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Nurturing Talent

June 4, 2017
Mark Lochrie

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Within the Studio we nurture new talent in a variety of ways: through our delivery of teaching;  our internship programmes; and by supervising PhD candidates. The Studio team is comprised of researchers, teachers, technologists and bid writers with connections across all areas of the University enabling the Studio to play its role in professional development. The Studio is constantly seeking to evolve through combining novel approaches, disciplines, processes and methods, reflected in our ability to host a number of staff and students in collaborations or hot desking.  Our approach includes the sharing of supervisory duties for interns from other disciplines, exposing the intern and their work to the practices of the Media Innovation Studio. The Studio also hosts visiting lectures and research associates who similarly share their experiences, creating a vibrant culture and atmosphere.

Through different guises the Studio plays an important role in attracting interns from external Universities through connections initiated through the Erasmus programme, in a yearly internship agreement between the Media Innovation Studio and HOWEST, Belgium. This enriches students with an insight into working processes and experiences, of the types of industries they might like to explore once completing their degrees.  Concurrently, the Studio becomes empowered to explore new possibilities with novel and exciting projects that may lead to possible research and/or future funding. 

Last year’s intern Glenn Matthys, worked on a range of projects from server management to the development of a companion app to compliment the littleBits platform, explained elsewhere within this book. This years intern, Aäron Declerck has applied a similar approach by working on numerous projects from the development of the Studio’s briefing radio to continuing the works of DataMakers in the air quality sensor network, data collection and visualisation. All the interns are exposed to the Studios day-to-day operations and are embraced as team members, including  their integration into core channels within Slack. Through immersion in the Studio’s cross disciplinary team, their work, discussions and experiences yield fruitful results.   

Glenn, now graduated, works for E-Crane, writing software for balanced cranes, reflected on his involvement here at the Studio. “During my time at the Media Innovation Studio  I worked on the littleBits project, creating a browser based simulation of the real thing. Alongside this and becoming part of the team that delivered littleBits workshops to children, I became interested in developing a side project, encouraged by my supervisor Dr. Mark Lochrie,combining a range of platforms to work with littleBits. The resulting project was to combine littleBits, LEGO, BBC micro:bit and Slack, to make a rollercoaster that carries a ball using a small lift to the top and guides it back down where the lift can take it up again, when actioned via a command on Slack.

Whilst working on the littleBits simulator (ALE), I discovered the challenges when developing real world physical platforms, digitally. Creating a User Interface that represents something physical into a digital environment. One of the main challenges was compromising the design considerations, based on the possibilities of the platform and technology. This taught me about how to deal with limitations and quirks within different web browsers on various platforms and best methods for researching solutions. Alongside the projects, I was also granted time to experiment with different programming techniques, some ended up being “wasted time”. But I soon learned about how to extract value from the lessons learnt from talking with my supervisor and fellow team members.

As a software engineer for crane balancing, I can firmly say that the littleBits rollercoaster was my first step into the world of programming electronics, learning how different components communicate with each other on the electrical level, and through this I have a somewhat  better knowledge in my job to date.

On a personal note, interning at the Studio also allowed me to discover a little bit more about myself, how “Americanized” my English was and how bad I was at planning things ahead. It also brought me into touch with a different, academic, view of the world with lots of room for varied discussions. Truely  a period of expanding my state of mind during a time everybody should have at least once in their lives.

The internship programme would not be possible without the support and connections between the Media Innovation Studio and HOWEST. In particular, the support from Jill VandenDriessche…

Any student returning from any international experience is a changed one, such is a fact. However, those returning from an exchange at the Media Innovation Studio, UCLan have not only reached a higher level of maturity, but carry a specific sense of accomplishment regarding their work. When comparing their work with peers returning from other experiences, Studio trainees assert their internship as more socially relevant than the others. It is wonderful to see the career opportunities open up for them when presenting their work in front of a professional jury due to the high level of commitment in their work.

The University of Central Lancashire and HOWEST have a long lasting relationship of exchanges, dating back to 2005. Students from several degrees and backgrounds have been given opportunities to work on a variety of projects, from interactive gaming for children to large audience team building applications. As a lecturer I have always been impressed by the involvement of UCLan staff in the students’ projects. Trainees truly get a chance to develop the best aspects of themselves and are closely monitored during the entire process. Not only do they return better programmers, but they have also matured in handling project work. As for future developments, I hope first and foremost we may continue our excellent annual collaboration further into the future, perhaps with one or more students from similar backgrounds. Earlier this year there was an exploratory visit from HOWEST to the Media Innovation Studio,  where we were shown work from our latest students contributions and discussed further cooperation  including research and  teacher exchange.


The Studio recognises the importance of technical ability complemented and backed up by a strong research rigor. This is especially important considering the Studio position within the Faculty and University. Through PhD candidates the Studio can map out three year plans to discovery and explore projects based around particular research questions. As the Studio grows over time, the hope is to increase the research activities from both students and academics. Currently two PhD candidates are in positions with the potential of two more later in the year. The two candidates Oliver Halstead and Jack Davenport bring new areas of research interests into the cross disciplinary team, investigating the role digital platforms can play in music creation and consumption; exploring how people use these platforms both in a technological approach but also the social and cultural challenges technology can have on the preservation of said cultures.   

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