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Paradigm Shifts in art/science education and practice

An event at the 5th International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology: Renew 2013, Riga

A report from Chair Nina Czegledy, SEAD White Papers Steering Committee member

Due to very compact parallel conference programming, I was concerned about participation, however to my pleasant surprise about 45 international academics as well as about 30 students gathered from all over the world participated in the event, held in two adjacent rooms. In both spaces we had an ongoing dynamic exchange.

Corresponding to the limited time frame and the great number of participants, we did not have individual presentations - instead based on the SEAD draft and other documents key issues such as advances as well as barriers to interdisciplinary curricula change, fuzzy borders, geographical scope (including different contexts in various parts of the world) the inclusion of hybrid formats etc., were presented for discussion.

For over two hours a very lively participatory exchange ensued based on participants' experiences and suggestions on the success and failures of initiating cross disciplinary studies. According to comments, the barriers noted in the SEAD paper remain a major obstacle towards interdisciplinary education. There are of course numerous success stories. Several of these are the result of strong individual initiatives. The distribution of this is in accord with the SEAD draft: "the different areas of the world conceive interdisciplinary curricula in a different context and is an area ripe for further research."  

Several comments addressed the importance of "hybrid" education (ie, collaboration between academia and media labs for example) and the importance of including this into a broader consideration of interdisciplinary education. Some key comments follow.

Michael Century reminded us of the importance of defining our terms when we talk about interdisciplinarity. e.g., differentiate between "modes" and "logics:"
Modes - Synthetic - Service - Agonistic
Logics - Innovation - Public Understanding/communication - Ontology

Bronac Ferran agreed with Michael Century that a number of interesting reports had been written about interdisciplinarity by social scientists including by Professor Marilyn Strathern (as well as Professor Georgina Born) in the UK. She said that an important aspect of the US-led SEAD (Science Engineering Art Design) policy initiative had been that it wasn't trying to define interdisciplinarity which can often be a cul de sac and leads to many repetitive discussions. She mentioned that there was a series of excellent White Papers and summary reports now online within the SEAD framework and that in one of the papers which she had helped to coordinate there had been an attempt to name the problem of amnesia which often tended to occur in art/science debates, where there was often a lack of cumulative dialogue - the wheels were often being reinvented and those preparing debates rarely referred to previous discussions in constructive ways. Was there a problem of defining 'success' in art/science areas? Might this contribute to lack of a 'succession' agenda? What could the terms of reference be if success was to be looked at? She had interviewed/had feedback from questionnaires sent to a set of key 'pioneers' and people active across arts/science boundaries which had fed into the White Paper "From Success to Succession."

Concerning the Student Working Group: Wendy Coones and Ilva Skulte moderated this working group consisting of international master students from Danube University, Krems  and students from Rigas Stradins University, and Liepaja University,  Riga. Wendy and Ilva will provide a summary of their dynamic session including pragmatic suggestions from the students.

Nina Czegledy