International Screen School Manchester

Interview with Professor Mary Oliver, Head of Media at Manchester Metropolitan University and the driving force behind the new International Screen School Manchester 

There has been lots of chatter about the creation of a new International Screen School in Manchester, and — following a reference to the project in George Osborne’s last Budget statement earlier in the year — a major funding bid has been worked up, with the full support of the University and the City Council, and there’s growing expectation about the project.

I recently met with Mary Oliver to find out a bit more…..

Q: Just to get started, can you tell us what this new International Screen School is going to be exactly.

MO: Subject to Government funding, we are planning to create a fantastic new building on Oxford Road, which will provide multi-disciplinary undergraduate, post-graduate and apprenticeship programmes in screen and post-screen media — and it will also be a hub for new businesses and innovators. I’m very excited about it — as are a lot of other people!

Professor Mary Oliver
Q: Why do we need a new ‘Screen School’?

MO: It is almost impossible to spend a day in which we do not engage with some form of digital media and our sense of identity and place in the world is increasingly defined through our relationships to digital communication tools. We have never been so connected to technology as individuals or to each other via this technology.

Q: Sounds like an important new initiative for the creative and cultural scene in the North West

MO: Not just the cultural and creative sectors though. Immersive viewing experiences such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will become standard viewing over the next decade, offering opportunities to screen media makers, designers and technologists to vastly expand the content needed for new kinds of screen-based experiences and interactions. The expertise needed to create VR for Healthcare, immersive experiential learning and User Experience Design, for example are just three of the new specialisms that already have identified skill shortages.

The ISSM will be a future facing resource developed on the interdisciplinary/ innovative, flexible Art School Model that recognises that screen and post-screen interactions in the future will be central to human communication. It recognises that technological advances and convergences between different creative digital sectors will completely transform the kinds of expertise that is needed to serve this greatly expanded range of screen and post-screen based interactions. We need to respond to these vanguard developments by providing the kind of learning environment where creative content producers and technologists can be part of a shared learning experience so that we can meet a rapidly growing demand for experts that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Q: So, a very different learning experience?

MO: In establishing a new curriculum it is important to consider that in ten years time basic coding will be a new core literacy. A knowledge of applied psychology will be needed, as new kinds of viewing experiences will require more in depth understanding of human behaviour. Business fundamentals such as working on demand for a greatly expanded range of employers will require our students to be knowledgeable about a broader range of employment demands. Networking, marketing, self-publishing, registering and maintaining IP are all skills that will be needed by entrepreneurial future screen media makers, producers and distributors.

A new model of interdisciplinary STEAM education will be employed in the design of the Screen School portfolio. Where some of our regional partners (University of Salford, Leeds Beckett, University of Manchester) still maintain a divide between Science Technology and Creative subjects, the ISSM will transcend traditional disciplinary divides. We will offer a comprehensive learning experience that retains subject specialist knowledge where affective, combined with substantially increased opportunities for collaboration and interdisciplinary learning experiences that become progressively available as the students move through their learning experience.

In order to achieve this we need to overcome a knowledge hierarchy that places scientific epistemology above that of creative production methods. Digital innovation, particularly new product developments, relies on a combination of these skill sets. As Erik Schmidt CEO of Google announced at the Edinburgh Television Conference in 2011 “The next wave of digital innovations will come when the luvvy and the boffin are taught together.”

Q: How important is the connection with industry?

MO: It is crucial to recognise that the whole media market is being disrupted by new business models and methods of distribution. In an incredibly short time companies like Amazon and Netflix have established worldwide audiences delivering high quality services into homes and onto handheld devices via the internet. New technologies are also changing the way films are produced: digital communications allow production teams to be spread around the world and producers are able to shop around for talent without geographical restriction.

In order to create the right kinds of graduates with the skills to not only connect with and cross-over the disciplines in the workplace but have the skills and the opportunities to create the products and the jobs of the future, we need to provide our students with the core skills with which to transcend their discipline and bring Science and Creative learning methods in closer alignment. We are building connections with businesses across Greater Manchester to help create a strong collaborative approach as we move forward.

Q: Isn’t everyone doing this? Why Manchester Met?

MO: At Manchester Metropolitan we are in a perfect position to enable creative and innovative solutions by combining our creative learning with the skill of the technologist and behavioural scientist. The model for Creative Education in the UK’s HE sector, is lauded as a model of excellence internationally. Manchester Metropolitan University’s own Art School creative education model is the longest standing undergraduate provision in the UK. It is mult-award winning, recognised for its innovative inter-disciplinary teaching methods and industry facing pedagogy.

Geographically Manchester is perfectly placed to respond to this problem, to build on its position as an internationally connected city within easy reach of our global partners. By working in consultation with regional, national and international stakeholders we will build a school that will provide the region with a wealth of international talent who in turn will be the game changers of the future.

Q: So, when do the doors open?

MO: The new building won’t be up-and-running until 2021 — but we’re rolling out a series of programmes over the next few years, including a new UX Apprenticeship degree next year. We’re also planning a ‘pop-up’ ISSM and an ISSM Summer School. You should expect to see lots happening in this space very soon!

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