UGA is a member institution of the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru), a national consortium that advances the full range of arts-integrative research, curricula, programs, and creative practice to acknowledge, articulate, and expand the vital role of higher education in our global society.
After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s 2022 Emerging Creatives Summit, held jointly by a2ru and Virginia Tech, took on the challenge of visioning the future of educational landscapes. Over the course of the conference, twenty-eight students from various international institutions worked in small, collaborative groups to imagine strategies for learning in liminal, speculative, and transdisciplinary spaces.
Inspired by the guest panel of design industry and educational development experts Ron Knapp, Andrew Kim, and Patricia Bou, students spent the first stretch of the conference making sense of what liminality might mean in a learning context. Fluidity of thresholds, nonlinear trajectories, transitioning states of being; this sort of language continually came up in conversation. Among many things, these discussions positioned liminal learning as a design issue to be addressed in institutions, workplaces, and public spaces, wherein the built infrastructures of the present and future are planned to serve a malleable pallet of needs.
In breakout groups, students had a chance to dive into speculative learning environments with greater focus. Students self-selected into teams of four to five peers to design projects concerning expanded learning access, learning through transition/crises, education + technology, alternative systems of knowledge, and student-centered learning.
UGA graduate students Amit Kaushik (Anthropology) and Meredith Emery (Art) worked with their respective groups to explore interdisciplinary and alternative learning models. For Kaushik, the student conference was a collaborative and creative opportunity “to discuss boundary objects and issues.” Kaushik, who studies ecological conservation and anthropology, worked alongside other students studying design, cognitive engineering, music, and virtual reality, to create a VR experience of a tree’s root system.
“We used a plant as a metaphor […] to talk about cross-disciplinary and liminal spaces,” Kaushik describes. “Using this approach, we shared with the audience how different disciplines are connected, quite like the branches of a plant; but have a lot in there, which needs cross- cultural communication. We think it’s a matter of acknowledging these depths and appreciating differences.”
According to Kaushik, a critical component of this cross-disciplinary communication is an openness to expanded perception. As his team’s visual simulation of the tree’s root system implies, the network of entanglement below the ground is as important to the tree’s function as what the human eye can see from above. This ecological metaphor lends itself to considering the limitations of siloed disciplines in academic spaces.
Likewise, Emery’s cohort considered how they could document the network of knowledge and resource sharing that emerged within their group during the summit. Through the creation of eight to ten zines, Emery and her group members approached the theme of alternative educational spaces as nontraditional, informal pathways for learning that can be organized through grassroots activities. These booklets ranged from information on how to find, collect, and grow seeds in a city, a brief history of chair design, prompts to facilitate a group theatre exercise, and a map of QR codes to books, websites, and artists that each group member shared with one another.
Emery noted that the summit “provided an opportunity for me to absorb and practice new methods for engaging interdisciplinary group work… within our group, we witnessed our own small network of knowledge and resource sharing emerge over the course of 72 hours, and I was thankful to participate in what became a revelatory, transient learning experience.” The summit concluded with a showcase of student projects to a group of educators, students, industrial designers, and conference facilitators.
Two students from UGA participated with the support of scholarship awards from a2ru and Willson Center ICE/a2ru research cluster. Meredith Emery is a Graduate Assistant in Interdisciplinary Arts Research working with Ideas for Creative Exploration, and Amit Kaushik is part of the Integrative Conservation PhD. program with the Center for Integrative Conservation Research.
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