The UT-Austin-Portugal Digital Media program, now in its 10th year, is evolving. Even as Portugal adopts new goals and new projects, our joint program is finding new ways to explore, study and create digital media projects and developments. Sponsoring research projects, special workshops, short and long semester courses, and supporting numerous events over the years, the Digital Media program has cast a wide net in terms of how this field is defined; this was a wise move considering how much all things digital have changed across the decade.
What have we done? Our signature accomplishment was creating a doctoral degree program shared between the University of Porto and the Nova University of Lisbon. It premiered in 2010 after an initial two-year planning period. Alongside the two universities’ course offerings, we have enriched the curriculum with a steady stream of courses and workshops taught by UT-Austin faculty, or faculty within our network. Because summers are the times when faculty have more opportunities to leave their “day jobs” in Austin, it is a prime time period for sharing specialized courses and workshops. Over the years, we also have hosted residential, intensive workshops in Austin during the summer for visiting Portuguese students, including some people early in their careers; for example, we had one focused on screenwriting, and another emphasized animation.
And of course we have had intensive but shorter workshops in both Austin and Portugal around certain themes. Two summers ago our theme was “Open,” which explored everything from open data to open work environments to open access archives and open mapping. We had several years of the week-long residential International School for Digital Transformation, led by our beloved colleague Gary Chapman before his untimely death. Perhaps those experiences more than any underscored the significance and potential of digital media for civil society. During the coming summer, supporting Lisbon’s digital media festival PLUNC will be a focus this summer when artist Jill Bedgood comes to Lisbon to work with students on realizing installations. And growing some of the links between the environment and digital media will be a focus with Lucy Atkinson’s course in Porto, along with many new offerings on both campuses in virtual reality and journalism, digital archives and digital humanities, among other topics.
Throughout all of this we have had a steady stream of student and faculty visits from Portugal, and I am happy to say that most people who visit the campus fall in love with it – even if it is a little challenging when people encounter August’s high temperatures. The networks we have created contribute to strong research projects that bring together collaborating teams in the two countries. We look forward to extending these networks in our newest phase.
What is coming up? While we always try to be open to change, we know that the current research initiative, the Atlantic International Research Center (AIR) based in the Azores, presents some interesting opportunities for our domain. As the availability of data grows every year propelled by digital technologies, platforms, and open data policies, there has never been a better time to develop and share broad understandings about our environment. The AIR initiative should produce a great deal of data about water, air, and land, but there is a huge difference between data and information, let alone meaningful and actionable information. We hope to meet some of the challenges of AIR’s climate data by developing ways to “see” and work with data through journalism, visualization, and developing methods of communicating scientific information.
Photo: 2016 Digital Media Symposium at Future Places 2016. Credits: Luís Barbosa.