Author: Daniel Villar-Onrubia 19th July 2017
This June I had the pleasure to spend one week at the MediaLab of the University of Granada (Spain), so I could get to know in more detail the impressive catalogue of initiatives they have developed in their still short – but already very intense – history.
The ultimate goal of MediaLab UGR is “to construct a more creative, innovative, and prosperous University and society based on the founding principles of openness and active citizenship.” This is achieved through a range of activities that involve doing research, transferring knowledge, connecting people, innovating, debating, showcasing and experimenting around the impact of digital culture on science, the humanities and society at large. In addition to these three main strategic priorities, there are a few more specific lines of inquiry and communities of interest focusing on: education and learning, art, entrepreneurship, health and childhood and youth. Anyone within the university and beyond can propose activities relevant to the agenda of MediaLab UGR, as well as the creation of new communities.
The ideas of social innovation and citizen engagement (just like in the case of MediaLab Prado we visited back in May) are core to MediaLab UGR, which aspires to transform institutional dynamics and refine traditional boundaries around universities:
Medialabs coexist with other managerial approaches where quality processes are prioritized, involving in many cases, a bureaucratic load which prevents innovation and experimentation. Medialabs can “hack” university structures in order to present alternative models in issues that require a more agile and flexible development such as, the relation with society or new technologies and epistemic models. (Romero-Frias & Robinson-García 2007).
Interestingly enough, MediaLab UGR has been established as the result of top-down and bottom-up efforts. Building on the success of the GRIN UGR Project, a grassroots collaboratory created in 2013 by Esteban Romero-Frias (the director of MediaLab UGR) and other colleagues interested in how digital culture is transforming the Social Sciences and Humanities, it was launched under the aegis of Prof. Pilar Aranda – the current Vice-Chancellor – as an official unit of the University of Granada.
During my time in Granada, I had the chance to meet with various members of the MediaLab, participate at various seminars, attend events and also network with colleagues from other institutions. Some of the most interesting projects already initiated by MediaLab UGR include:
- LabIN Granada: a citizen innovation initiative aiming to crowdsource ideas that could somehow enhance life in Granada. Anyone can suggest proposals, give feedback and contribute to the development of prototypes.
- RadioLab UGR: it is a radio station producing content in collaboration with the different communities around MediaLab UGR and other initiatives of UGR. Spreaker is used to live stream content, while podcasts can be downloaded from both iTunes and iVoox. Anyone can propose new programmes through RadioLab URG X.
- Carmenta: a programme connecting humanities and social sciences academics with computer science and engineering students, so they can mutually benefit through collaboration in interdisciplinary projects.
I also had the chance to participate in a workshop organised as part of the KnowMetrics Project, which aims to develop a taxonomy of types of digital artefacts created by Digital Humanities and Social Sciences scholars, along with new approaches to assessing the impact and worthiness of such outputs.
— Knowmetrics (@knowmetrics) June 28, 2017
The last days of my visit coincided with Digital Territories, an event bringing together scholars from various countries with the aim of promoting an “interdisciplinary dialogue between diverse fields of knowledge and groups that work with or are interested in the impact of technology on society.” Paul Spence (King’s College London) and Domenico Fiormonte (Unitre Roma) were invited as keynote speakers, the former focusing on the links between digital culture and multilingualism and the latter to talk about why knowledge digitisation should be addressed as a political issue.
I attended many interesting talks, chaired a panel discussion and presented on the OpenMed Project. It is also worth mentioning the events app for both Android and iPhone developed for MediaLab UGR to easily share the schedule and any updates with participants.
Apart from my time with the MediaLab UGR team, during my visit to Granada I could get to know other relevant spaces and initiatives. Most notably, during that week the Science Park of Granada was hosting Talking About Twitter #TATGranada 2017, the largest event devoted to this platform in the world. I was able to go there the first day and attend presentations by various international speakers, including Joel Lunenfeld – vice-president for Global Brand Strategy at Twitter.
— Daniel Villar (@villaronrubia) June 27, 2017
Some of the most interesting initiatives presented at the event were #TuitsAOjo, a new solution improving accessibility by allowing people to use Twitter by means of eye movements and #PoweredByTweets Awards (http://www.poweredbytweets.es), a contest launched with the aim of recognising ideas on how to use Twitter to bring about a positive impact on society.
It was also great to have the chance to meet with David Álvarez Jiménez, one of the founders (along with Fernando Trujillo) of Conecta13, a spin-off of the University of Granada offering consultancy and other services in the field of online learning and educational innovation. One of the main areas of expertise of Conecta13 focuses on instructional design and community engagement for MOOCs. In this regard, they have designed and delivered a large number of MOOCs for the National Institute for Educational Technologies and Teachers Training (INTEF). A recent example is the Open eTwinning MOOC (#twinmooc).
In sum, after a very stimulating week I come back to Coventry with ideas, new colleagues and the determination to find opportunities for future collaborations between MediaLab UGR and DMLL. Special thanks to Esteban Romero (a brilliant host), Lidia Bocanegra, Javier Cantón, Alejandra Ramírez, Sujung Bang, Elena Verdegay, Inmaculada Díaz and the rest of the team, who made me feel very welcome!