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How was The Festival University?

Notes, learnings and reflections from The Festival University online experience

The Festival University is a summer school organised by The Johannes Kepler University Linz and A New Digital Deal, Ars Electronica Festival 2021. 100 students from the age of 15 - 24 were selected from around the world to be a part of a prototype of a "University of the future" under the theme, Transform Your World.

My experience (along with 12 other young adults) was fairly unique as we couldn't go to Linz, Austria due to covid restrictions. As a result, we participated online. While more often, it was hectic to participate online whilst doing a full-time job, I was glad to have been a part of the cohort.

We had the opportunity to interact with an expansive group of experts from across the fields of technology, social sciences and arts.

Joseph's Machines

Getting a glimpse of Joseph Herscher's process behind the magical kinetic Joseph's Machines was truly inspiring.

Hearing the Silence

Panashe Chigumadzi's workshop on understanding the role of silences in storytelling and decolonisation made me reflect on my own practice- What is my agency? What stories can I tell and need to tell?

Education Reform

Investigative Journalism with The Belling Cat

The online cohort dived deeper into Investigative Journalism with The Belling Cat Team. Investigative Journalism online is an upcoming genre where visual, audio and textual media online, public content and online tools are used to investigate. This includes using social media platforms, exposed databases, dark web market, contact books (like Truecaller), leaked material (wikileaks, linkedin, etc). Note that this kind of investigation does not include directing or requesting hacking. The content has to be freely available to anyone. Common fields of investigation are wildlife, conflict zone and child abuse.

While we didn't get a chance to do our own complete investigation project, we learnt how the internet and the social media could be used to crack open complex, tricky cases. Investigative Journalism often requires crowdsourcing of clues where followers, volunteers contribute their thoughts to an image / video / location / text. This helps in finding clues faster and quicker completion of projects. Of course, there is a strong requirements of comparing source media with reliable reference material. In a field like this, an eye for detail and questioning is the most important trait to have. Following are some of the important verification checklist to keep in mind if you would like to master this art:

  • Is the media new or recycled/ reshared multiple times? Recycled material has higher chances to be fake.

  • Do not assume that the person who posted is also the creator.

  • Look for basic photo manipulation red flags, like, cropping, cloning, light sources, focus (a photo cannot have multiple focus points).

  • Just because you cannot identify the creator / documenter, doesn't mean the piece is useless.

Are we Audible? and Kit-Change

Coming back to the online group. Early into the programme, we named ourselves, Are we audible? - a reflection of a phrase we constantly repeated and of our current situation with the entire programme.

As a part of our final presentation, we decided to breakthrough the barrier of being online to talk about something we all connect with - food. Could food and kitchen be symbolic of the change we want to see in the world? Well, we believe so.

Kit-Change, Ingredients for Transformation is a zine we collectively made to talk about the change we want to see in the world and what would be required to do so, with kitchen as a metaphor. The process was extremely fun. While everybody shared their ingredients and Yulia and Habiba drew them, I worked to convert the ingredients into a poetry composition that we could then recite and record. Here is the recording -

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Final Thoughts

I also don't want to sugar coat my experience at the summer school. As mentioned earlier in this piece, Are we Audible? team was participating online and the rest of the participants got a chance to be in Linz, Austria for two weeks. This led to a constant sense of disengagement and alienation. Apart from screen fatigue, we soon became aware of how an online programme can nowhere replace the experiences, bonding and opportunities that a physical space provides. We shared our problems with The Festival University organisers, who listened to us patiently and while, this year, nothing more could be possible, we hope that our communication brings about a change for the next year's programme. Given that, I also want to share some anecdotes (in the form of questions) from my experience for anyone organising a hybrid [online + offline] programme -

The top half is a large projection screen with zoom call. There are eight people on the call. In front of the projection screen are around 100 people cheering and posing for the photo
Post the final presentation at The Festival University

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