Utopia: A space-time machine for the classroom

Photo credit: © Andrew Perry EFI Utopia Lab June 2019

In this post, Jennifer Williams, a Projects & Engagement Coordinator at the Institute for Academic Development, showcases a unique sort of fieldtrip involving a journey through time and space, while staying physically at The University of Edinburgh…

You don’t always have to travel to get away. In fact, though we ended up calling this pilot project ‘Utopia Lab’, for most of its more than two years of development I always thought of it as the ‘Utopia Residency’. We did have two participants who travelled, one from Paris, to be there, but the other seven participants were Edinburgh-based. Having said that, we definitely went on a journey through time and space, using our collective and individual imaginations, which opened hearts, expanded minds, and taught us more than we ever could have hoped.

Photo credit: © Andrew Perry EFI Utopia Lab June 2019

Utopia was conceived as a unique space within the University for contemplation, innovation and collaboration. The aim of the lab format – ideally a five-day, though in the case of the pilot, a three-day working period – was to curate interactions between academics, artists, entrepreneurs, students and audiences in person and online to share globally. We wanted to explore that which is provocative and irreverent as well as that which is nurturing, supportive and joyful. A challenging utopia question would be set as catalyst for inquiry and creative learning. With an emphasis on innovative and experimental ways of thinking, communicating and making, we would implement meditation, dialogue and self-led creation with the help of a facilitator. Participants would consist of University staff and students, and non-University practitioners.

Photo credit: © Andrew Perry EFI Utopia Lab June 2019

The Utopia Lab Pilot in June 2019 was a first experiment to begin testing the ideas and structure of the Utopia Lab model. It was a partnership project, supported by the Festival of Creative Learning, at the Institute for Academic Development, and the Edinburgh Futures Institute. You can read all about the pilot and meet the participants via these links:

Utopian Dreaming Part 1

Utopian Dreaming Part 2

It was an incredible journey, and one which I hope will continue. As one of our Utopia participants commented:

It was genuinely one of my best three days at the university, and I have spent 10 years at it, at all levels! Whatever you decide to keep, it will be marvellous, whatever you decide to change it will be marvellous, too! There is no right or wrong in Utopia and if we can keep that central let go attitude, this will forever be an amazing (non-)space!

There is much to be learned from going places, even if those places are within our own selves. And the University, as a launch pad for Utopia, is the perfect shore from which to begin these explorations.

If you are interested in Utopia and have your own questions, or want to get involved, please email j.l.williams@ed.ac.uk.

Jennifer Williams

Jennifer Williams is a Projects & Engagement Coordinator in IAD and coordinates the Festival of Creative Learning, alongside a variety of projects that promote innovative, collaborative and creative learning at the University of Edinburgh (e.g., the Near Future Teaching project). Her background is in writing, art, collaboration, creative learning and project management. She holds a BA degree from Wellesley College in English Literature with a Studio Art minor, and an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Her key recent posts have included Programme Manager at the Scottish Poetry Library and Literature Officer at the Traverse Theatre.

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