When we founded Polygon Door we made a determination that all our courses would be ‘research-led’. We made this determination because Polygon Door was conceived as much more than a simple education provider, it was conceived as a critical and creative technology lab: an organisation that pushes the boundaries of how technology is understood and used.
Further to that, Polygon Door was conceived as a research lab that engages with, and provides back to, its local community. We imagined a media lab that was valued – not by a governmental department or an institutional accreditation but valued by its actual community.
One of the possible corner stones of the dynamic between research and community engagement is pedagogy. Simply put, we communicate our unique knowledge, experience, and skills to students who are offered the opportunity to participate in ambitious contemporary research projects.
Its a simple quid pro quo. We make stuff of value. People come to learn uniquely valuable content. We enrich our local community who then supports us in our research efforts.
This is our economic model (note I’m talking economics – not business…. business models are something else entirely) and it can be placed in stark contrast to our experience of the Australian University Sector.
Research and Teaching
In Australian Universities the link between teaching and research has been completely severed. Academics aspire to not teach. The gold standard of academic success is a non-teaching research position. Australian universities and academics are not unique in this aspiration – unfortunately it is common the world over.
Academic Research is judged predominantly by the amount of money it brings in. One way to bring money in is to publish articles in peer reviewed journals which the university uses to gain government funding for more research. The other principle way is to get large government grants – for that you need a great publication record. A third way is to get commercial support and that requires you to be able to monetise your research – I’ll leave this one for another post.
The average punter would imagine that Academic researchers publish the outcomes of their research. You’d think the research would lead publication. In actual fact most academics now spend their time researching in order to publish. Vast tomes of articles are published that never get read but they do get counted and they do bring in more funding.. and so it goes on.
Academics don’t like it – but they are indentured to an animal that eats its own tail.
For the Love of Teaching.
Why don’t Academics like teaching?
Most do actually… but they lament that teaching is no longer valued by the university as an academic activity. Academics don’t get papers published or research grants by teaching well, or by teaching innovatively – and they are never going to get promoted that way. They very rarely get to teach the research that they are engaged with.
Teaching in Australian Universities has become the labour of delivering courses – and courses have become commodities distinct and removed from a university’s research program. Decisions about what to teach are made according to how the market research, and student/customer feedback, has informed the administrators. The teaching universities do has very little connection with the research they produce.
Meanwhile universities are bending over backwards in their adherence to the rule that the customer is always right. Standards are low – because the universities will sell a degree to anyone who pays, and they cannot deny the purchaser the commodity they have purchased!
A Different Approach
Polygon Door is our attempt to find a way to re-valorise teaching by re-defining its relation to research. Our starting position is that all of the courses we teach begin as creative research projects.
This has a number of benefits;
- Firstly, it energises the teacher who is actively engaged with the subject matter presented.
- Secondly, it ensures that teaching material is constantly refreshed.
- Thirdly, students are exposed to and contribute to contemporary research projects whose significance extends far beyond a technological skill set.
- Lastly, the researchers benefit from the contributions of students, who each bring an original perspective to the project.
You’ll notice that this approach is fundamentally community oriented. Polygon Door isn’t conceived as a space of abstract experimentation or theorisation, it isn’t a place that merely provides the one way transmission of privileged information; it is a place where we explore, experiment, design, build, test and share ideas and skills together.