Creativity from the computer departement

For one thing, most of our staff have creative practices outside of, but frequently related to computing: they’re musicians, artists, social activists, and writers. If someone was wandering around the corridors and asked to guess what kind of academic department we’re in, they probably wouldn’t guess computing. But we are computer scientists, honest. The work we do is significant on the world stage, published in the best journals and presented at the best conferences.

We built a computing department that played to Goldsmiths’ core strengths in arts and social analyses and critiques

Lots of what we do involves integrating ideas across different disciplines and world views. In one project with Imperial College, we are helping people understand the way proteins dock. This could be a dry subject, but we use techniques from games and 3D digital art to produce visualisations for scientists and to aid pupils’ learning. In another, we are helping people collectively learn how to play music using a hybrid of audio-visual and social media techniques. In a third, we put an enormous man-made sun in the middle of Trafalgar Square. We also designed software with embedded machine learning, enabling users to build their own real-time interactive systems, including musical instruments.

 

Brillint. Independent. Unusually diverse. We draw a lot of our students from London and we naturally inherit a great deal of cultural diversity from the city. We are particularly proud of the prominence of women in the department. We have more than twice the average percentage of women on our degree courses, but we can and will do better.

We have a women in computing scholarship scheme for undergraduates, and we run events in our welcome week for new female students. We are active in national networks for women in Stem subjects, and our head of department is one of the two co-chairs of the Goldsmiths Athena SWAN team, working to ensure gender equality across the institution.

How else do you try to broaden the reach of computing education?

We have a mission to widen access both locally and globally. Locally, we work with London schools and further education colleges to enable inner-city pupils to find their way to university.

Globally, we have been working on distance learning initiatives for over 20 years. We are the provider of the undergraduate computing programmes for the University of London International Academy. Through that, we have educated thousands of students around the world.

Over the last few years, that global reach imperative has led us increasingly down a path of online provision. We have run Moocs (massive open online courses) on a number of platforms, teaching subjects stretching from data science to deep stack web development, and machine learning for artists. These have already reached over 200,000 learners. We expect this to grow quickly and are now expanding the department to help support the growth.

What online provision have you got coming up?

We are very excited about our next Mooc, which we think will be one of the world’s first to cover virtual reality. This will be led by our lecturer Dr Sylvia Xueni Pan.

Sylvia is a good example of the kind of lecturers we have. Growing up in Beijing, she went on to do a PhD and post-doctoral research in virtual reality at UCL, then joined us at Goldsmiths.

She’s interested in creating empathic social experiences in VR that are immersive and engaging, and she uses these experiences in training and education, therapy, and social neuroscience research. She has, for example, been using VR to train GPs to deal with (virtual) patients’ unreasonable demands for antibiotics. She also uses VR as a research tool for social scientists, and brings social science research to VR.

Her work has been featured in BBC Horizon, New Scientist and the Wall Street Journal. All of this thinking will inform the VR section soon to appear on the online study site, Coursera.

How did you get to be the department yo?

The department development began in 2001 when the idea of “the digital” was all over Goldsmiths, as it was all over everywhere else. It seemed a great time to build a computing department that played to Goldsmiths’ core strengths in arts and social analyses and critiques. So that’s what we did. We started joint research, and teaching programmes jointly. It has worked well for us and we are now deeply embedded in all Goldsmiths’ activities.

This worldview still affects much of what we do: as we expand the kinds of computing we explore, we retain a focus on arts, creativity and the social. Therefore, our two newest growth areas – virtual reality and data science – both embrace ideas from, and applications to, arts and social science.