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Extraordinary year for digital transformation at the ZHAW

The ZHAW is actively accelerating digital transformation. In 2020, it supported COVID-19 projects with about CHF 500,000 in funding and moved over to a digital campus. Thanks to its dedicated community, it is also providing exciting innovations.

January 2020 was the official kick-off for the digitisation initiative of the Zurich universities (DIZH). The Cantonal Council had unanimously decided to support the research and innovation initiative with around CHF 300 million in funding. The first people and projects that contribute significantly to digital transformation at the ZHAW were granted funding. Thirteen outstanding researchers were able to start their work under the DIZH Fellowship programme. Alexander Posth, for example, is developing a “label” for the financial market to help retirement funds, banks and asset managers invest more sustainably. Michael Gemperle is focusing on the use of digital technologies by midwives and gynaecologists.

The “ZHAW digital” strategic initiative found ways to support special projects even during the extraordinary situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Digital Futures Fund support programme, 27 applications were supported with an overall amount of CHF 500,000, which were put to great use during the pandemic by tackling digital transformation inside and outside the ZHAW. Andri Gerber from the Institute of Urban Landscape, for example, developed a video game about the relationship between pandemics and dense urban landscapes. “Digital transformation had a big influence on the ZHAW in the past year. The ZHAW is mastering the challenges of accelerated digitisation with an active community and innovative projects,” says Daniel Baumann, Managing Director of ZHAW digital.

ZHAW moves digital campus to edX

The pandemic may have made clear the added value of digital educational offerings, but the ZHAW has already been working on its “digital campus” plans since 2019. And in October 2020, it became the first university of applied sciences worldwide and the third university in Switzerland to offer courses on edX, an online learning platform where renowned universities and industry-leading companies offer online courses free of charge.

edX is home to 35 million learners who can choose from over 3,000 courses from more than 150 providers worldwide. “The edX collaboration and the courses produced at ZHAW offer an accessible opportunity to study versatile and high-quality courses,” says project leader Minna Koponen from the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. The first two ZHAW courses are offered by the School of Life Sciences and Facility Management and the School of Management and Law, and others are in the pipeline. This means that the ZHAW’s application-oriented teaching and learning content can be made available to a large audience not only in times of crisis.

ZHAW digital: in person and online

ZHAW digital put the ZHAW in the spotlight by bringing high-profile guests to its events. At the beginning of the year, Jürgen Schmidhuber, one of the most renowned researchers in the world in the field of artificial intelligence, was a guest in a panel discussion. In autumn, ZHAW digital could demonstrate that the switch to online events is no obstacle to high-quality discussions when former German Vice-Chancellor Philipp Rösler spoke about the impact of digitisation on the international economy and took questions from the online audience in a panel discussion. “We are helping to shape public discourse on digitisation by providing a stage for influential guest speakers,” says Thilo Stadelmann, Scientific Director of ZHAW digital.

Networking of digital shapers

Exchange and networking are also encouraged between ZHAW staff and students who contribute to digital transformation. For this purpose, ZHAW digital founded the Digital Futures Lab in July, whose online launch was followed by over 200 participants. “This shows how digitisation is ever-present in the minds of ZHAW staff and students”, states Community Manager Aleksandra Gnach. Community members have the opportunity to find partners for interdisciplinary projects and are also included in the selection process for the Digital Futures Fund. In 2021, more extraordinary projects at ZHAW digital will be funded to drive digital transformation at the ZHAW and beyond.

Foto Daniel Baumann

“The ZHAW is mastering the challenges of accelerated digitisation with an active community and innovative projects.”

Daniel Baumann