I learned that questions are not indicative of incompleteness, but rather the questions themselves can be the practice.

metaLAB is committed to interdisciplinary work and collaboration across the humanities, arts, and technology, with innovative research methods and media-rich outputs. Over the past several years, we have offered a number of workshops, a wintersession course, and a graduate seminar that bridge disparate forms of scholarship. metaLAB has created a workshop methodology that brings creative and artistic materials to bear on otherwise abstract research problems. The workshops, designed by metaLAB Director of Art & Education, Sarah Newman, and led by scholars and artists from metaLAB, utilize design-thinking methodologies to contend with conceptual and philosophical questions through a series of exercises and artistic production. metaLAB has led workshops at Harvard College, the Berkman Klein Center, Harvard Art Museums, the MIT Media Lab, Vassar College, SXSW in Austin, RightsCon in Tunis, and in 2020 have redesigned these workshops to offer them virtually.

In the Spring of 2020, metaLAB redesigned our workshop format to create Hands On(line): Virtual Creative Workshops at Harvard. Piloted in April 2020 in Ethical Reasoning 41: Economic Justice, a GedEd course taught by Professor Mathias Risse, the workshop enabled students to physically engage with materials in a virtual course format, and contend with questions of economic justice & theory, particularly as they apply during a pandemic. In addition to the workshop, which was offered during a synchronous course session, metaLAB also ran the Sections during the week, during which students presented and discussed what they had made, sourced from materials they had collected in advance from wherever they were quarantined. Student questions were broadly ranging and rigorous, each output was terrifically unique, and the format was a welcome pedagogical intervention from a traditional zoom lecture.

The philosophy behind metaLAB creative workshops is twofold: first, they are organized around articulating clear and provocative research questions, especially those that are abstract or speculative. Thus far, these questions have often been around a technological or cultural moment, but any research question is suitable. Students are led through exercises to challenge their assumptions and refine their research questions. Second, the workshops provide unexpected physical materials that students then employ to build quick, creative prototypes that either articulate their questions or posit a possible response.

The benefits of working with physical materials in a facilitated session include: contending concretely with otherwise abstract concepts; being creative (or intuitive) in new ways; developing novel metaphors or narratives; seeing old problems in a new light; grappling with assumptions, implicit bias, or unstated premises; working together in small groups; and learning more about the rigor and philosophical depth of contemporary art, or art as a form of inquiry. Feedback from the workshops has been immensely positive, and often students use the prototypes they develop to inspire additional scholarly or artistic work.

For information about offering a metaLAB virtual workshop in your course, please contact Newman.