Over the course of the Spring Term Rita Fernandez joined several of her classmates from the MA Innovation Management course to participate in a research assignment as part of My Digital Life, a UAL initiative aimed at interrogating student engagement with digital technologies. The research culminated in a workshop-style event held at Central Saint Martins, where four groups presented to an audience comprised of students, staff and faculty from across the University’s colleges. Rita shares her experience and some of the research insights.
“Tasked with looking into the way students at CSM are, or are not, using digital technologies within the context of art and design practices, our first step was to understand our own personal relationships with digital devices, their related platforms and applications. Asked by Jo Morrison to keep a detailed log of every contact and associated action we have with digital devices for an entire day – much like the one a Kenyan artist described in a recent post – we began to see just how dependent we are on our computers, phones and tablets. The exercise proved to be difficult for most, particularly those who have completely adapted their lives to technology. Considering we begin using our devices from the moment we wake up (when turning off the alarm clock on our phones) until the final review of emails or Facebook before going to sleep, our devices have invaded our lives in a much more pervasive way than many of us had ever stopped to realise.
As students studying innovation, technology has certainly been a recurring driver in the work we are doing on our course, so the chance for us to delve into questions surrounding technology combined with creative practice was opportune.
Following our initial reflection into our personal use of digital devices, we naturally became more aware of devices being used about the college and began observing students, staff and the college’s structure as a whole. Normally unfazed by scenes of digital device use around the school – for example a group of students working together with an additional member participating via video chat – these interactions with technology began to jump out at us as a question waiting to be answered. When paring our previous research with themes that emerged from our individual exercises we were able to shape four research proposals, the outcomes of which can be found on the My Digital Life blog:
Through methods we use on our course like ethnography, semiotics and discourse analysis we began to dig into our research topics. The aim of the project was not to define an opportunity or final outcome, but to highlight some insights that emerged from the process, in the hopes of sparking conversation, debate, and perhaps further research.
The analog versus digital or analog and digital theme emerged as an important one within an arts and design community, with two of the groups choosing to delve into the use of notebooks/sketchbooks and note-taking behaviour in the college. While one group chose to observe a wide-range of different courses across CSM, the second group interviewed students hard at work in the Learning Zone. Both projects yielded similar results, noting that although CSM students are highly digital (owning one or more note-taking capable devices) many still strongly prefer taking notes down on paper.
We grab at the next shiny thing without really knowing what it is going to add or how it will help. There is so much feature redundancy in the items I have. Like Descartes eliminating everything he held to be true and starting with “I think therefore I am”, maybe we need to have a similar experience where we eliminate all technology and start building from the beginning again – “I have a phone with a map therefore I am not lost”.
Kerilyn Tacconi, My Digital Life presenter on thoughts sparked after the event.
The reasons for preferring material notebooks varied, but generally two overarching themes emerged: digital devices are not yet able to replace analogue practices because they lack that personal quality or identification you feel with your notebook. The notebook/sketchbook is seen as an artifact, and the act of taking notes with a pen and paper a reinforcement of our learning that is deeply stemmed to the way we have learnt since childhood. These insights sparked interesting conversation with the workshop audience, as it began to put the future of the notebook into question: If children today are beginning to learn and play on digital devices, will the notebook and (therefore printed books) become obsolete? So inspiring (and shocking) was the thought of analogue note-taking obsolescence, that one attendee wrote an ode to her physical notepad.
With the emergence of multi-organisational and cross-geographical collaboration, digital platforms are becoming more important. Even in the same geographical location students are increasingly using digital devices to enhance collaboration. Tumblr, for example, has become a popular tool used by groups in our MA program. As students at an art and design college the fact that we gravitate to visual platforms like tumblr might not come as a surprise.
I enjoyed the research in how digital tools can support international collaborations because the work I’m doing with my own film organization is now only possible thanks to those digital tools. The research helped me better understand my own process, in addition to discovering new ones I can test.
Marie James, My Digital Life presenter on the personal benefits of the project.
More than a tool to share data, visuals or information, it was found that online platforms are allowing for more inclusion, as being separated geographically no longer needs to be seen as a deterring factor for teamwork. Perhaps the most practical of all the research groups, the four MA:IM students that looked at the use of digital tools in support of collaboration were able to follow a current collaborative project between students at CSM and MIT. The group was able to define a list of ‘best-practices’ when using collaborative tools in order to maintain engagement and motivation in making the experience more human, which was identified as an important need when using collaborative online tools.
In my own research group we chose to delve into the college’s ‘Apple cult’, to understand the levels of need over desire. Every single member of our cohort owns at least one Apple device, and the brand is mentioned in nearly every – if not all – lectures we attend on innovation and product design. For us it was interesting to analyse how CSM as an institution is supporting or enabling the ‘need’ for a Mac and how students perceive this, if they noticed or even cared.
Interestingly, many of the students we interviewed only purchased Mac computers right before coming to CSM, and others even said they feel that they are more of a designer by using one. For a place with a high level of self-expression and individuality, the fact that almost everyone owns the same computer only further illustrates the brand’s pull. We wonder if other brands will be able to capitalise on a ‘counter-culture’ type movement, where early adopters will begin to reject the Apple cult and seek something less widespread.
Overall the My Digital Life workshop was an opportunity for us as students to develop our research practice, whilst considering our own personal use of digital devices. Being provided the space to then communicate and discuss our insights with an audience from across the University was incredibly rewarding. From both our research into the topic and the discussions held at the event it became apparent that with a mix of direct contact and digital collaboration, the use of the correct tools and platforms would only enhance our work.”