Not knowing is the whole point

Jordi Solsona Belenguer views himself more as an enabler rather than as a teacher.

He is however main teacher, as well as programme coordinator, for the Master's Programme in Design for Creative and Immersive Technology – a two-year master at the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, DSV. Earlier this year he was awarded “Teacher of the year”. 

The programme is multidisciplinary and orientates around immersive technologies, such as interaction technologies and human-computer interaction. 

“Theory of immersion and extended reality are not just about VR glasses. Books, for example, are also immersive”, says Jordi Solsona Belenguer.

Jordi Solsona Belenguer Photo: Carina Bergholm
“The Extrality lab here in Campus Kista is a reference place, where students can feel comfortable and welcome. A place to work and play around in”, says Jordi Solsona Belenguer, winner of the Teacher of the year award 2023. Photo: Carina Bergholm

He wrote his PhD about multidisciplinary design teams with an engineer’s perspective: how to improve communication within such groups. This background helps in his teaching and coaching.

“I’m learning constantly from the students who all come from different backgrounds, with various sets of skills, like interaction design, mechanical or electrical engineering and computer science. One even had a background in classical painting and the most amazing perspective on the visual sides of things. I’m here to provide the equipment, the environment and the community. By the end of this master’s programme, they are way better than me!”   

By the end of this master’s programme, they are way better than me!

The favoured style of teaching veers from conventional leanings.

“I try to keep traditional lectures – where I simply explain something that you can read in a book – down to a minimum. One of the most important skills I want to teach is not how to use the current technology, but how to figure out how to solve things by yourself. We give support, supervision, provide a lab and have group discussions. I’m not a teacher – just an enabler.” 

“You have to discover and use the resources around you, whether that consists of your colleagues, the Internet or experts that you can reach out to. It is pointless to “take a picture” of the state of things today and simply teach that because it will be obsolete by next year. With a tool box of skills, you can understand that not knowing is also OK and that you will still be able to solve problems. It’s important to be humble enough to ask.” 

Working this way demands a lot of dedication and hard work from the teachers. 

“I couldn’t have done this without the team of teachers. And together we change and improve the program every year”. 

A place that remains open

“It is very useful to have a reference place, where students can feel comfortable and welcome – in our case the Extrality lab. A place to work and play around in. We have electronics, soldering equipment, fabrication – you can even do gaming. We spend a lot of time together in there. It stays open all the time. Half the courses are all connected to the lab somehow”. 

You will reach a point where you actually try new interactions and move the whole technology forward

Work from low to high tech

“If you want to push the interaction by adding external sensors, create a suit or if you want something extra and actually be explorative, you will need to start low tech since the technology to develop your idea doesn’t yet exist. You have to create it because headsets for example, originally only come with certain functions. You will reach a point where you actually try new interactions and move the whole technology forward. 

The philosophy is to push and explore which makes it more enjoyable.

“Your thing becomes unique. The fact that you don’t know how to produce your idea doesn’t stop you. You have to explore, fail, learn and re-do it. Proof of concept always starts with low tech.”

Go for it! It might mean a lot of problems to solve the crazy ideas that you get – but also much more fun!

Jordi Solsona Belenguer hopes the students relish their time here and look back on it as something fun. 

“I want them to make a lot of personal connections with fellow students and teachers. It is important to have a personal component. Your time here at DSV is when you are allowed to do whatever you want. Don’t solve boring problems or build boring products. Do something crazy and explorative, because when you finish here you will probably spend most of your time doing boring things. Go for it! It might mean a lot of problems to solve the crazy ideas that you get – but also much more fun!”

Is the concept of the project something that you also evaluate? 
“I always tell the students: ‘Don’t over-engineer it or over-think it’. I prefer something simpler that does the job and communicates the set concept, rather than perfect engineering. I want the students to be more idea driven and let the technology be “just” a tool. When the tools change, the concepts stay. You can then pick up a ten-year-old project and redo it with new technologies. Maybe it can be improved in some small aspects but the basic ideas are exactly the same”

Can the students cope with all this freedom?  
“I frame it in a bit during the first project courses and pretend that it is a small problem to solve. That makes it is easier for them to start working. In the beginning, I’m more interested in the students getting to know each other and communicate, to see who is good in which area: be it programmer, designer, artist and so on, in order to build the teams. Towards the end of the programme, I say: ‘Okay, your five months project starts now. You are on your own. And don’t come back with boring stuff. Bring me something progressive’.” 

What is the most important take away from the programme for the students? 
“Don’t panic when you don’t know something. That’s the whole point.”

Text: Carina Bergholm