Professor Andreas Breiter has been the first chief digital officer of the University of Bremen since April. The professor of applied computer science and director of the Institute for Information Management Bremen GmbH (ifib) is an expert on digital transformation of educational institutes. The 51-year-old is also very familiar with the university structures. Prior to this role, Breiter was the vice president research for nearly five years. Together with the director of finance and administration, the vice president academic, and the service facilities on campus, he is coordinating the university’s entire digitalization process. In this interview, Breiter speaks of the challenges and opportunities that the corona crisis has brought with it and if students can also contribute to the digitalization process.
Mr. Breiter, what are your most pressing tasks at the moment?**
Ensuring that the first digital semester runs as smoothly as possible. This situation is an extreme challenge for all those involved, and we want to offer the highest level of flexibility for them. We are currently concentrating on the expansion of central infrastructure components, such as Stud.IP. The teaching and learning platform is essential for students and teaching staff. The system is quickly overloaded if many people use it at the same time. That is why we are increasing the storage capacities so that students and teaching staff can save and access all documents and learning media there. We are making intense improvements in these areas. At the same time, we have purchased further licenses for the StarLeaf and Zoom video platforms, so that all university seminars and meetings can take place online. Moreover, we are trying to enable online access to various services for students and from offices at home. Due to the increased number of people working digitally, there is a much higher level of data traffic, for which we must continually expand our technology
What exactly does your joint work on campus encompass?**
Such a comprehensive emergency project can only be successful if all involved persons from the university make quick decisions. Thus, I am communicating with the Network Center (ZfN), the Center for Multimedia in Teaching (ZMML), and the Media Office. I do, of course, have regular meetings with the vice president academic, the Administrative Unit for Teaching and Studies, as well the director of finance and administration in his capacity as the administrative head of the university. We talk to each other and provide each other with information when there is an emergency and aim to find quick solutions.
What are the biggest challenges currently?**
Not all digitalization process can run parallel to normal operations. If, for example, new components need to be expanded then we usually need some time to prepare everything in peace and then carry it out. But we do not have time for that at the moment. You can imagine it being like riding a bicycle and changing a tire at the same time The IT service facilities are often providing emergency support and playing the role of the fire brigade. Especially the vice president academic has got his hands full with coordinating the online studies together with the faculties.
Is this crisis also revealing opportunities?**
Naturally, the corona crisis is accelerating the university’s digitalization process. This is good because we have a certain amount of catching up to do. Even if the tempo at the moment es very high and not everything is perfect, this is an opportunity to further develop all of the good aspects.
How is the university paying for all of it?**
In the frame of the corona crisis, Bremen State created an immediate aid program for the universities so that we can develop our digital teaching offers. Around two million euros are available for us. By the way, we are also using the state money to create student jobs. We are happy to receive applications from those who are interested in this digitalization process. The positions are currently being advertised via Stud.IP.
The University Executive Board has charged you with promoting digitalization of the university in the long term. Are students also involved in this process?**
Of course. An intense discussion with students took place in February 2020 at the so-called peer-to-peer consultation in the frame of funding from “Hochschulforum Digitalisierung”. The vice president academic initiated the dialogue. Together with experts from other universities, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and “Hochschulforum Digitalisierung”, teaching staff and students worked on digitalization topics for teaching. The student group that formed and that meets regularly can grow further and could create a “Digital Student Office” in the future. In the long term, I would like to establish an advisory council for the university digitalization process. The council should comprise all status groups: students, staff from the fields of science, technology, and administration, as well as professors.
Read the press release about “Hochschulforum Digitalisierung”