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Research boot camp not your average classroom experience

The Arts Campus recently buzzed with energy as Postgraduate Diploma in Design students immersed themselves in a dynamic three-week research boot camp from 26 February to 14 March 2024. The Postgraduate Diploma in Design is a unique transdisciplinary programme that includes students from Commercial Photography, Fashion Design, Integrated Communication Design and Interior Design.

The research boot camp wasn't your average classroom experience; it was a deep dive designed to future-proof students by preparing them to work in the transdisciplinary environments that are becoming the norm in the gig economy.

The first week focused on understanding the nature of design research, including learning how to identify scholarly sources and engage in academic writing and referencing. The overview covered both qualitative and quantitative research paradigms and introduced the concept of practice-based research. Design thinking was presented as a theoretical framework for such research, with its phases of defining, empathising, ideating, prototyping and testing. Students were also guided in identifying gaps in the literature, formulating clear problem statements, developing focused research questions and setting specific aims and objectives. In addition, academic journaling and the use of tools such as EndNote to organise references were demonstrated.

The second week began with the first phase of design thinking, which included defining and focusing on topic development, identifying problems and how to write an effective problem statement. Possible research questions, aims and objectives were also developed.

The final week of the boot camp began with a cheetah tour at De Wildt (Ann van Dyk Cheetah Sanctuary). This tour allowed the students to reflect on their research ideas in a natural environment. This experience was meant to inspire creativity and foster a sense of connection among the students.

After check-in and lunch at De Wildt Cheetah Lodge, the students were introduced to the programme for the week. The session started with icebreakers designed to encourage open communication and break down any barriers between students. This set the stage for a collaborative and supportive environment throughout the boot camp.

In the afternoon, students had the opportunity to meet with lecturers from their specific disciplines. These meetings discussed the research problems, questions, aims and objectives developed during the previous week. The lecturers emphasised the importance of a well-defined research question as the basis for a successful research project.

The following day, the second phase of design thinking began, which was called Empathise with the User. Students were encouraged to put themselves in the shoes of their target audience or users. This involved a deep understanding of their needs, challenges and perspectives in order to make the research findings meaningful and effective.

The subsequent phases of design thinking, ideation and prototyping were also discussed on this day. During the ideation phase, students explored different techniques to generate innovative ideas for their research projects. They were encouraged to think creatively and consider different perspectives to develop unique solutions to their research problems. The prototyping session focused on different prototyping methods, allowing students to create tangible representations of their ideas. This hands-on approach enabled them to experiment with concepts and refine them based on feedback.

On the third day of the camp, the students had the opportunity to test the prototypes they had built the previous day. This was the final phase of design thinking, during which students presented their prototypes and received feedback from their peers and facilitators. After this session, the students explored the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in research. They were introduced to AI tools that could assist in different stages of the research process, from generating research questions to analysing data. The facilitators highlighted the potential of AI to improve research efficiency and accuracy in an ethical way. Students used the rest of the day to consult with lecturers from their specific disciplines to finalise their research topics, questions, aims and objectives. They also used the time to prepare presentations.

The culmination of the camp was the final day, which stood out as the highlight of the whole experience. Students were able to present their proposed research topics to their peers and lecturers. The presentations were a testament to the hard work and dedication the students and lecturers had put into the activities throughout the camp. The success of these presentations was also evident in the depth of understanding and clarity with which each student articulated their research ideas. It was clear that the students had grasped the theoretical concepts introduced during the camp and had learned how to apply them in developing their research topics.

The positive feedback and constructive criticism provided by lecturers and fellow students throughout the camp enriched the learning experience. The interactive sessions allowed students to refine their research ideas and gain confidence in their ability to write the required research proposals.

The camp indeed provided a solid foundation for their academic journeys and inspired a passion for inquiry and innovation.

Postgraduate Diploma in Design students immersed themselves in a dynamic three-week research boot camp from 26 February to 14 March 2024.


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