DRAFT REPORT ON CURRICULA, RESEARCH AND INSTITUTIONS INTERNATIONAL MEETINGS
Across two hemispheres and in three nations, a series of three meetings of the then Leonardo Educators Forum occurred in 2009. Facilitated by Nina Czegledy and utilising an international network she established, the meetings epiphytically occurred in conjunction with ISEA 2009 in Belfast, Ars Electronica and re:live (Media Art Histories) in Melbourne. Three issues provided a focus for group discussion: the Role of Curricula, the Role of Research, and the Role of Institutions.
The curricula focus groups were facilitated by Derek Hales and Barbara Rauch (ISEA); Lynn Hughes and Claudio Rivera-Seguel (Ars Electronica); and Ross Harley and Cat Hope (re:live). Research discussion was facilitated by Tapio Makela and Paul Thomas at ISEA; Monica Bello and Ellen Levy (with Dusan Barok) at Ars Electronica; while Oliver Grau and Melentie Pandelovski led discussion at re:live. Discusion on the Role of Institutions at ISEA was facilitated by Mike Phillips and Ian Clothier; Annette Wolfsberger and Maria Cristina Biazus at ARS Electronica; and Ian Clothier and Atilla Nemes at re:live. This report is the result of their collective input. The diversity is indicative of a strident inclusivity and a determination to allow all voices to be heard on these important issues, which reside at the heart of pedagogical debate today in the context of electronic media practice. Participants from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Turkey, USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand contributed to the meetings.
The Role of Curricula
Curricula is the currency of teaching and learning, involving as it does the day to day working of education processes regardless of language, nationality, urban or rural location, ethnicity, pedagogical foundation or research basis. Initial discussion at ISEA 2009 recognised that all three areas of concern overlap – in daily operation the three are integrated.
A great diversity in models for curricula was recognised, with the modular approach endemic. This tends to be expressed in vertical, disciplinary silos. Constructing a curricula that is lateral / horizontal / transversal is therefore problematic, and probably desirable.
Horizontally aligned curricula can be resourced by interdisciplinarity. This has arisen as the result of faculty from different disciplinary backgrounds being brought together to collaborate on new curricula, which is occurring internationally; student based project activity such as international student collaborations have forced curricula revision; and major / minor (core / elective) based programmes of study are now allowing for increased levels of interdisciplinarity as elective courses.
Caution is advised here, as it was recognised that interdisciplinarity was sometimes aligned with technical skills and the vocational in the drive for increased reportable outcomes and higher student numbers. Providing case studies would form an important part of the jig saw that is the profile of interdisciplinarity, as the sector navigates these issues. Clear documentation of case studies sorted into types would greatly assist the coherent development of policy.
Examples were cited where faculty were sometimes organized into ‘flattened’ de-hierarchized interdisciplinary groupings and groups that self-organized or ‘self- instituted’ in student led autonomy. In addition, individual faculty staff ‘animating’ interdisciplinary contexts from within was reported. Further, ‘open’ autonomous and collaborative approaches operating in the margins were considered worthy of close attention while raising issues of marginalization. Examples of ‘independent’ and autonomous groups and peripatetic practice/ practitioners operating outside of the traditional academy were also given. Together these form a basis for types into which case studies can be sorted, to then be clarified or even discounted following a research period.
The ARS Electronica meeting on curricula brought the subject of Open Source and the FLOSS principle into focus. This could promote equality, and at the same time allow resources to be put into people rather than proprietary software. Often departmental development involves a high level of rhetoric about the role of media in bringing about change, but all that is achieved in the end is a form of facelift. Pockets of resistance to proprietary software are forming, and being aligned to curricula through such resources as flossmanuals.net.
The key contribution of the meeting was to put forward the notion of curriculum solutions that are adaptable to rapid change. In academia this represents a difficult and troublesome front. On the one hand relevance is valued but on the other academic process around qualification change can be arduously slow. Further compounding the issue, some developments in communication media rise to prominence and then slip away, well within the time it would take to establish a course or programme in that area – Second Life is an example. Making curricula adaptable to a changing electronic media environment presents a significant challenge in an era where there is pressure for measurable outcomes and courses are defined for the purpose of being able to measure outcomes.
The systematic collection of educational and related material is clearly needed in order to understand the present and past situations, to build history and resources for curricula that involve non traditional learning materials, a process that has begun in Australia. Exemplars of PhD’s that work are also needed to provide robust education models for the future development of PhD’s internationally. Whilst it seems clear that a ‘good’ PhD would be interdisciplinary, the question of how this is to be achieved cannot be definitively answered.
At the Re:live session on curricula, questions of definitions and naming were raised. Universities globally have been involved the naming of new degree programs, particularly in the area of Media Art. The term ‘media’ has multiple definitions and these change over time. Pressure from Deans and admissions centres to attract students has led to a “crisis” in the naming of Media Arts. Is it suitable nomenclature for teaching and research in 2010?
The term Media Art has multiple meanings, many of which are derivative. Electronic arts sometimes sit inside Contemporary Art programs, which might include design, multimedia and convergent media. The question of definitions and naming are played out in institutional battles over new initiatives and naming rights. This list of derivates includes: media arts, digital media, film and digital media, convergent media, electronic arts, multimedia (claimed by graphics), integrated media and digital futures.
The issue of the fitting the lab teaching model into contemporary teaching, the acquisition of recourses, use of proprietary software (discussed at Ars), and the various teaching practices associated with them were raised as pressing concerns. Many programs are reliant on sessional teachers who are working autonomously.
Some of the pressure placed on those teaching in the electronic media field is based on monetary concerns, in some cases the basis is poor assumption. Universities assume that analog media equates to increased square meterage, coupled with an assumption that digital media means less space and resources. A solution to this issue may be found by integrating traditional arts with new media. Traditional visual arts take up considerable physical space and maintain small classes, while the opposite is often true for digital media arts.
A strong endorsement of the Ars meeting was made regarding open source, with general agreement that our programs should aim at grounding open source, and that a summit of designers, engineers, artists to discuss implementation of Open Source and Open protocols into media arts programs (which often rely on proprietary hard/software) should be organised. There was discussion around the example of David Mellis (from Arduino) — the threat of open source to the university doesn’t always apply, providing some promise. Another example is the previously cited flossmanuals.net.
An ongoing need for forums, e-lists and other networked media resources to continue the present dialogue and discussion, and to work on documents relating to curricula across different regions is viewed as very important to the field.
The role of research
The meeting at ISEA made a series of recommendations in regard to research in the current climate of academic investigation. The electronic and interdisciplinary arts are in a unique position in regard to heritage. The long history of Fine Art constitutes an unbroken and substantial heritage, a foundation on which contemporary practice is based, and a foundation that developed in time sequential order from past to present.
In contrast the electronic and interdisciplinary arts are the position of constructing heritage, by what amounts to retro fitting appropriate context. Robotic art for example, follows a line from creative projects back to the development of machine robots in the twentieth century, through Turing and von Neuman, Babbage and Vaucanson, automata (in Europe, Japan and China), mechanical escapement and water clocks to levered servants of the dead ca.2000BCE in Egypt. The passage from levered servants of the dead to Stelarc is not a single directional line in the sense that the line from the Renaissance to Anselm Keifer is. Traversing this constructed heritage involves moving across the disciplines of electronics, art, information theory, mathematics and mechanical engineering. Clearly the journey also involves a multicultural perspective.
This constructed heritage is being established in the twenty first century era, and several omissions in the knowledge base were discussed. A database of case studies for methodologies and structures needs to be established. A network of reviewers for interdisciplinary projects is needed. International rating systems for academic journals and institutions hosting academic exhibitions are required. Needed also are a literature review of practice based research, case studies and models for interdisciplinary CVs. In a similar way to the first meeting on Curricula, a strong call for field relevant, systematic production and storage of knowledge was made.
ARS Electronica 2009
The meeting on research identified the need for clarity and structure around the terms trans- and inter- and how these are applied to disciplinarity. This would facilitate both fruitful discussion of research issues, and wider discussion as the terms are often used interchangeably without rigor. It was agreed along with the ISEA group that a database of successful Ph.D. programs, and resumés considered successful in a hybrid practice, would be important. It was also thought that having less successful case studies could be valuable. Mapping hybrid practices would be an important task.
The subject of research has long been entwined with ethics, and a recommendation was made to further explore ethics and the creative commons, a contention shared by the Curricula group at Ars. In addition, defining significant research methodologies and then answering additional and somewhat interesting interdisciplinary questions such as “How is research in social science linked to innovation?” would be fruitful areas of activity.
The difficulties in establishing a neutral third space in which scientists and artists could meet were discussed, particularly in the face of resistance in the upper echelons of academic administrations to new collaborative practices, which might superficially distort the relationship between department and research. This can have financial implications, but it would also be resolvable by agreement between departments. In many senses, a cultural shift is required in the thinking and customary practices of academic departments world-wide.
The Re:live group began with a discussion of the issues around practice-led Doctorates. The question of what constitutes a good model for a practice-led PhD is not yet resolved to a consensus view and developing a position is important. Once again a call was made of the need for at least a basic list of places offering practice led research at advanced levels, and the development of peer committees. As with all programme development, the way such doctorates dovetail with Bologna protocols needs to be considered.
