Dr Rob Sherman
Lecturer in Digital Liberal Arts & Digital Cultures
I am a writer, artist, researcher, designer and consultant working in the fields of digital narrative design, games design, interactive experiences and their application in arts, culture and heritage.
I entered the field with The Black Crown Project, a transmedia web narrative published by Random House UK and shortlisted for the New Media Writing Prize and Futurebook Prize.
Since then, as well as a PhD in Creative (Digital) Writing and Human-Computer Interaction, I have founded the narrative experience design consultancy Bonfire Dog. working with clients on a variety of projects including virtual reality experiences, in-gallery videogames, web narratives, data-driven poetry, mixed reality installations and generative bots. Clients have included The British Library, National Trust For Scotland, IKEA, English Heritage, The Royal Mint, The National Museum Of Wales.
At the university, I am a Lecturer in Digital Liberal Arts and Digital Literary Cultures. I convene the Story Machines module for the Creative Writing MA, introducing students to creative coding, games design and interactive texts, as well as teaching and supervising on the core Liberal Arts modules, Think Tank and Being Human In The Modern World. I also advise on digital strategy and programme development in the department, as well as serving as the Director of Student Experience for the Liberal Arts programme.
I am a member of Exeter's Digital Advisory Network, the South West Fed, the Museums Immersive Network, the Museums Computer Group and the South West Creative Technology Network. I am also a Digital Research Fellow at the British Library, and a Fellow Emeritus of the Eccles Centre For North American Studies.
Consultancy Site: http://bonfiredog.co.uk
Artist's Website: http://robsherman.co.uk
Personal 'Workingblog': http://robsherman.co.uk/thegoodlymist
Office Hours (For Students)
Tuesdays 2pm - 4.30pm (In-Person/Remote)
Thursdays 12pm - 1.30pm (In-Person)
My PhD at Bath and Bath Spa universities, Project knole: An Autocosmic Approach To Authoring Resonant Computational Characters, was funded by the AHRC's SWWDTP scheme and sponsored by Iiyama International. It spoke to many of my research interests, which include:
- Best practice and innovation in interactive narrative design for videogames, digital literature, interactive experiences and other digitally-mediated work;
- The origins of narrative, fiction and imaginative engagement with fictional worlds;
- Unusual and historically-derived approaches to interactive narrative design;
- Digital cultures and digital literature;
- The application of digital technologies in arts, culture and heritage interpretation;
- The role of artists in cultural institutions;
- The history of computation and its influence on narrative practice.
- Mixed reality, hybrid and extended reality (XR) narrative experiences;
- Generative text, natural language processing and procedural storytelling;
- The interpretation of problematic and complex histories.
- I served as a member of the cross-disciplinary Empathy Research Group at Bath Spa University.
Research through practice
- Served as a Digital Resident with the Alan Turing Institute, the UK's national centre for data science and artificial intelligence: working with historic datasets, centred on the Victorian railway network, to create immersive generative poetry experiences.
- Served as Digital-Entrepreneur-In-Residence at the British Library, attached to the institution's headline exhibition on the history of polar exploration, Lines In The Ice. My residency considered the various meanings of 'interactivity; in a museum context, and my outputs included musical performances, online digital games, installation artworks, academic and public symposia, digital mapping, networked treasure hunts and even 'narrative cookery'!
- Served as Resident Artist at the Bothy Project in Inshriach, Scotland: a series of off-grid cabins hosting artists across the Scottish Highlands and Islands. My residency focussed on the analogue production of computer code, and the effects of loneliness on the artistic imagination.
External impact and engagement
Most of my work involves public-facing, industry-funded projects, across the arts and culture, heritage, educational, charity and environmental sectors. I also produce multimodal work as an independent artist.
Projects I have worked on include:
- Curating and running adult learning masterclasses in interactive literature at the British Library;
- A Twitterbot, The Lost Pubs, that generates a new, fictional pub name every six hours;
- An online web game, County Nighthead, where players have to distinguish real and generated placenames on an Ordnance Survey map and write etymologies for the fake ones;
- Consultancy for Southampton City Council on their archival outreach program Southampton Stories;
- Development work with Exeter-based immersive theatre company Wandering Tiger;
- Technical consultancy for the pan-Pacific True Echoes project, creating low-powered computers to enable Oceanic communities to record and save their intangible heritage;
- An outreach residency at the Museum Of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall;
- An Arts Council-funded multimedia exhibition at the Old Gaol Museum in Looe, Conrwall, exploring and juxtaposing the town's history with contemporary issues in the county;
- Lead design on an immersive, mixed reality installation at English Heritage's Boscobel House;
- Mixed reality installations for the National Justice Museum's school education program;
- An interactive campaign narrative for national housing charity Shelter UK;
- Consultancy and design of videogame-related interpretation for National Trust For Scotland;
- A mental health-focussed WhatsApp bot for IKEA UK;
- Lead exhibition design for the Exeter Science Centre's first pop-up exhibition;
- Lead narrative and game design for the therapy app Nadiya, designed to provide support for PTSD-suffering refugees;
- Lead narrative designer, audio designer and writer for a series of tactile physical/digital installations commissioned by the Royal Mint to be used as reminiscence aids for those living with dementia in over 1,000 UK care homes. Project was featured on national BBC Breakfast News, and shortlisted for a Museums + Heritage Community Impact Award
- Narrative design for headline immersive virtual reality exhibition at the National Museum of Wales, exploring the Earth’s climate history;
- Lead narrative and game design for a series of interpretative, in-gallery videogames as part of Nottingham Castle’s £40 million redevelopment;
- Game design, programming and narrative experience design for the Jane Austen House Museum’s outreach programme to promote teenage creative writing;
- Educational design for virtual recreations of historical sites in the chart-topping videogame Fortnite.
