Friday, March 30, 2007


Since events have conspired to keep me from posting for a month, this entry amounts both to breaking radio silence and to 20:20 hindsight; making sense of a number of things and finding patterns where none might exist. Nevertheless, March has been a month of intriguing developments which might offer some clues both as to how the rest of the year will shape up technologically and the directions my own activities will take me. I'll deal with the technology in separate entries. This one is about me. It's no secret that the evolution of the University department in which I do the majority of my paid academic work has created some issues for me. This is largely a simple case of the department moving, over time, away from the areas of expertise for which it hired me, and of my relatively sudden exposure to this disconnect because my involvement in other projects (which to an extent shielded me) drew to a close. This seems to happen to more than a few HE lecturers, and responses vary widely. Some reinvent themselves as 'professional teachers', finding the meaning of their work in teaching and learning expertise. Not a few bury themselves in specialist areas of research or funded activity, building walls to protect them from the vicissitudes of curriculum and educational fashion. A few brave souls get out entirely. Now I'm as yet uncertain as to how my own relationship with teaching will pan out, but a number of things have happened which make me less convinced that getting out entirely is the only way of avoiding the Teaching & Learning or Funded routes, which both seem to me deeply unsatisfying. The first of these was my trip to Karlskrona in February, and I've commented before about how satisfying it was to be exposed to a different kind of establishment and a different attitude to the educational process. It's too easy to get sucked into a dogmatism that says there's only one way of doing things, especially in a large and successful department where a general consensus can become a serious deterrent to debate, at least in the medium term (divergence of opinion can sound like revolutionary talk, and that never makes people popular, especially when the good guys are in control). In short, seeing other good guys running academic courses in different ways shows you the fallacy of the "if you're not with us you're against us" line. The second important event was the second Future of Web Apps conference in London. While the previous year's, inaugural, conference was a heady affair, all possibility and froth, 2007's expanded conference seemed largely grounded in the emerging realities of the web apps business in all its diversity. The consensus seemed to be that, yes, this was a new kind of web, but that some fundamental ground rules were beginning to coalesce. This vindication of our initial enthusiasm around what might have turned out to be another bubble brings with it some sober realities (your crazy half-baked web 2.0 scheme is unlikely to make you a billionaire), but it makes it significantly more likely that there'll still be a web apps ecosystem to talk about in 2 years' time, and less likely that those of us who've been talking up this new (ish) paradigm within design education will be seen as irresponsible lunatics. I even entertain a vague hope of future respectability, though I won't be holding my breath. This month has changed the outlook in a couple of ways. A few weeks ago I was approached to design the theoretical components of a new undergraduate degree in Animation and Animation for Game Design, and while it's not necessarily my area of specialism I'm interested enough in the cultural and technological shifts in art and entertainment over the last century to make this a welcome challenge. I've also been co-opted by the new course in Theatre, Performance and Event to develop their digital practice; a shift in the culture of a department, student cohort, and craft which won't be smooth or easy, but will be interesting. Seen together, these new academic responsibilities look like the beginning of a new vector in my day-to-day teaching work which might just turn out to be something important, though time will tell on exactly what that is. In other news:
  • My guest slot teaching HI and design to Electronic Engineers has drawn to a close for this year (a smaller group this time around, but more cohesive and interesting than before in many ways).
  • The Theatre/Film collaboration project has also just finished, producing 6 intriguing student short films inspired by dead film-makers (I'm looking forward to reviewing them here soon) and putting some of the newer film-making resources at BIAD to use for the first time.
  • I spent a very satisfying day in Canterbury this week as an external examiner revalidating a revised Digital Media programme which adds a dedicated Multimedia specialism (and which may finally begin using the full talents of my friend and sometime-colleague Garrett Lynch in the digital arts/responsive systems area).
  • I think that's enough for now, and some small compensation for not posting sooner. In a few weeks I'm off to Hong Kong for some sightseeing and teaching which will take me up to the end of April. Before then I have some course modules to write, and some thoughts on a few new products to gather together. More, I hope, soon.

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