The Project

University media departments across the UK are very good at simulating or replicating industrial environments in some media areas, ie; higher education institutions build replica TV, Radio and Photography studios to simulate the working environments of the media industry; promote employability through technical skills acquisition and foster vocational approaches to the curriculum to produce “work ready graduates”. The same is not true for Interactive Media provision.

This project seeks to investigate the multidimensional issues at stake for replicating industry practice in Interactive Media. We wish to establish a teaching and learning space ‘The Lab’ which will operate in opposition to the current norm. ‘The Lab’ is a formal teaching space with a number of recurring attributes or commonalities across campuses and institutions. The ‘Lab’ as a digital learning facility usually consists of a large room with varying degrees of natural light. Typically, there is a ‘teaching machine’ at the front of the room (which can often be distinct from the student machines either by technical specification, placement or cost) and a projector as a second screen to the ‘teaching machine’ for students to view content from the staff computer. Lab furniture is normally a series of fixed desks with computers facing forward so that the student can see both the projection at the front of the class and their own monitor.

The structure and layout of these spaces leans towards a teaching and student experience, in which the space can start to form or dictate the pedagogy and use. This is addressed in the 2006 JISC report which has been a heavy influence on the development of this paper and the thinking around how space affects pedagogy. The report states:

“Audiovisual cues and changes in furniture layout can assist learners’ navigation around the building, and help them to adjust their behaviour according to the purpose of the space. These represent shifts in attitude that welcome and support all types of learners and promote different ways of learning.”

(JISC 2006 p4).

The project will occupy and adapt an existing space in the Faculty of Arts new I-Block, which used to house the Universities Confucius Institute. Taking the ethos from Maker Spaces and Hack Spaces, the project will implement a number of temporary physical and technological interventions in the space to prototype a new learning landscape in collaboration with students. These include technological interventions such as the use of ipads mirrored to large TV screens for sharing ideas and collaboration, student focused planning spaces with whiteboards and connected technologies to help focus on process rather than outcome and the introduction of plants, proven to increase happiness and productivity in work environment, controllable lighting and color through planters, parasols and soft furnishings; which are recurring themes and objects in creative industries work environments (see previous research).

We pose that traditional lab spaces hinder academic staff in the delivery of appropriate pedagogy, create students who become dependent on one fixed source of knowledge and drive both teaching staff and students towards models of learning and teaching which are not in line with the needs of the creative industries and are detrimental to employability as they focus on only certain modes of production and particular approaches to learning (formal, teacher focused, heavily structured, technical rather than creative skills driven). Furthermore, we argue that lab spaces prevent fostering the combination of the logical reasoning of linear thinking with the creative response from lateral thinking often termed Diagonal Thinking (Skillset 2012). This study will implement an Actor Network Theory approach to studying the experience of students inside an environment which will treat the physical and technological interventions in the learning landscape as having an important agency on the lecturers and students, and thus affect the pedagogy.

We argue that the current spaces, what Jamieson calls a “battery hen” computer laboratory’ (Jamieson et al., 2000) prevent students from creative responses by suppressing collaboration and idea sharing. It is our hypothesis that the current ‘labs’ encourage learning by following the leader (dependent) or ‘that familiar, computer-networked and conventional spaces may re-inscribe hierarchical, teacher-centered approaches’ (Jessop et al., 2012) while a move to a more open space would engage students in more creative (independent) practices, especially kinesthetic learners and those who need to move to think.

We propose to develop a new Interactive Media learning space which we will use on the modules listed above. Using this space for these modules will allow us to draw conclusions on approaches to Interactive Media pedagogy, employability and teaching spaces across a range of focused production areas. We heed the call from Jessop et al. to seek ‘investment in providing teaching spaces which break with the mold, imply new possibilities, and have the capacity to bring about shifts reflective of more participatory, socially constructed and engaging pedagogies,’ (Jessop et al., 2012) While there have been some studies in this area, notably, Temple’s Learning spaces for the 21st century; A review of the literature, 2007 for the Higher Education Academy there have been many calls for further study, Jamieson et al., 2000, Smith Taylor, 2008, Jessop et al., 2012 and Temple, 2008 and the proposed project directly addresses the University’s Learning & Teaching Strategy and the University Student Experience Principles in the following ways:

  • Our proposed project of setting up a ‘vocational teaching space’ is testament to our on-going endeavour to meet the needs of students, professions, industry and the wider community.
  • The project addresses the need for shared responsibility in the classroom, evidenced by our willingness to flatten the traditional hierarchy of the classroom, sit amongst the students, trading ideas and challenges and cooperating with them and each other to deliver the modules listed.
  • This project is based on best professional practice, replicating how industry spaces and standards work, in-turn enhancing student employability.