual Kontaktkonferanse for Rectors and Directors of Norwegian universities and university colleges. I am talking in the international session about technological transformations and their impact on the university. Is the game changing digital revolution for universities finally here?

Volker Hirsch, Venture Partner, Emerge Education, spoke on the topic Data-driven societies and consequences for higher education

Some years ago, there was little doubt in many people’s minds that MOOCS – Massive Open Online Courses – would revolutionize the world of higher education. One commentator in University World News put it like this in 2012: “it is already clear [that] this will be the game changer in higher education worldwide. Right now it is reverberating through the world’s universities like a tectonic shock. The new paradigm, first developed in the […] autumn of 2011 […] at Stanford University alongside Silicon Valley in California, will be as disruptive to conventional delivery in higher education as the internet is proving in terms of disrupting book publishers and newspapers […]”.

The University of Oslo has developed several MOOCS. The course “What works” for instance, has provided a completely new way for reaching out to the students all over the world – with a truly global question: What works in international development? 9 361 people from 149 countries have followed the course so far. A new course starts in February and it is open to everyone.

MOOCS have been a great supplement to our classical courses offered on campus. Nevertheless, we can conclude that the people who thought they would change the world of higher education beyond recognition have been proven wrong, so far. The MOOCS did not kill the university degree, and did not turn out to push higher education away from campuses into the web. What can we learn from this example? A couple of things, at least:

  • The consequences of technological development are hard to predict. 
  • Universities and higher education have proved harder to shake than many believed.
  • The university campus will continue to be important for years to come.

Even though the digital world is smaller than ever, and we cooperate with universities and researchers from all over the world, location and proximity are still vital for collaboration. In Oslo, we are working with the city government, academic institutions and the business sector to develop a campus strategy for the entire city. This can become an extremely important tool to further develop our knowledge economy and strengthen the collaboration between schools, higher education and businesses.

Preparing our students for a digital future

Make no mistake; the digital development has changed research higher education and universities in profound ways. Education for a digital workplace depends on high-quality research in three areas:

  • The education must be based on discipline or context based knowledge. We need to have excellent research in humanities, social sciences or natural sciences to provide an up-to-date education in these areas.
  • The education must prepare students to work with modern, digital technologies – requiring deep digital competence. This must be built on research in computer science, computing, and data science.
  • The education must be based on research-based knowledge on how to teach and how students learn – this requires educational research.

    The University of Oslo is one of few institutions large enough to provide an education based on high-quality research in all these areas.

At the University of Oslo, we are already changing the contents of our education to prepare students for a digital future. Through one of our centers for excellence in education – Center for computing in science education – we are integrating the use of computers, computing and data science into our educational programs across disciplines in science and mathematics. This provides us with a basis to infuse computing and data science into all educations at the university – providing students with future-oriented, research-based knowledge and skills that prepare them for a digital workplace. In addition, we have recently started a new study program in digital economics, which was the most attractive study program in Norway last year.

A new center for teaching and learning (LINK) created at the University of Oslo in the fall 2017 will contribute to the further development of such integrative initiatives.

Eradicating Europe’s digital divides

A significant challenge in Norway, Europe and the world is to ensure that everyone gets the opportunity to participate in the digital revolution. We have therefore proposed a mission for the next EU framework program – through The Guild of research intensive universities - to eradicate the digital divide across Europe. This requires a substantial educational effort across the complete educational spectrum, spanning from schools through universities as well as continuous professional development.

Life Long Learning

Anyhow, the universities are challenged by technological developments and the digitalization. Not at least because we need to facilitate lifelong learning in a time when the pace of change is high. Last week our Minister of Education signalized that one of his major goals for the next years is a reform for lifelong learning, at the yearly conference of NHO (the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise). The leader of Norway's largest union, LO, Hans-Christian Gabrielsen, called for the same initiative. Furthermore, Sustainable Development Goal 4 states that we should work to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. We need to join forces across sectors to meet this challenge. We are well positioned at the University of Oslo, but need to stay alert and secure sufficient investments to be able to offer lifelong learning in the era of digitalization.

A big thank you to Professor Anders Malthe-Sørensen for insightful contributions to this blog.

Publisert 16. jan. 2018 13:22 - Sist endret 17. jan. 2018 11:18
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 Rektorteamet. Foto: © UiO/Anders Lien



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