At the beginning of February 2020, we, the UAL team: Betti Marenko, Pras Gunasekera, and I, facilitated a workshop with Masters students from across UAL. Earlier in the year, we had sent out a call to our postgraduate student community, reaching out to various disciplines, with the aim of creating a transdisciplinary learning environment, in which practices of exchange and interaction could inform our ongoing research for Fuel4Design. Following a positive response to the call, we selected a group of 22 students from subjects including: material futures, art and science, innovation management, and applied imagination. Hacking Futures – Futures Hacking was ready to go!
The collaboration with students has been a priority for us in this project. Developing, testing and implementing new approaches and resources without students’ input would simply have been wrong. After all, we were aiming to equip both learners and educators with innovative and adaptable tools to imagine, perform and enact a plurality of futures by design. This process had to be led by co-creation.
The relevance of co-creation in higher education is not a new concept, and has previously been highlighted by Chemi and Krogh ‘for a future that needs to strengthen human relationships and practices of sharing, the ability (or disposition) of creating a shared value in spite of differences is strategically fundamental’ (2017, p. x). In a world in which diverse cultures, disciplines and generations have to come together to meet challenges we don’t yet know of or understand, collaboration and co-creation is crucial. Teaching and learning methods that served the age of industrialisation are no longer relevant and need to be replaced with approaches that recognise the value of positionality, empathy and multiple perspectives. The Philosophical Pills to be tested in the workshop were precisely facilitating such an approach: affording a lens through which students could take a renewed look at their design practice. Pills such as Speculation, Counterfactuals, Heterotopias, Divination provided different ways of thinking about the future.
Hacking Futures – Futures Hacking created a space for philosophy in action, with the architecture of the workshop space inviting students to engage in a number of activities. These included a silent brainstorm exploring questions such as: How do you imagine futures through your practice? What do you see? What concerns do you have? What issues? and ‘Futures’ collage building – think in images not words (Fig. 1). We engaged in collective sense-making and individual reflection. Instead of reproducing knowledge, students were encouraged to co-produce knowledge – the pills are an accelerating tool for such processes – encouraging knowledge exchange and knowledge co-production.
Figure 1: Futures’ collage building – think in images, not words. © James Bryant, 2020
We were using pre-designed templates to guide the process and encouraged students to populate a Padlet wall (Fig.2) to create a virtual exhibition of their findings and key stages in their development process. The workshop was full of energy, intelligence and creativity – all of which fed into the approach and tool we were testing.
Figure 2: Padlet wall displaying virtual exhibition of process and students’ findings.
During the evaluation of the workshop, students expressed their appreciation of having been able to participate. They very much valued the approach we had taken – for students, the workshop has been a new approach to teaching design, not only the tools we are developing as part of Fuel4Design. According to students, Hacking Futures – Futures Hacking provided a learning environment in which they were enabled to: share concerns, feel nurtured, enriched and empowered, develop collective understanding, connect their values, no longer think and make in isolation, find a common language, and create a community.
I am writing these reflections almost one year later, in January 2021. Shortly after Hacking Futures – Futures Hacking, COVID-19 began to spread across the globe, interrupting the way in which humans interact. Workshops, like the one described above, in which the physical proximity between the participants contributed to building trust and created the sense of community students were yearning for, transitioned online. Face-to-face, in-person meetings of any kind were postponed until further notice, and traveling between countries was restricted to essential purposes only. Unexpectedly, the very future of the Fuel4Design project itself had to be reconsidered. We had to turn the imposition into an opportunity, embrace the challenge and learn how to collaborate and co-create whilst socially distancing.
Chemi, T. and Krogh, L. (2017) ed. Co-Creation in Higher Education: Students and Educators Preparing Creatively and Collaboratively to the Challenge of the Future, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam.