The best learning experiences push us outside of our comfort zones to try new approaches and think beyond traditional boundaries. To help prepare students for the world ahead, Fred Deakin, Chair of Interactive Digital Arts at University of the Arts London (UAL), lead the creation of an experimental education initiative called “Collabology,” an intensive, two-week collaborative workshop that introduces hand-selected students to the fast-paced and cross-disciplinary environment of a modern professional practice.
"Confident collaboration skills are key to students making the transition from academia to contemporary professional life; be that to a fast-paced organisation or something more entrepreneurial. We want to tool up emerging talent to take on the world." – Fred Deakin
Collabology grew out of a successful 2014 pilot with London-based advertising agency Mother. Twenty UAL students participated in a ‘pop up design studio’ designed to recreate the fast-paced, high-pressure experience of creating client work. In April 2015, Deakin took the program to the next level, launching the inaugural Collabology workshop in partnership with makerspace Makerversity. The two-week program involved 60 students in three locations working in virtual teams throughout the entire process.
"The students were immersed in a spectrum of essential creative and team working strategies — putting new thinking and behaviours into action immediately on self-initiated projects with input from our panel of leading industry experts. It required use of cutting-edge collaborative digital tools that are shaping the contemporary workplace." – DeakinUnderstanding that creative projects are increasingly done by distributed teams, Deakin wanted to create a similar structure for students, who take a creative project from concept to completion in just two weeks. Fuze helped teams communicate and collaborate face-to-face and share ideas and iterate on concepts in real-time across locations, as well as interact regularly with the panel of industry experts.
"It was an amazing experience – I loved being able to wake up two minutes beforehand, open up my laptop and be part of the whole show. I spend 90% of my time online, so having everything in front of me was so much better. It felt great knowing I could have support from workshop staff anytime I wanted and help was only a click away." – James, 2015 workshop participant
The final student projects were focused on the social enterprise and change for good. Projects ranged from ReCoin, a crypto currency to reward recycling, PhysiCode, a series of interactive books to teach basic electronic concepts to preschool children, and WeWee, a fashionable AirBnB for toilets. Each team produced a Kickstarter-style video, branding, publicity and other supporting elements to pitch their project.
We spoke with Fred Deakin about the program, the team communication and collaboration dynamics and the role that Fuze played:
Fuze: I wish there was a program like Collabology when I was in college. What was the genesis of the idea?
Deakin: It came from my desire to find new ways to take creative learning into the 21st century. To create new models of teaching in both real world and online to help prepare students for the world ahead. I’m passionate about the next-generation of really creative collaboration and taking structures and seeing if we can scale online. Online is where these students are living. They are digital natives. We want to give them tools to empower them to take what we’ve traditionally done in analog spaces and bring it online.
Fuze: When designing the program, what were the most important priorities in terms of collaboration?
Deakin: We wanted students to feel like they were in a digital version of the classroom environment. We wanted to allow them to create spaces they could populate. Work is very exercise based: we talk for a bit, then they go off and work on it together. The ability to split students into teams/groups and enable them to work across locations was really important.
Fuze: What role did Fuze play?
Deakin: Fuze allowed the teams to really come together despite the distance and provided real nimbleness when moving from meeting to meeting. We started calling them “rooms” because they provided a virtual meeting space on a semi-permanent basis. It also allowed my staff to work closely with the teams and easily move in and out of meetings.
The students took to Fuze very naturally and is was very useful in getting them to engage. Sharing documents and creating together in digital space is something no one has really got their heads around. That part is really exciting – that is where magic can happen — coming together online and really creating. Fuze gave students the ability to share anything – screens, whiteboards, movie clips, presentations, etc. It worked really well.
"Fuze gave students the ability to share anything – screens, whiteboards, movie clips, presentations, etc. It worked really well."
Fuze: Did use of Fuze evolve during the program?
Deakin: At some point we saw a shift. Students started logging into Fuze as a default. When we started class they were already in a Fuze and mid-flow into discussions. We teachers would come in and they would wait for us to leave, because they were going to stay on and continue the discussion. They really saw it as their space.
Teams were very mobile — some would congregate in a room, another might be in cafe, or even at the beach. They took it wherever they went. Fuze allowed them to be very nimble and agile. The experience became a mix of classroom and living their lives in coffee shops, at home or wherever. The classroom spilled out into real world via Fuze.
"The classroom spilled out into the real world via Fuze."Fuze: What kind of feedback did you get from students about using Fuze?
Deakin: This generation is growing up online. They feel very natural meeting and working together in teams using these types of tools and are comfortable communicating that way. In some ways the remote students almost got a more powerful, digital experience. They experienced what it is like to truly work remotely, but be able to participate fully. At the end of the session, several people commented how they will miss the interaction and said it will feel really weird not logging into it Fuze everyday with the their team.
"In some ways the remote students almost got a more powerful, digital experience. They experienced what it is like to truly work remotely, but be able to participate fully."Fuze: Were there any unexpected challenges or benefits to having teams spread across locations?
Deakin: Actually, yes. One unexpected advantage of having multiple locations is that it fueled competitiveness among the teams. Teams had less visibility into what other teams were doing until the mid-way checkpoints, which were done as a group. Teams definitely amped up their game after the check points and seeing progress and ideas of other teams. It was fun to see and was very effective in terms of motivation.
Fuze: The workshop culminated in a big presentation. Can you describe the final day?
Deakin: The last day was the big launch presentations. We invited heads of staff, industry, other teachers in the department, as well as students. It was a big deal.
It took place across the three locations, which were connected by Fuze. We uploaded the movies, slides and graphics and ran the whole thing through one location. It worked perfectly. In fact, at one point someone asked who was running the event in each location. We said “no one” and shared how we were running it all through Fuze. The experience was brilliant and people were amazed.
"... at one point someone asked who was running the event in each location. We said 'no one' and shared how we were running it all through Fuze. The experience was brilliant and people were amazed."Fuze: You don’t strike me as someone content to rest on his laurels. What is next for Collabology?
Deakin: The students responded very well to the experience and we definitely want to evolve and scale the program. There are six different art school sites at University of the Arts London. We’d like to create a program that connects them all, so there will be the concept of an inner circle, as well as an outer circle for classroom interaction.
We also work with partner institutions and are considering doing something in New York. One idea we are playing with is creating a bi-coastal program between New York and San Francisco or Los Angeles.
A bit more ambitiously, I would like to try to create a “follow-the-sun” project. This would involve a global team that would pass the baton to the next team in another time zone. It would be really interesting to see the dynamics and try to accelerate a project timeline. We have lots of ideas and removing the barriers of distance makes anything possible.
"We have lots of ideas and removing the barrier of distance makes anything possible."Fuze: Sounds amazing. We can’t wait to see where you take the program. Thanks for sharing your story with us.
Learn more about Collabology: