"In our research association, we really live interdisciplinarity!" says Lea Reis enthusiastically. "This is visible, for example, in our productive, informal exchanges." Reis, a doctoral candidate, is a member of the Bavarian research association ForDigitHealth, which is researching the healthy use of digital technologies and media from a variety of perspectives from 2019 to 2023. She is also the research associates' representative in the network's steering committee—a committee that makes quick decisions on, for example, what the association will spend financial resources on and which conferences it will participate in.
Lea Reis also works as a research associate at the Department of Information Systems and Services at the University of Bamberg. Prof. Dr. Tim Weitzel's department has been focusing on digital health for more than ten years. In the ForDigitHealth research association, he and PD Dr. habil. Christian Maier are leading the sub-project "Is digital stress contagious?"
"If we can actually help manage digital stress, that would be great," says Christian Maier, explaining his motivation. "According to current estimates, the issue affects around five billion people who have access to digital technologies and the Internet, so they are potentially at risk." After all, most people use digital technologies and media like emails, smartphones and Facebook every day, both professionally and privately. While these technologies automate tasks and simplify communication, they also crash, or interfere with notifications during work. This causes digital stress and has an impact on both work performance and well-being.
The ForDigitHealth research association wants to understand the issue holistically and contribute to a healthy approach to digital technologies and media. Tim Weitzel says, "Cross-disciplinary cooperation is necessary so that we can really address the depth and breadth of the topic. There are great opportunities when, for example, information systems and psychology work together. That's enormous fun and also very valuable." Scholars from five disciplines are working together: information systems, psychology, computer science, communication studies and medicine. The association involves 31 researchers from five Bavarian universities, including the University of Bamberg.
Lea Reis cites many examples of why she enjoys working in the research association: Through the cooperation with other departments, she has become familiar with the perspectives, mindsets and research methods of other disciplines. The association involves many researchers at various stages of their academic careers—from doctoral candidates just starting out to long-serving professors.
"The association’s academic staff meet regularly. We talk about our dissertations, challenges and progress," reports Lea Reis. "This helps us to know which issues we are researching in each case. The topics don't overlap, but rather complement each other. And we help each other, for example with literature tips."
Interdisciplinary research in the "Digital Humanities, Social and Human Sciences" research focus area is a strength of the University of Bamberg.
The activities of the research focus area are conducted in five research branches. Research in the Digital Heritage branch aims to develop information technologies specifically for scholars in the humanities.
The Digital Teaching and Learning branch examines how technology can support teaching and learning situations and how it impacts long-term learning, transfer, and inclusion outcomes.
The Cognition and Interaction research branch is concerned with the study of natural and artificial cognitive systems and their interaction.
What is the impact of artificial intelligence on personality, culture, work and everyday life? The AI branch in the Humanities and Social and Human Sciences investigates questions such as these.
Research in the Sociotechnical Systems research branch focuses on how individuals in groups, networks and societies use information and communication technologies, and how these social interactions can be adequately analyzed.
In addition to the many positive aspects, however, she has also learned why interdisciplinary collaboration can be challenging, for example, when developing research methods: "Within one discipline, the participants agreed very quickly on what actually depicts a development. When we met as an interdisciplinary team, there was much more need for conversation and discussion." Researchers had to explain their standpoints to each other and find shared, consistent terms. "It was very helpful that Sabine Toussaint, as managing director, led the meetings, so we were able to develop a uniform association language in the discussion rounds. In addition, everyone involved in the association treats researchers from other disciplines very respectfully."
Even though Lea Reis enjoys academic discussions and debates, she particularly welcomes the fact that the research association doesn't lose sight of its aim: "We seek to produce valuable research findings that the public can easily understand. After all, the association is funded by public money." In total, the Bavarian State Ministry of Science and the Arts provides ForDigitHealth with 3.3 million euros in funding. The office headed by Sabine Toussaint therefore supports the association not only administratively, but also in terms of communication. The office updates the association's website, communicates via Twitter, creates videos and manages the network's own blog—all in order to make the topic of digital health accessible to a broad audience.
The ForDigitHealth research association investigates the causes of digital stress and the best coping strategies.
Funding: €3.3M between 05/2019 and 05/2023 from the Bavarian State Ministry of Science and the Arts
Members: 31 researchers
Qualification Positions: 12 research assistants are in qualification positions in order to complete their doctorate or habilitation in the research association.
Participating Universities: Augsburg University, University of Bamberg, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg