DEL (Digitally Engaged Learning) is an annual conference organised in partnership with University of the Arts London, Texas State University, Penn State University and The New School’s Parsons School of Design. Each year DEL is hosted by one of these partners or an invited host institution, bringing together educators and learners from across the UK, USA, Canada, Europe and the southern hemisphere, to celebrate and critique digitally engaged teaching and learning in art and design Higher Education.
DEL is purposefully inclusive, and its participants, including educators, technicians, librarians, instructional designers, artists, makers, researchers, art historians, digital humanities scholars and others, draw upon a broad array of references and practices in their presentations and workshop activities.
There is no core theoretical canon underpinning the conversation, and the conference ethos encourages attendees to share their individual approaches and scholarly experiences. Attitudes, planned investigations, uses of digital tools (their affordances and subversions), networks, malfunctions, failings and happy accidents are given equal credence; the practical is esteemed as much as the academic.
This is a conference for those who are engaged in teaching, learning and creative practice, whatever their particular expertise – its intention is mutual development and encouragement across territories.
This conference presumes an interest in the ways learning takes place in a digitally networked age, whilst being aware that inspirational pedagogy was in operation prior to the advent of computers, digital devices and the internet. It encourages an appreciation of how new technologies can enhance traditional understandings and vice versa – the presumption is not that technological novelty must replace established approaches.
Whilst tensions around ‘the march of progress’ are often brought to the surface as delegates question the rationales of institutions, developers and one another, the environment is convivial. With their breadth of interests and disciplines, delegates come to hear and learn from one another and celebrate each others’ valuable perspectives. Moreover, there is the sense that being with each other in this conference space can forge new meanings that may be taken away and investigated in other contexts.
As well as this atmosphere of community, a spirit of intentionality is at play. Programmes are carefully constructed to provoke dialogue, and always extend beyond traditional seminar spaces. Social aspects are viewed as intrinsic to this endeavour; recent conference dinners have been arranged around the barbecue of a bar terrace, across the tables of a pool hall or amidst the reclaimed garden of an urban construction site. Environments are arranged to inspire and foster friendly debate.
The theme of DEL17, Making Teaching / Teaching Making, was designed to reflect ongoing concerns with the bridging of perceptions of a digital / physical divide. The social media threads that were woven throughout the conference events encouraged commentary from all present, and generated additional creative and conceptual resource.
This is a conference where makers are able to collaborate with others, whether their selected tools are powered by electricity, battery or human motor. It is a visual environment, where ‘arts values’ are evidently afforded the regard they ought to be in academia. Music, movement and making are as key to the thinking and talking as reading will be in other circles; and computers play physical roles. Things will happen at DEL that cannot elsewhere, because the creative energy produced and channeled by the people that come together here drives the doing of more.
For example, at DEL17 a pre-conference event invited delegates to gather for an informal workshop of conversational prompts and making materials. The physical-digital outcome was the #digitalmakermanifesto, launched on Instagram and featuring the artefacts produced, as provocation to further discussion.
The ethos of ‘making conversations’ was encouraged by the presence of the DEL dalek: a mobile making space / device, kitted out with lo-tech tools and materials from which anyone might craft responses to discussions.
The dalek became a motif that infused both sessions and breaks at Central St Martins, UAL, with a sense of playful anarchy, and was utilised by various presenters in individual sessions: when people needed stuff to make things with, the dalek was wheeled in! From its initial entrance with a vocoder announcement of intent, it became adorned with decoration and post-its, and its material stocks depleted. Delegates took away the devices they had fashioned from it as aides memoires. At this conference, not only photographic, but also pen & ink and 3D documentation gets posted digitally, to illustrate its expansive happenings.
In various sessions, delegates showed the fabrication of drawing machines (or sketchbots), servers used as sketchbooks, animators’ characterisation of junk models utilising the affordances of social media, expressions of wicked problems with found objects, creative coding considering STEAM over STEM, 3D printing in clay and a jam session with a group of staff and students who come together to explore emerging digital technologies: playing with pedagogy via computational materials.
More traditionally academic presentations of research findings were equally prevalent, with discussions and workshops around learning environments, feedback, creative graduate attributes, big data and small scale curricula interventions exempla of the richly varied programme of events around and about creative disciplines.
DEL is a conference for educators and those excited by the possibilities of education, in co-creation and construction of learning. Equally it makes calls to community and activism, as represented by politically-charged keynotes and student panels. You make of DEL what you will, since it presents platforms on and from which to work. Crucially, the conversation is always intended to extend beyond the physical space on the conference, recognising our networks and connections through digital means.
Anyone who attends will be welcomed by a global community who recognise their privilege in being there, and want to extend this to others beyond.