In less than one year, the Institute for Interactive Media and Learning’s LX.lab has changed the way academics access learning and teaching support at UTS. Now, thanks to its newest initiative, the Academic in Residence (AiR) program, the LX.lab is shaking up how we unearth and share specialist knowledge too. Inaugural AiR Ilaria Vanni, explains how she’s using the program to develop a community of practice, expand our understanding of ‘place’ and create new resources for students.
In any given year, says Associate Professor Ilaria Vanni, an In-Country Study student “might be doing a project on sushi restaurants in a town in North Italy, or somebody might look at sustainability in music festivals. Place is the organising concept that drives most of my students’ projects – not all, but most of them – and those projects can take different directions.”
As a researcher working on transdisciplinary projects, and coordinator of the Italy Major in the School of International Studies, Ilaria spends a lot of time talking about, writing about and conceptualising the idea of ‘place’ – meaningful sites with multiple identities and histories that are continuously emerging through relations, social and cultural practices and interactions.
Place is an important theoretical framework for her research and teaching practice, as well as an anchoring concept for her students’ major projects. To support students and other academics engaging with ideas of place in their teaching, Ilaria has created a set of resources, including podcasts, critical introductions to methodologies, comprehensive discussions of methods, and practical how-to guides. "The practicalities of how to organise one's work," she says, "are often taken for granted. But practical details are crucial to make sure that a project goes smoothly."
That’s why, throughout her six-month term as the LX.lab’s AiR, Ilaria is developing resources on methodologies to study place. Already, she’s drawn on the expertise of other academics who explore place in their work to create a series of podcasts and, in July, she held a forum too.
“I interviewed 12 people from around UTS plus colleagues from other institutions who are working on place. The project owes much to their contribution, it’s not just my contribution.”
For Ilaria, it’s important to socialise her work. “Knowledge should be shared and open, so all these resources will be available to colleagues and students at UTS.”
Podcasts in particular, adds Ilaria, “are a relatively easy and not time-consuming way to present multiple voices and perspectives. Podcast series on concepts that circulate in different disciplines – for instance 'sustainability' or 'ethnography' – and the way people go about thinking and researching them could be a way to develop research-integrated learning resources across several faculties.”
In terms of the residence itself, Ilaria says, “It’s been a great experience to work at the lab. I work with an amazing team, including a project manager, event manager, website designer, podcast producer, research assistant and editor, and librarians.
“I have amazing support. I feel very spoilt and privileged and every time I work with the team I think this is the ideal situation for an academic.”
And for Ilaria, it’s just the beginning. “I think that as a model this could be applied to other topics. There are concepts that traverse different faculties, probably not all faculties, but several different faculties and I think gathering academics together around one specific concept is quite a productive way of working.”
You can read more about Ilaria’s project and the AiR program at futures.uts.edu.au