If Varsities were Start-ups: Poetry of Play

One of the most exhilarating five-minutes of film.

The framings, frenetic editing, the vein-coarsening build up enough to reduce you to a single tear. “This is how it’s done. This. Is. How. It’s. Done”, you mutter. A poetry of play and defiance of structure.

Poetry of play masks the formalities of this thing we’re programmed to accept — work. At some point, doing what you always wanted work becomes a privilege. Musicians, actors, hairdressers, coders, factory workers…don’t matter!

The defiance of structure is an oxymoron. There is a point my dad would say when “you will be answerable to only yourself”. I came to know what he meant, a point when you measure you by you, and you’re so confident at what you do that improvisation masquerades form and fear. Except, what you’re doing is the apotheosis of form. Your form. Gladwell’s 10,000 hours and some. This is poet Lemn Sissay in the poetry of play (below) as I capture him on film.

Conventional wisdom in the way it manifests is usurped for your nomenclature. A general accepted style is lost to your own: you are Beyonce, Messi, Prince, Ali, Murrow, whomever you want to be… you get the idea. But actually you’re not, you’re Smith, Kofi, Agnieska, because you do it your way.

If they (MPs, Spin Doctors, Propagandists, Presidents and authoritarians) can see you coming, they’ve got your number. The more conventional you are, the more predictable you are. Somethings weren’t innately designed to be so.

Why can’t MA Multimedia Journalism courses be like this final scene — freestyle, unpredictable, intense, a call-and-answer response that doesn’t stop where convention starts, or in news world commercial interests? Because journalism is going to the wall.

Somewhere I’m sure they do, but generally speaking framed by the journalism industry and fuelled by it’s own conventions to form, MA multimedia journalism is an exercise in feeding fixed systems, managing technology-driven quests, and module deliveries whose tangibility is modelled on previous 1970s structures.

One of the greatest film directors alive said:

In films, we are trained by the American way of moviemaking to think we must understand and ‘get’ everything right away. But this is not possible. When you eat a potato, you don’t understand each atom of the potato!

Jean Luc-Godard sees the atoms in film. It is not a language per se but a langue. It is a form we’ve been taught to understand by the dominant film philosophers, yet each atom can be rearranged in a new cyclic isomeric form — they can be one thing and another. Everything and anything can seemingly elide into a play of poetry: Michael Snow’s (1967) Wavelength, Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975) and news events of crowds in which everyone lies on the gound saying nothing.

I’m an educator, a former television and radio journalist and I ask

  • why can’t university courses be like start-ups?
  • and then like Whiplash’s scene?

They’re not necessarily mutually inclusive.

If the idea is an absurd one — feel free to comment but first I know it’s absurd. You know what you get from a university, that’s why you’re going and if you wanted to work for a start-up, well, you’d do that instead. And, if you wanted to get high on adrenalin, there are myriad ways to get there. Why do I need a varsity?

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”
Oscar Wilde

But in each these these ethers are realities, which when they cross over can sow the seeds of fresh ideas, creativity. “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not, ” said Picasso. We need structure and form for civil society. We need poetry of play to see through society, I would add.

March 2001, Soho, we worked day and night wedded to the dot.com we were launching for a VC’s approval. The experience so affected me, today I run ‘death marches’ and ‘rabbit hole exercises’ in my online entrepreneurial courses. I’d like to do more and next year could come even closer mimicking the expression of free-flow in academia. Here’s Amie below reflecting on a death march. She went straight into a job as an online editor for a commercial company

In the course, we posit an end goal we need to achieve — an industry exemplar. We deconstruct it, and its concomitant theories and then rebuild it differently, re-wiring those theories to current circumstances. Then we ask, how and where can we go with this, based on trend extrapolation, the delphi principal, artistic practice, peer review, qualitative studies and reflective practitioners. The premise is should not varsities at all levels (Bachelors, Masters and PhD research) be leading the way in ideas?

Poetry of play could come in different ways.

  • Open up academia to widening ideas and diversity at senior levels.
  • Experiment with technology and multiple theories
  • Let practitioners, experts in their fields do what they do best

Open

Speaking at Apple store

It is the different experiences from professions, place of origin, and culture which promulgate new ideas. At the moment it’s UK higher education’s achilles. Whatever I might do with Apple, or garner praise from google’s head of UK and Europe, or indeed win awards for teaching, gains minimum traction in academia. Keep pushing Cambridge University Physics Professor, Athene Donald says on her blog.

Tech
Use technology (and philosophies) in creative ways. One of the UK’s main think tanks in higher education writes in its report Rebooting Learning for the Digital Age, the US and Australia are doing a better job of transforming the student experience than UK institutions.

Among the Higher Education Policy Institute’s (HEPI) recommendations are:

Academic leads for learning and teaching should embrace technology-enhanced learning and the digital environment and recognise the relationship with other aspects of learning and teaching.

Practitioners
If many of the experiences, once reserved within universities, are being offered as blended learnings and MOOCS elsewhere, where’s the added value in tertiary education? socialising? Camaraderie? A reform, I say is needed from ,its traditional module form. An interstice between the present and the new, in which students are provided with ‘real world’’ environments and supervisors to free form, to experiment, to know as much about methodologies and poetry of play as they do about receiving fixed packages.

Some months back I heard from one of my students from class of 2006. She’s changing career and I did my bit to see if I could assist. Then in 2014 I made this film to capture the relationship between a group of MA students I was supervising and their final project. I miss, yet continually look forward to those five minutes…

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah leads a brand new course at the University of Westminster, the Digital and Interactive Storytelling LAB, which seeks a unique approach to knowledge sharing, using the Power of Play approach.

You can find more of his work by googling him and here at viewmagazine.tv

Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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