“Ostrov” as an Attractor for the Digital Future (Part I)
02.09.2019

A large-scale event of a brand new format has been held in Russia for the second year in a row. I am talking about the crash course “Ostrov” organized by University 20.35 and the Agency of Strategic Initiatives. Its basic goal is to change people’s thinking toward embracing the outcomes of the upcoming technological revolution and to develop competencies necessary for meeting its unavoidable challenges.   The first crash course took place on Russky Island at Far Eastern Federal University. Heads and employees of leading Russian companied and start-ups, as well as investors, developers, researchers, analysts, engineers, and talented students and school seniors participated in the event. Over a thousand people from different regions who successfully passed a two-stage test were invited to Ruusky Island. It was the first crash course ever that offered a state-of-the-art teaching AI technologies.


This year the crash course took place in Moscow at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology from 10 to 22 of July. This dates explain the full name of the event, which is “Ostrov 10-22”. Besides University 20.35 and the Agency of Strategic Initiatives, among the organizers were the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the Skolkovo Institute, the Russian Venture Company, and the coordinators of the EdCrunch International Conference. This time, Ostorv gathered 1,500 participants who mostly represented Russian universities. However, there were some experts from state organizations and IT companies. 120 school students came and worked with us as well.

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Our TSU team participated in both crash courses and we can compare our impressions of two different approaches to selecting the participants. Last year, we found ourselves in a multisectoral environment, which helped us to see the issues of the digital era through the eyes of those who work in different industrial and administrative spheres and represent different professional communities. Therefore, we learnt to better understand, for example, our business partners with whom we develop technologies and commercialize them; we also could get a fresh perspective on teaching particular competencies. At the same time, we had fewer opportunities to discuss issues in the educational system that are connected with digitalization. This year, we had such opportunities because the majority of participants represented the educational community, though the intersectoral perspective was missed very much. Another important thing to take into consideration was whether the universities were ready to the discussion. Otherwise, one could face the problem of getting outdated information instead of new skills and knowledge. However, for some people this dated knowledge could be new.

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Everything mentioned above had a huge impact on how satisfied each team would be with its participation in Ostrov 10-22. Our two-year experience proved to us that we are among the leading universities that are ready not only to meet and accept the challengers of digitalization of our economy and society in general, but to propose our own responses to them. It is no coincidence that the same leading universities are participants of the national 5-100 Project. We have been living in this context for more than 5 years by now. And for some universities it is a new theme to discuss and a new challenge to meet.

At Ostrov 10-22, we had to deal with three main tasks. The first was to solve the problem of building collaboration between major Russian universities and the participants of the National Technology Initiative, which is a state program aimed at bringing Russian disruptive technologies and projects to global markets. The second was to find out how universities can influence social and economical development of their regions in the context of global digitalization. The third was to make teams of several regional universities capable of changing the sphere of preparing professionals, who will keep on developing technologies in Russia. It is impossible to teach all staff members but it is possible to train teams that would take responsibility for transferring their skills and knowledge and managing projects aimed at digitalization of their universities. At least, it appeared to be quite realistic, according to the organizers of the crash courses.

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The feedback from the participants of the recent Ostrov event showed that they really had some sort of a digital reboot and became more confident in terms of their ability to open the eyes of their colleagues and to make them see the digital present and future from the professional perspective. We made sure that the direction we had chosen some years ago was right and that we do our best to develop our own digital technologies aimed at training specialists for digital economy and the upcoming Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What was the most outstanding and interesting thing about Ostrov 10-22? I would say, the situation of continuous choice making for each participant. Choice between different strategies, as well as between different worldviews, educational directions, workshops, cases, lectures, and team partners to do tasks with. This constant choice-making situation, according to the organizers, is something that must be part of any university environment in the future (by 2035). It must be a policy-making element. This idea was a pivotal one in the Ostrov’s discussions.

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Despite the help from artificial intelligence, which took into account the results of preliminary tests of each potential participant, making this constant choice was really difficult. Eight faculties worked simultaneously at Ostrov: end-to-end technologies; TNI markets; data-based management; educational technologies; ecosystems and urban studies; technological entrepreneurship and technology transfer; and the practitioner of the future. There was also a humanities faculty, which had a special role since the digital era is an era of not only extraordinary opportunities for people and the society, but also of huge risks. Inside each of the faculties, headed, as expected, by the deans, there were several dozen different substructures - laboratories, workshops, and idea generating clubs.

576 teachers provided all educational, methodological, and project-making processes. As a result, around 370 workshops and nearly fifty lecture sessions were held, which were given by well-known specialists in our country, representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science, rectors of leading universities, heads of state and private IT corporations, as well as foreign “digital” experts. There were many other formats of work, and above all, team project activities and various kinds of intellectual competitions (“marathons of thinking”). All this happened in the Skoltech spaces, which were transformed for specific tasks of particular formats of work and communication.

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The organizers put all their efforts to providing accommodation and food for the participants, as well as to tracking their physical state and other conditions. There were some problems, especially during the first few days. For example, with establishing communication between participants of one hundred universities. That was why not everybody could make it till the end. However, the most participants “survived”. Nobody said it would be easy in the first place. It is called “a crash course” for a reason. Personal achievements depended on motivation and priority making of each participant. The main goal was achieved: not a single person who participated in Ostrov could come back home with their old thinking patterns. It is easy to see that from what they post in their social media pages.

In my next post I will tell you what our Tomsk team did at Ostrov 10-22 and what my personal impressions of the event are.

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02.09.2019
A large-scale event of a brand new format has been held in Russia for the second year in a row.