sustainable learning spaces

A Space Defined: Four Years in the Life of the FSU Digital Studios

Stephen J. McElroy, Jennifer Wells, Andrew Burgess, Jeff Naftzinger, Rory Lee, Josh Mehler, Jason Custer, Aimee Jones, and Joe Cirio, Florida State University

Williams Building
Johnston Building

Looking Back
Looking Ahead
Looking Around

Two questions have guided our work for this piece with regard to the FSU Digital Studio and its sustainability:

As we sought to answer the first question, a combination of three major elements emerged: the vision of administrators for the Studio according to their understanding of institutional, disciplinary, and pedagogical needs (i.e., the ecological articulations); the physical spaces themselves; and the revolving cast of able and enthusiastic tutors, for whom training and support is a constant and recurring need. Our design of this chapter is reflective of these combinatory elements in that each one is presented for consideration as its own unit. Our answer to the second question is in many ways informed by the first: that is, the Digital Studio will continue to grow and to build on the history enacted by its first four years. Old opportunities and challenges will recur, new opportunities and challenges will arise, and our responses to each of them will be shaped by our understanding of the Studio’s past. In the video on this page, major players from the Studio’s past and present share some of their own reflections on the history of the Studio and consider the potential directions for its future. What we can see is that there are just as many lingering questions as there are answers.

Figure 22: Former graduate student directors and tutors reflect on their experience in the Studio.
(Video Transcript)
Looking Back

We hear in the video about the mission of the Studio, which has remained relatively stable throughout our first four years: to serve students and faculty and to provide them with a space where they can work on and get assistance with digital and multimodal projects. As we serve them, we help them develop as multimodal composers. Rory mentions Selber’s three kinds of literacies that can serve as guideposts for our interactions with students and faculty. Initially, this meant students and faculty in the English department, but as we’ve grown, so has our reach within the university community. With our second location in the more centralized Johnston building, the Studio’s customer base has grown not only in size, but also in disciplinary diversity. In the fall 2012 semester, one year after Johnston’s opening, 67% of the 138 unique clients who made appointments with the Williams Studio reported themselves as English majors, whereas only 56% of those who visited the Johnston Studio did. In that same semester, there were 25 different majors (plus two “other”) represented in the Williams location, while in Johnston 38 were represented (plus six “other”), amounting to a 50% increase in disciplinary diversity.

Looking Ahead

We anticipate that responding to this diversifying growth, which is still in a state of acceleration, will be our next major administrative challenge (among other smaller ones, of course). Any fitting response will follow inquiry not only into who is using the space (students? faculty? classes? student orgs? etc.) and how they are using it, but also how they could use it or want to use it. In other words, the growth of the Studio is and should be recursive: among the services we offer is the opportunity for new services according to a given exigence or set of exigencies. Such recursion requires both openness on our parts to what needs may arise and an inquisitiveness about what Richard Selfe (2010) called “multimodal workflow.” What he says about the broader field can also be said for our local operation:

We need to explore the multimodal workflow of the disciplines, students, and professionals around us because we, as English studies faculty, know so little about the complex working conditions of multimodal communicators across the disciplines. Without this cumulative knowledge, we cannot anticipate the needs of academic or professional learner/communicators, much less apply our humanistic attitudes, critical approaches, and ethical concerns to those needs and practices.

On the one hand, exploring the workflow is an immediate necessity for managing the FSU Digital Studios and providing the best services within our local constraints. That is, once we understand the workflow, then we provide the service. On the other, and as Yancey explains in the video on this page, the Studio (and indeed other next-gen learning spaces) and the composing work that takes place therein is ripe for studies whose findings could have broad implications.

Looking Around

Thus, the challenge for our Studio is one shared with the field: to study the multimodal composition that happens in these spaces is to better understand that composition and to create new opportunities to support it. The first step for the field, then, is to uncover the spaces that already exist so that they can be studiedwhich is what makes the collection of which this chapter is a part so exciting.

In the meantime, we return our attention to the FSU Digital Studio. While we’re comfortable with the version of the Studio’s history that we’ve told—in that we think we’ve answered that question as comprehensively as possible given the constraints—what its future is remains less clear to us. Questions that we’ve circulated among ourselves include:

With these questions about our own Studio in mind, we conclude by offering some reflections on the takeaways for our readers, whom we imagine may be looking to develop their own Studio spaces. Aside from technologies and architecture, what our experience has shown is that one of the biggest question marks in terms of sustainability for a Digital Studio is staffing and training. Administrators and faculty who are planning their own Studios will need to consider these questions: (a) whom will the space serve, (b) what will their needs be, (c) how will the staff meet those needs, and (d) what training will be required for that staff? With a revolving staff, it becomes important to develop training programs that can prepare staff quickly to do their work and that enables them to see the value of that preparation. When time for training is limited, that training will need to be less about learning specific software platforms and more about learning how to learn about software. Such experiences will thus prepare staff to adapt in accordance with the often unpredictable needs of the Studio’s clients. As those adaptations occur, they can be recursively incorporated into the training and preparation models, thereby enriching the abilities of the staff and the services of the Studio.

One final note that we wanted to be sure to include here is that, with the exception of the camera used to record the interview with Yancey, the original webtext was created entirely with tools and resources available in the Studio.

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