Chris Hales (UK)
(Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Interactive Film, SMARTlab Digital Media Institute, University of East London)

LEARNING FROM THE SMARTLAB EXPERIENCE

Artists, designers, performers and technologists create their products for a variety of reasons, make them through a variety of processes, and end up with a multiplicity of results. The pleasure of creation, obtaining funding, selling work, or simply the urge to communicate a challenging or controversial message might all be measures by which the success of these creative outputs are judged. It is, however, not unusual for these practitioners to believe that through their creative processes research is being carried out.

The SMARTlab Digital Media Institute is a renowned research centre with a 16-year history and to date has graduated over thirty successful practice-based PhDs across areas such as performance, visual arts, assistive technologies, sonic arts, and virtual worlds. Although SMARTlab is only one of many institutional departments offering practice-based PhDs, it benefits from the experience of the large number of successful completions in potentially problematic cross-disciplinary fields of research. Most students coming to SMARTlab are already mid-career experts in their fields, and in most cases are not coming from the traditional academic route.

The PhD programme has therefore been developed and refined to help established practitioners identify appropriate ways to measure and describe their innovative practices and outcomes. This paper firstly outlines the modus operandi of the course, which revolves around three physically-attended ‘seminar weeks’ per year supported by regular online seminars. The intensive seminar weeks incorporate a variety of teaching methods including peer-to-peer review, formal presentations, and short workshops. Secondly, some case-studies of successful graduations will be sketched, where the practical work might involve live performance, interactive films, avatars in an online existence, or software tools to support creativity.