I.K.-S.: Professor Galazhinskiy, up until now you have been talking about all the opportunities provided by the specifics of the lifestyle of digital nomads that professors and researchers can exploit. But some digital nomads are students!
E.G.: Of course. Many international universities, including leading ones, use distance learning technologies to attract this new audience. They provide people who are constantly connected to the Net and move around with the opportunity to study while living their nomadic life. If the Internet connection is good, there are no obstacles for them to master certain professional skills and competencies, while moving around.
I.K.-S.: What do you think of the potential Tomsk State University has in this regard?
E.G.: We began developing courses for distance education not long ago. However, the results we have now are very encouraging. TSU professors created 12 education resources for the international education platform Coursera. Some of them are on the top list of the most popular courses of the Russian segment. 30,000 people have completed our courses, thus, we can say that there is one more Tomsk State University people can study at, online. Now we need to enter the English segment of Coursera and get oriented towards the audience of global digital nomads.
I.K.-S.: How can new challenges and trends of the digital epoch change the policy of the oldest university in Siberia?
E.G.: They can change it dramatically. For decades, we had a goal to keep the best graduates and the best international and Russian specialists from leaving Tomsk, once they got here. This goal is absolutely unachievable today, because of the level of social mobility young and middle-aged specialists choose as their lifestyle. Digital nomads are not interested in living in the same place for many years, even when this place is not Tomsk, but, for example, San Francisco or London. It is not necessary to position Tomsk as a place for permanent residence and TSU as a place for permanent work. We have to announce from the beginning: our University is a communication hub. We invite you here but we do not expect you to stay for the rest of your life. We have an offer you may consider and stay with us for two or three years to do research and to get skills that you will not be able to master in any other place in the world.
I.K.-S.: Do you think this is the most effective way to attract international students and researchers nowadays?
E.G.: Yes. We have to look all over the world for professionals who might be interested in working at our University. Of course, money is very important too. But it is not the most important thing for such people as, for example, Terry Callaghan. We will always have less money than Cambridge and Stanford. We will never be able tooutbit them for the best specialists. We will just be able to create brand new opportunities for their self-actualisation and to make it interesting for them. To work with such people is harder than just to recruit on the current labor market.
I.K.-S.: Apparently, our education policy must be developed in accordance with this trend. It means we should offer interesting Master’s Degree programmes to attract young people.
E.G.: Of course! 80% of our students now are from other Russian cities and regions. We work on a country scale and, most certainly, can do the same on a global scale too, as many American and European universities do.
I.K.-S.: What particularly can attract international digital nomads – students and professors – at Tomsk State University? Besides their taste for changing places to live and their adventurous nature?
E.G.: Opportunities to study unique objects, phenomena, and processes may be very appealing. First, Siberia itself as a mega-climate “instrument” that influences global climate. They can study it here not only in classrooms, but during expeditions to the Vasyugan Swamp and the University’s mountain station in Aktru.
Our museums, laboratories, and departments have rare collections in mineralogy, botany, zoology, archeology, and ethnography. One can do research on actual Siberian material, which is very rich in information because it was formed on the crossroads of two continents – Europe and Asia. The Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts of the TSU Research Library can offer a wide choice of materials that have never been studied by anyone. Talented students, postgraduates, and PhD students can be involved in big international projects carried out by our physicists, chemists, psychologists, and linguists. And these are just some of the opportunities we can provide our future students.
I.K.-S.: Digital nomads are known for being very particular about the infrastructure they live and work in: spaces with stable and fast Internet, sockets to charge their gadgets, 24-hour co-working zones, and other cozy places with the Internet, where they can work, eat, and have a cup of coffee. Safety is very important for them as well. Can TSU provide with all of that?
E.G.: It will be able to do that in the near future. We realize that if TSU does not turn into an oasis for digital nomads, they will not come here. At least, not on a regular basis. We have begun developing such an infrastructure. There is a 24-hour co-working zone for students at the TSU Research Library. Young city digital nomads seem to be enjoying it a lot! Recently, a new study hall for individual and team work has been opened. We are working on the quality of the Internet not only in the university buildings but in dorms as well. We are improving all our premises in terms of their coziness and opportunities to eat and drink.
A new dormitory we are going to build will certainly be a digital oasis. We pay a lot of attention to the safety issue. We try to provide our employees and guests with security, keeping the policy of openness, which is valued very much by our students from other parts of Russia and from other countries. In general, people in Tomsk are very tolerant of other cultures and nationalities, which is also very helpful.
I.K.-S.: And, finally, one more very important question: in your opinion, what are the most current scientific issues connected with the phenomenon of digital nomadism?
E.G.: I believe, we have to expand the area of research. So far, researchers have not paid enough attention not only to digital nomads, but to an individual of the digital era in general. The main challenge for the latter is to live at times of hybrid ontology of the modern information and network society. Under the term hybrid ontology I include relatedness and world view with no clear boundaries between reality and virtuality. This ambivalence in existence and perception of reality makes individuals dramatically change their identity.
I.K.-S.: It becomes more fragmented and conformist. Some western researchers argue that there is no more such an ideal as integrity. There are different values instead, such as capability of being dynamic and changing in accordance with circumstances, without going digitally schizophrenic, that is, without going into a state when self-identification under the conditions of the hybrid ontology is simply not possible. What are the other issues (in the area of the humanities) of the digital nomadism phenomenon that need to be investigated?
E.G.: There are many such issues. For example, contradiction between the fact that people of the digital society are ready to change the reality (technologically) and the absence of any appropriate ethical standards. Therefore, the generation of digital “demierges” may turn into a generation of digital “frankensteins”. Another example is a gap between rapidly developing new social practices of the digital society and the level of research where social studies and humanities are now.
I.K.-S.: We both know that there are several research teams at TSU, for example, the Department of Digital Humanities and our Department of Social Communication, which have been dealing with various aspects of digital nomadism for several years. Will the topic become one of the leading areas of research for Tomsk State University in general?
E.G.: We came to this idea at the beginning of 2016 and established a new academic entity, which is the Institute of the Human of the Digital Era. It would be strange to follow education policy in accordance with the most current trends of the modern network information and communication society without doing research in this area. The main advantage of the Institute is its transdisciplinary approach to research. There are departments and laboratories of different faculties, specializing in humanities, natural science, and engineering.
I.K.-S.: Professor Galazhinskiy, what would you say to the future participants of the III International Transdisciplinary Web-Conference Connect-Universum-2016, which will have the topic of digital nomadism as the main theme?
E.G.: I wish them interesting presentations, reports, and discussions. I hope this international web-forum will be the first step in a chain of projects on the most current issues of digital nomadism. To those researchers who still think that this topic is not a part of their research area, I propose looking at it from the perspective of two parameters: social mobility and constant connection to the Net. And if they find certain areas for investigation, it will mean that this is their trend and their conference as well!