This is Our Playground: Recognising the value of students as innovators

Oonagh Murphy, Northern Ireland , Alan Hook, Northern Ireland

Published paper: This is Our Playground: Recognising the value of students as innovators

‘What we need is a hybrid, a fusion of the critical stance of cultural theory with the constructive attitude of the visual designer. This new media critic that we are imagining wants to make something, but what she wants to make will lead her viewers or readers to reevaluate their formal and cultural assumptions’. - Bolter, J. D. (2004) “Theory and Practice of New Media Studies”

On the 25th April 2012 the University of Ulster hosted a hack day in the Ulster Museum for students on the Interactive Media Arts BA (hons) and Museum Studies MA, this event saw students develop innovative interactive experiences within the context of a traditional museum setting. Students worked in teams with mentors to develop playful ludic interactions which worked with (and sometimes against) the museum's collections and displays.

The interactive experiences that students developed are designed to question the notion of play in the museum, recontextualising the collections and gallery spaces to create new modes for the public to investigate and interrogate the spaces of the museum as an institution and develop new dialogues with the exhibits.

These ‘experiences’ act as a tangible example of how time constrained prototyping can facilitate innovative responses to museum collections and presents a case for museums to develop and implement interactive experiences in a faster and more efficient manner. The Hack Day marked the culmination of ‘This is our Playground’ a semester long collaborative research project which explored interdisciplinary teaching and practice, through a series of workshops on digital literacy and designing for the cultural sector. As a result of this project National Museums Northern Ireland has begun to explore new ways to engage with students, and is in the process of developing an interactive media project that will build on the outcomes produced during the Hack Day.

This paper will:

Demonstrate the potential benefits of moving away from internships and workshops with defined outcomes and moving towards a model of engagement which asks students ‘what’s possible?’
Make a case for museums to develop stronger R&D and skill share partnerships with students at local universities, and outline possible approaches that would allow museums to benefit from the skills, knowledge and experience of students from a wide range of design, media, and creative technologies courses.
Showcase some of the most successful projects that the students created and demonstrate that an inter-disciplinary approach and guerrilla dialogue with museum spaces can encourage new audiences and creative responses, encouraging a new sense of ownership for the developers and their audiences.

Key takeaways:

Delegates will gain practical insights into new ways of working with University/ Higher Education students. This will help attendees develop a solid understanding of how they could facilitate partnerships that would generate cutting edge R&D and low budget approaches to skill sharing between museum staff and students.