The next topic for discussion was the issue of Arts/Science collaboration. This opened a range of topics which were progressed through: the distinction between arts research and humanities research; theoretical research; the documentation tools necessary for the research of new media art; machine learning approaches and machine interlocutors; new media curriculum developments in tertiary and secondary schools; with various institutes mentioned as potential resources in regard to the documentation of media arts and presentation.
The role of institutions
One of the main insights to emerge from the institutions sessions is to consider institutions not solely in terms of buildings. There is much activity intersecting the electronic art education sector that occurs outside of traditional institutions. Three categories of institutions were identified by the group at ISEA. These are degree awarding – (private and public); cultural centres, public arts centres and organisations; and commercial organisations and departments. Divisions within and across institutions were seen to occur in several ways: between departments and institutions; through multi-campus activities (both horizontally and vertically through progression); between individuals and departments across institutions; via cross institutional initiatives; and in cross border activities (collaborative learning, e.g. Australia and China).
A number of external forces are having an impact on institutions and these include government research funding agendas which limit inter/multi/trans-disciplinarity. The necessity to define outputs is also limiting. The politics of the location of centres and departments within particular faculties and the associated funding wrangles are complexities for institutions. There is also a restricted availability of new spaces and issues with future planning in a dynamic media education environment.
It was felt important to clearly articulate categories of institutions, to profile the future student body, define existing disciplinary and transdisciplinary models. A number of institutional models were discussed which explored vertical and horizontal initiatives from school to postgraduate level and beyond to the professional practitioner. Examples of institutional types included: e-culture in Belgium; Fundamental Studies courses in Germany, taught by specialist lecturers driving interdisciplinarity; the Educational Media Centre in Helsinki, which is exploring new fields based on curriculum rather than disciplinarity; and collaborative learning in Madrid where learning involves the institution as the context through which collaboration is facilitated. It was agreed a range of models need to be identified at all levels of education/ research/commerce which might support transdisciplinarity.
ARS Electronica 2009
The ARS Institutions group noted the rising number of institutions with an emphasis on applied courses (high fees, employment outcomes); the pressure for distance learning, (sometimes more about numbers than transformation – less facilities needed, more students enrolled is a common flawed perception) and considered the capacity of higher education institutions to change. Will higher education arts institutions lose their relevance within the next decade? Without flexible adaption, this becomes possible.
Given these are times of transition all kinds of education should be stimulated, including non-institutional models. The evaluation of arts education systems needs to be standardized and should involve examining the conflicts between visual arts and media arts education, in order to learn from the ‘other’. Issues of accessibility should be addressed in such a mapping.
Projects and organisations that might be beneficial to the process of evaluation are networks such as CUMULUS; UNESCO and INSEA (International Network of Society of Educators of Arts); linking with initiatives such as the Mini Summits of Media Arts Policy & Practice or the World Conference on Arts Education in Budapest in 2011; projects like Erasmus within the European Union (which enable students, professors and business staff to study and work abroad each year, and supports co-operation between higher education institutions).
Based on previous discussions, at re:live five main types or models of institutions were able to be profiled: traditional institutions (both public and private, which may have interdisciplinary centres); independent organisations; project or network based activities; cultural centres; and cultural production that occurs within for profit organisations.
Within traditional institutions are interdisciplinary departments such as Symbiotica in Australia and HiTLabNZ in New Zealand. These interdisciplinary departments sometimes take the form of research centres funded by commercial and private interests, as well as being centrally funded. Private universities have private funding but are often structured similarly to government funded institutions, and may receive a combination of state, commercial and private funds. Sabanci University in Turkey is a good example.
Independent organisations have targeted goals, often do not confer qualifications and receive funding from commercial or private interests. Nonetheless they play a role in establishing linkages between traditional institutions and the commercial sector and fulfill an R&D/proof of concept function. The Kitchen Budapest in Hungary operates in this manner.
A large number of networks and project based activity that intersects electronic media education have been reported during sessions. Project or network based activities not mentioned above include Arts Council England mapping project, Domus Academy, Medialab Prado, Sarai in New Delhi and IDC (Trebor Scholz).
Cultural centres include locally funded initiatives (often by town and region councils) which contribute projects without accumulating knowledge. The projects are often short term and time defined. Strategies range from popular education to community education involved in diverse media (from the traditional fine arts at the popular level through to small scale electronics). Examples of cultural production within for profit organisations include the Deutche Telekom Creation Centre Berlin, the Panasonic Japan Eco issues website, NTT Docomo sponsoring ICC and Telefonica.
Actions and recommendations included setting up a networking plan and an organisation if possible; the systematic documentation and study of models; the development of agreed policies followed by a process of publication and dissemination; and the establishment of a global funding register. An important note was to apply awareness of the above from an aspirational context rather than trying to embark on a process of embedding solely within existing structures.