Grown-up digital media: less stereotypes, more collaboration

Digital media has grown up. “It’s technical, aesthetic and social all at the same time”, says Karen Cham, Director of Digital Media at Kingston University. This insight led her to develop a unique postgraduate programme that brings together students to collaborate from across three faculties – science, engineering and computing; art, design and architecture; and arts and humanities.

Around 28 students come to the ‘micro studio’ from four separate Masters courses – MA Game Development Design, MSc Game Programming, MA Computer Animation and MSc User Experience Design. The aim is for students to work collaboratively on digital projects, reflecting the needs of the industry and addressing the skills gap in professional production and team working (as identified in a 2006 Skillset report).

At first, Karen acts as ‘project manager’ forming workable teams by looking at students’ applications, previous experience and their skills. As she doesn’t know them individually at this stage, it’s a pragmatic rather than intuitive process. “It works very much in the same way you might choose the seating arrangement for a dinner party – who would have the best conversations?”

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Tork Shaw MA Games Final Project (2010-2011) – Game Play Flow for UX Designers


In a University, none of these students would traditionally come together – they are based on different campuses and as a result, are taught to value different qualities. But the projects thrive on differences, so the teams’ first task is to do a ‘stereotypes and prejudices’ exercise, where each person makes explicit the assumptions they have about others based on their expertise – e.g. computer programmer = geek, artist = disorganised. Whilst there may be grains of truth in these, the teams need to sit down with each other, find out and overcome them.

The types of projects that come out of the programme are high-level platforms – more than websites or apps – for example, brain computer interface technologies. One project team explored how to increase user engagement using computer vision and created an avatar that appears to know what the player is doing – e.g. laughing or turning their back. The technology gives the impression of being intelligent but it was actually just a database of facial expressions. Karen noted “That sort of vision only comes out of hybridity and collaboration. Digital media is an interdisciplinary topic and we all need each other”.

Digital Media Kingston is recruiting now for January.

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