Building Global Bridges With You

“We need both the real world and the virtual one to produce quality work together”

3/2021 EN
  • Interview

Daniel Perrin, Dean of the School of Applied Linguistics and Head of International Affairs, regards the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity for sustainable and new forms of collaboration. He explains how more quality with less quantity can be achieved when it comes to international exchanges.

Daniel Perrin, the coronavirus crisis has had a drastic impact on everyday university life and on international collaboration. What do you worry about and what are you optimistic about or look forward to once the acute phase of the crisis has passed?

Daniel Perrin: We have learned that working from home, digitally connected to others, works well for some and can sometimes make more sense than commuting to an office just to sit in front of the computer all day and send e-mails around the world. I’m now pushing for sustainable, work-from-home solutions even after the crisis is over. The same holds true for international collaboration: not every meeting has to take place in person. That being said, we also need to bear in mind that digital connections on their own are not enough. Human beings have more to exchange with each other than just digitally-mediated visual or acoustic symbols. We need the real world, not just the virtual one, if we are to produce quality work together. In the best case, we will now be able to expand our repertoire of forms of collaboration and understand how and when to best deploy them.

Will international academic exchanges undergo a sustainable boom in digitalisation? If yes, to what extent?

We’re already experiencing a digitalisation boom now. As reflective practitioners in the sense of American philosopher Donald Schön, we should be able to take the best learnings from this, that is to learn in a sustainable way. This includes travelling less but therefore more effectively and using the current largely digitalised academic discourse in a more systematic manner. There’s a reason why researchers have been publishing for centuries. Now that we can easily and quickly access so many publications from all the world, we need practices that allow us to participate in this discourse in the best possible way. This means searching, finding, reading, processing and incorporating all of this into our own work. Luckily for us, thoughts aren’t bound by gravity or distance – and they constitute a major part of academic exchanges.

“Luckily for us, thoughts aren’t bound by gravity or distance – and they constitute a major part of academic exchanges.”

What does internationalisation mean in a digital world?

If we are more mindful when it comes to travelling to other parts of the world – be it for environmental, economical or social reasons – then we will be better able and willing to prepare for these few trips, and follow up on them afterwards. We’ll get more out of them: more quality for less quantity. The catchphrase here is “internationalisation at home”. For example, by participating in simulations of intercultural conversations, you can learn how to cooperate with people and organisations that are rooted in the histories and values of other cultures. Internationalisation can also mean just that: intercultural training with targeted, nowadays often digitalised, teaching materials. This is the direction that we are working in with the international and intercultural teaching modules at the ZHAW.

What has the coronavirus crisis brought sharply into focus?

We must be able to respond to changes such as pandemics nimbly and flexibly, dramatic changes that can alter the situation in large parts of the world almost overnight, either temporarily or permanently.

“Internationalisation can also mean intercultural training with targeted, nowadays often digitalised teaching materials.”

What can the ZHAW learn from this when it comes to its international work?

Plan for flexibility, stay flexible, be open to new solutions, and try to be proactive, not reactive. We can learn such an attitude from crises like the one that we are currently experiencing. It’s especially relevant for our international work, which fortunately at its core is not tied to air miles or exchange agreements.

Read more about collaboration in the era of the coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis in an Impact interview with Daniel Perrin from March 2020 (in German only):