torsdag 18 september 2014

Our proposed master's specialisation - Sustainable Information Society

The KTH Media Technology engineering programme has been around for 15 years by now and the original ideas for the program were thus developed during the second half of the 1990's. With an original emphasis on industrial-era mass media production - an area that has been "hollowed out" or partly overshadowed by developments in the digital arena during the last decade - the current masters level specialisations have step by step gotten further and further away from what the students want to study (and work with), what the faculty can and wants to teach, and what the industry requires.

The KTH master’s programmes in human-computer interaction, media technology and media management will therefore change over the next few years as these three programmes will be merged into one master’s programme in "mediated communication". Instead of current structures, different “tracks” (specialisations) will be developed and these tracks will be more tightly coupled to ongoing research at the Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID). The tracks will more specifically be tied to different constellations and teams of researchers at the department of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID).

As part of the new, yet-to-be-developed two-year long master’s program in mediated communication (corresponding to 120 ECTS), each student will get to choose to specialise in two different tracks, and each track will encompass two advanced/master’s level courses (7.5 ECTS each). Students will then get to choose one of these two tracks and continue to study an advanced project course (15 ECTS) as well as write their master’s thesis (30 ECTS) within that track. That means students will spend half a term on their "minor" track and no less than a full year on the "major" track.

The MID for Sustainability (MID4S) team handed in a proposal for new track, "Sustainable information society", earlier this week. At this point in time it was actually more of a draft than a full proposal and we will continue to work on our proposal if we get a go-ahead to take it to the next level. Except for our proposal, no less than 12 other ideas for tracks have been floated:
  • Behavioural design using mediated communication
  • Graphics and multimedia
  • HCI digital work
  • Interaction techniques
  • Interaction design
  • Media production
  • Media technology for health and well-being
  • Media technology, culture and society
  • Music, video, gesture, motion
  • Sound and music computing
  • Visualisation
  • Wicked problem vs social system
I don't know if all these 12 suggestions made it all the way to full (draft) proposals, but I do know that 13 tracks are way to much. It wouldn't make sense economically to offer such a broad bouquet of courses and specialisations to our students, so in one very concrete sense there is a competition of sorts going on right now. I suspect that proposals that harbour one or several courses that we currently teach might have an advantage (based on inertia) compared to proposals like ours that suggests that brand new courses should be developed... A colleague of mine also suggested that while these proposals are forward-looking to some extent, they also take as their starting point a conservative view of what our department should do in the future that is based on who happens to work at our department right now and what we/these people want to do. There might be promising future-oriented potentially super-popular topics that would be great for a track, but that none of the current faculty takes responsibility for formulating.

As to the proposal from the MID4S team, I think we have an advantage because of our connection to the Center for Sustainable Communications (CESC). Several team members are involved in different research projects at CESC and we thus have personal contacts with many researchers outside of our own department who can be of use in broadening and supporting our proposal.

Another thing that is close to my heart is to better integrate our master's students in our research. Instead of treating master's students as "advanced students", they could be treated as "junior researchers". In this, I was very inspired during my stay in the US during the spring and by how seamlessly and skilfully master's students are "slotted in" to the research being conducted by faculty and ph.d. students. Students who chose to do their major in our specialisation should thus be welcomed to the MID4S team meetings, should get information and about sustainability-related activities at KTH, should be offered master's thesis topics in our research projects or in relevant companies etc. In short, they would become legitimate peripheral participants in the MID4S team. I think it would be great for the students and the relatively fast turn-over of students would also ensure that the team regularly would get an influx of new ideas from new, more "temporary" members.

The process of developing and winnowing out new master's track will (hopefully) be an ongoing process that I will come back to in new blog posts later.

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