Digital Literacy: socio-technical futures and arts higher education

Digital Skins. Copyright, Jenny Lee

Digital Skins. Copyright: Jenny Lee

Today, the UK’s higher education (HE) system is operating at a time of significant socio-economic and political flux, and rapid technological change. To add to this complex weave, and affecting arts departments and institutions throughout the country, the value of arts education has been under intense scrutiny at all levels. Hence, our current learning landscape is one that is unsettled, and as such, requires us to devote time to study, reflect and debate educational futures and values. Engagement with, or enabling of, multiple forms of digital literacy is a critical undertaking if those involved with arts and design HE are to have a meaningful, sustained and influential engagement with emerging socio-technical developments.

The potential futures for HE in an arts and design setting are uncertain and undergoing radical and often contested shifts, particularly in relation to our understanding of socio-technical developments and the challenges, or opportunities, that these might provide educators and students. For instance, the near future is likely to bring us access to more and more information, increased machine intelligence and smarter environments, local manufacturing processes, as well as new forms of relationships with robotics and artificial intelligence. Understandably, arts and design pedagogies and university provision are likely to be challenged by these forms of disruption. How our educational goals and practices might evolve in respect to these, and many other emerging socio-technical developments, is something that needs exploration and sustained involvement in order to inform our present and future conceptions of digital literacies.

Will we live in  ‘Digitised Dystopia, or a Techno-Utopia?Copyright: Jenny Lee

Will we live in a ‘Digitised Dystopia, or a Techno-Utopia? Copyright: Jenny Lee

CSM is in an extremely fortunate position to imagine, explore and critique multiple potential futures for higher education. For as well as understanding the broad HE landscape – with its terrain of institutional accountability, benchmarking, quality assurance and other rationalist planning activities – we also have a wealth of insights, critical questions and creative future scenarios generated by our student cohort every year. The exploration of current and possible socio-technical trends, as well as social and cultural values, are at the heart of many students’ research questions. For instance, craft methods and techniques are being used to investigate and communicate present and future ethical questions in a variety of areas such as nanotechnology, augmented reality and digital surveillance. The potential and preferable futures that our students suggest could be a valuable tool to stimulate and provoke thinking around the types of relationships with digital technologies that we may wish to develop.

Arup: The museum of the future 2013: a collaboration between Arup and CSM Narrative Environments.

Immateriality: The future human: critically questions what it means to be human in a technological future. (Jenny Lee. CSM MA Textile Futures.

Neocraft: Humanising the machine: the fate of craft in a digital and technological era.
(Frances Norris. CSM MA Textile Futures.

Gather3D: A creative platform: a critique of a future scenario – small scale, exclusively digital manufacturing. (Pierre Papet. CSM MA Industrial Design.


Critiques 3D printer as a technological divinity. Copyright: Pierre Papet

Critiques 3D printer as a technological divinity. Copyright: Pierre Papet


So, at the same time that we consider present day digital literacies, and what these may be within the context of Central Saint Martins, it is important that we also dedicate ourselves to the exploration of our complex potential socio-technical futures, and how we help to shape, as well as positively respond to them.