The new course "Digital Competences @ Parliament" consists of six modules and is a cooperation between the TU Wien, which offers an exclusive program represented by top scientists of the Faculty of Informatics, and the Austrian Parliament. Members of the National Council from all parliamentary clubs will complete six teaching units on topics such as data management and analysis, artificial intelligence, IT security and digital humanism from mid-June to September 2021.
Learning from the best
Prof. Gerti Kappel, Dean of the Faculty of Informatics, summarizes her motivation behind this unique initiative as follows: "As members of a technical university, we are predestined and even obliged to understand the digital transformation of our society as a working mission. The knowledge we gain from our research is passed back to society through our collaboration with members of the parliament. Not with a moralizing undertone, but with an outstretched hand." Digitization is changing the way policymakers make decisions and place issues based on data management and analytics processes, for example. "Digitization requires certain technical competencies and a clear understanding of the interplay and effects of digitization in politics, society and the media. Politicians have long since recognized that technical possibilities enable them to increase both the transparency and quality of their decision-making processes," explains Prof. Christian Huemer, head of the course. "Expanding existing competencies, and filling gaps in knowledge by conveying state of the art findings. That is our claim and mission," Huemer continues. Austria ranks 13th in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2020 (2019: 14th), only slightly above the EU average. Measures to expand competencies and strengthen digital skills in all areas of society, the economy and public administration offer an opportunity to improve this ranking. Parliamentarians are setting a good example by participating in this course. "In a world shaped by technology and digitization, digital know-how is of great importance for political decision-makers. After all, decisions should always be made on the best possible basis. The 'Digital Competencies @ Parliament' training program will make an important contribution here. I am therefore particularly pleased that we are able to offer this course to parliamentarians in cooperation with the TU," says Parliamentary Director Harald Dossi.
Overview of the modules
When starting the course, it is important to understand that informatics is about information processing and not computers. As part of a workshop including a visit to an exhibition, participants learn about various methods of information processing and are able to understand and apply fundamental concepts of informatics. A closer look at the subject matter will enable them to reflect on and recognize the possibilities and limitations of information processing.
- Overview of informatics: The starting module provides an overview of how computer hardware works and shows how computers can be combined to form a network of computer systems. The goal is to provide an overview of basic concepts of (technical) computer science and an understanding of how individual computer systems are combined into networks to realize, for example, the Internet of Things, future power grids (smart grids), or smart cities, which are intended to make our cities more efficient, technologically advanced, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible with their new services.
- Algorithms: COVID-19 has revealed the high dependence on algorithms. After all, smooth supply chains would have been unthinkable without algorithms planning logistics. In recent years, machine learning has also gained importance as a key technology. As a disruptive technology, it holds a large number of opportunities but also risks. Machine learning is changing the labor market and can influence voting behavior.
- Data: The goal is to understand the stages of a data analysis process beginning with the formulation of the question and ending with its use in automated decision making. Knowledge of solid analysis processes helps to ask the right questions and to question the insights gained.
- IT security: Digitalization means that more and more processes and devices are controlled and networked by IT systems. This opens up new security gaps and opportunities for attacks. Especially authorities and politicians are not only theoretical but also practical targets for hacker attacks. The aim of this module is to understand basic concepts of IT security, especially with regard to the motivation and techniques of hackers.
- Digital Economy: The teaching unit deals with the increasing informatization of business life, i.e. the relationships between companies, consumers and public organizations.
- Digital humanism: With the rapid spread of new technologies, society is constantly facing new challenges. Legal, economic and social structures are questioned and challenged by new structures made possible by IT solutions. This course module provides an overview of new challenges that are emerging at the interface of technology and society, and identifies those questions that will need to be answered by policymakers and society in the coming years.