Public Speaking, Lectures, Conferences & Panels
- Immersive Museum Network Inaugural Seminar [Online], 2020
- AHI Webinar Masterclasses [Online], 2020
- Digital Creativity Symposium, TCCE, Ravensbourne University, 2020
- Library Of Ideas, British Library, 2018
- Association For Heritage Interpretation and Interpret Europe Conference, Inverness, 2018
- Centre For Creative Computing, Bath Spa University, 2017
- MIX Digital, Bath Spa University, 2017
- Youth Forum, British Library, 2017
- Early Stage Researcher Conference, Bath Spa University, 2017
- Continue Conference, National Videogame Museum, Nottingham, 2016
- WordPlay Festival, British Library, 2016
- Early Stage Researcher Conference, Bath Spa University, 2016
- Crossroads Of Curiosity, British Library, 2015
- Digital Conversations, British Library, 2014
- Futurebook Conference, London, 2013
- What You Talk About When You Talk About Digital. Museum Freelance, 2020.
- Cave Paintings. The Writing Platform, 2018
- Digital Utopias: The Hide. The Writing Platform, 2017
- On My Wife's Back: An Exercise In Historical Hooliganism. The Writing Platform, 2015
- The House Of Lords, Commoners & Everybody Else. British Library Collection Care, 2015
- Ffu-: Aviation Disaster & The Last Words Of Videogames. Gamasutra, 2015.
- I Am Overencumbered: Why Game Inventories Matter. RockPaperShotgun, 2014.
- I Did A Thing On A Hill: On Meaning And Purpose In Games. RockPaperShotgun, 2014.
Contribution to discipline
- Served as part of the organising committee of the 2017 Bath Spa Early Stage Research Conference.
My artistic, professional and academic work has been covered in a variety of national and international media, including BBC Radio, Sky News, Forbes, CNN, The Guardian, The Observer, Wired Magazine and BBC Breakfast TV.
In seminars, I try to avoid prescriptive, lecture-like material, or the daunting, dreaded silences of whole-room discussion topics! Much of my work and research centres on working in small teams, rapid prototyping, multimedia production and playful workshopping, and I try to bring these features into the classroom.
A typical seminar in one of my classes may centre on some of the following activities:
- Debate and discussion on controversial topics in small groups, directly relating the topic to the students' own lived experiences;
- Rapid prototyping of complex projects and experiences using analogue materials such as paper and architectural space;
- Workshopping of creative work;
- Shared readthroughs or playthroughs of key texts and experiences;
- Pitching and presenting projects;
- Improvisational or roleplaying exercises;
- Practical training in computer code, digital skills and narrative technique;
- The use of non-traditional teaching spaces, such as the Business School's Creative Quadrant.
Alongside seminars, I try to augment my students' experience with online resources, in the form of:
- Interactive multimedia essays;
- Diverse additional material and readingb arranged into 'pathways' for students with different interests to explore;
- Bespoke online communities that allow students can socialise, share work and keep in contact outside of class.
Some Recent Student Feedback
“I ended up learning more—and generating more new ideas/writing—in this module than in any other the entire year. So worth it. It felt great completing my own interactive storytelling thing and reading all sorts of stuff I wouldn’t otherwise have. And playing games (or watching other people play games) for homework isn’t bad, either.”
“[Story Machines] has been a wonderful experience so far. It has both strengthened my approach to narrative and allowed me to develop an entirely new skillset in coding and game design."
It has been certainly different from the other modules offered especially with regards to the interactive essays, which has been a great tool for self-led learning and understanding of the concepts further taught and explored in the class.
I’ve never taken a module that is so varied yet cohesive in its content. [The module] breaks free from the classic idea of storytelling that many of the modules focus on."
- EASM185 - Story Machines: Interactive Texts and Narrative Games
- EASM193 - Publishing and Production
- LIB1105 - Being Human in the Modern World
- LIB2000 - Think Tank