Campus - 12.09.2016 - 00:00 

Studying for the world of tomorrow

Societal change and digitalisation do not spare universities, either. Where previously, a lecture given to hundreds of students was sufficient, today’s demands are more for creative exchange. With innovative learning formats and modern premises such as a trading room and, from spring 2017, a Learning Studio, the University of St.Gallen (HSG) intends to offer an education that is fit for the future.

12 September 2016. Acting as a diplomat in role play, programming an app or shooting films – these are teaching events which people would not necessarily assume would be found at a business university like the HSG. Yet this is precisely the aim: "To be able to do justice to the demands of an education that is fit for the future, the HSG intends to use even more unconventional and innovative teaching and learning formats in the future" – this is how Vice-President Lukas Gschwend outlined the future of teaching at the HSG on the occasion of the annual media conference.

Challenges for academic teaching

All in all, the HSG offers its students about 900 courses every semester. However, the millennium generation has been shaped by the electronic communication age. This results in new challenges for academic teaching: how can students be permanently motivated to learn, and how can autonomous learning be supported? How can references to research and practice be integrated in the lecture room? And how can competencies, creative thinking and leadership skills be communicated in an even livelier fashion, and how can interactions between students and faculty be intensified?

Discussion and application instead of teacher-centred teaching

Traditional academic teaching in continental Europe has always been strongly teacher-centred and focused on the communication of knowledge. Interactive and visual elements are only partially used and the communication and application skills often leave something to be desired, said Gschwend. However, today’s students expect more reflection, discussion, feedback from faculty, as well as exercise and case studies, rather than mere learning by rote. Society and employers, too, expect university graduates to have technical competence, but also to be able to conduct a critical analysis, to think in interdisciplinary terms, to be able to apply what they have learnt, to display team spirit and to be open to new developments.

Surviving in the international competition between educational institutions

In order to defend its traditionally strong position in the field of teaching in the international competition between educational institutions, the HSG has already initiated and implemented quite a few things. New infrastructures such as a trading room, an arena-like lecture lecture room and new learning stations for students have been realised. At the annual media conference, Professor Karl Frauendorfer and Assistant Professor Robert Gutsche provided an introduction to the trading room in Tellstrasse 2.

To support the development of innovative forms of learning and to make ideas that have already been implemented more visible, the University also ran a Day of Teaching twice. From morning to evening, the Library Building was a place of exchange about teaching and learning processes. In the past academic year, too, new didactic concepts such as video-supported autonomous learning, an interactive case study and a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about finance management were tried out.

A Learning Studio as a test environment

However, the HSG does not want to leave it at that. In the context of a Teaching Innovation Lab, a team made up of representatives from various fields is intended to develop further formats such as videos, webinars and podcasts for degree courses and, in particular, support faculty members in the introduction of digital forms of teaching such as case studies.

By Spring Semester 2017, a Learning Studio is scheduled to be established in the Teaching Pavilion on the campus. This studio will be equipped with walls that can be written on, partitionable rooms and flexible furniture in order to serve as a test environment for teaching rooms of the future. In particular, this room will be available to faculty members who would like to make use of interactive teaching formats in the classroom.

With all these measures, the University Management also hopes to gain insights with regard to the infrastructural requirements of an extended campus. And it wants to employ innovations in teaching to prepare its students for the world of tomorrow in as optimal a manner as possible.

Campus extension on course

In his introductory address, Cantonal Education Minister Stefan Kölliker presented three milestones that were reached in the past academic year. Firstly, the course set for an extension of the HSG on the Rosenberg and at the Platztor can be further pursued after the conclusion of the test planning stage. The Library Building is earmarked for renovation. To start with, a so-called Learning Center has been planned on the Rosenberg, which should primarily offer learning stations for students. It is planned that its realisation should mainly be assured by private funds from sponsors. The construction projects on the Rosenberg and at the Platztor will be further processed in separate projects, which means that they can be pursued independently of each other. The Cantonal Government is expected to discuss the project definitions in late 2016. This will be followed by the parliamentary processes. The St.Gallen population will be able to vote on the extension in 2018.

Focus on IT

The second milestone for Kölliker is the educational offensive launched by the Cantonal Government in early 2016 in order to counter the shortage of IT specialists in the Canton. Besides projects at academic-stream secondary schools and the St.Gallen University of Applied Sciences, the University of St.Gallen, too, is expected to take a further step in the direction of the digital age. A test commission funded by the St.Gallen-Appenzell Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) is intended to show how a “Focus on IT” could be established at the HSG.

President Thomas Bieger emphasised that digitalisation was fundamentally challenging universities and demonstrated how the HSG should deal with it. From autumn 2017, electives will include programming courses. Digitalisation as a societal phenomenon is also intended to be a subject-matter of courses in contextual studies. From 2018/19, the HSG additionally plans the establishment of a Department of Information Science with three chairs in order to ensure the necessary methodological competence in research. Depending on the results of the IHK’s test commission, which can be expected in late 2016, a major in IT might be launched in 2020.

St.Gallen Medical Master

The third milestone is constituted by the steps in the direction of a medical education for Eastern Switzerland through cooperation between the Universities of St.Gallen and Zurich and the St.Gallen Cantonal Hospital (KSSG). The roadmap provides that the first approx. 40 students of the "St.Gallen cohort" will start their Bachelor’s course in medicine at the University of Zurich as early as Autumn Semester 2017. From 2020, a majority of them will study for a Master’s degree in St.Gallen, which course will lead to a joint degree of the Universities of St.Gallen and Zurich. Decisions as to whether St.Gallen will be granted resources from the Confederation’s start-up funds are expected in early 2017. Both Kölliker and Bieger said that they were convinced that the cooperation model with the University of Zurich and the KSSG was the optimal and feasible project, which would enable the University of St.Gallen to preserve its core identity, and that it was a great opportunity for the HSG since it would provide a link to the scientific growth segment of medicine and health research. President Bieger also underlined that this degree course would make an important contribution to the attractiveness of St.Gallen as a location and that this was the reason why the HSG was strongly committed to it. The HSG would also inject its strong points in the economic, legal and social sciences in the continuing project.

Vision 2025

The fact that the HSG thinks beyond the year 2020 is demonstrated by the adoption of its Vision 2025 by the University's Board of Governors. For this purpose, the Vision 2020 was revised in an intramural, participative process. Three central processes of change in the University’s environment characterise the new vision: demand for education is increasing worldwide, which continues to manifest itself in a growth in student numbers not only at the HSG but in Switzerland as a whole. At the same time, the proportion of government funding for universities is decreasing practically everywhere. In order for the HSG to achieve above-average quality and to remain competitive, funding from private sources will have to increase. As the HSG is a state university, it will thus face an even greater challenge to be among the world's top universities. The University of St.Gallen would therefore have to develop further in order to survive in this global competition among educational institutions and locations, said Bieger. For this reason the Vision 2025 now says: "As a leading business university we set global standards for research and teaching by promoting integrative thought, responsible action and an entrepreneurial spirit of innovation in business and society."

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