Research Creation/Critical Media

Reflecting on DH@GUELPH, “Making at the Intersection” workshop

Although DH@Guelph finished nearly two weeks ago, last week I was busy with career centre work, a committee meeting that led to a quick but intense couple of days revising, and a teaching application. So, despite my tardiness, I’d like to reflect and share some of things that we did in the workshop I attended, “Making at the Intersection,” because it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot!

“Making at the Intersection” was led by Kim Martin, John Fink, and Liviu Pop, and the workshop discussed various strategies of bringing intersectional feminism to maker culture, which is predominately masculine, is ableist, and not a safe space for women and people of colour. We discussed various readings that discussed these issues, not only in the present but as far back as the medieval ages. On the first day, we played with various maker tech available at Guelph’s THINC Lab like Makey Makeys, an Atari Punk Console, and conductive thread. Although I had no sewing experience whatsoever, it was nice being introduced to conductive thread. Over at the Critical Media Lab, we have worked lot with Arduino or I have worked on projects with arduino micro controllers, so playing with conductive thread opened up a lot of other ways of making. Here’s my sorry attempt at sewing with conductive thread:

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For the next couple of days, we worked on thinking through collaborative projects that we could do in the workshop. Since quite a few of us were interested in Sound, we started discussing how voice assistant devices (if that’s what they’re called?) like Siri and Alexa are typically coded as a subservient white woman. Although there are limited options to change this vocal setting (my partner and I enjoy the British male voice for our Siri setting), we noted how the white woman’s voice is always default. So, we decided to make a Siri/Alexa-like chatbot for the THINC Lab that would subvert those subservient notions of what chat bots are for. Our chat bot, #NotYerBot, is only chat-based (but I think there are plans to make this voice-automated as well), but was a fun exercise in creating a bot that didn’t respond to your questions, asked you questions, and gave feminist insight, even if you didn’t asked for it. Here’s a snapshot of some of the responses:

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That’s just testing out responses to “hello,” but here’s a couple of other responses from our draft:

+ why do feminist dh?
– Why not?
– Is there any other kind?
– O, I DON’T KNOW, BC PERPETUATING A WHITE SUPREMACIST, PATRIARCHAL HEGEMONY IS NOT CONDUCIVE TO GOOD, RIGOROUS, AND, FRANKLY, INTERESTING SCHOLARSHIP. BESIDES, HUMANS NOT ONLY SHAPE TECHNOLOGY BUT, UM HELLOOOO, TECHNOLOGY ITSELF IS DEF SUBJECT FORMING: SO WE BEST KEEP OUR EYES PEELED FOR HOW POWER OPERATES WITHIN THESE SHINY DOMAINS.


+ what is interdisciplinary?
– (long pause)
– It’s like playing Twister, but each space is a different academic field! It’s a lot of fun.
– [the wikipedia’s entry on the term]

Following these conversations about unseen labour, we decided to make something that would acknowledge the kinds of unseen labour of people working within the THINC Lab (and, if installed in other places, in workspaces in general). The end product: Accounts Re-see-vable: Receipts for your unseen labour. Using a Raspberry Pi, RFID cards, and a thermal printer, we made the thermal printer generate a receipt for the unseen labour card that a participant would use. Here are some photos to give a clearer picture:

 

From the board, the participant would take a card with an unseen labour written on it. Some of the examples include “Listened Generously,” “Emotional Labour,” “Advocated for Self/Others,” and “Fielded Microaggressions and plain old aggression.” Then, participants would tap the card against the box (the raspberry pi and RFID reader), and a receipt would be generated out of the printer. The receipt would have the title of the project, what unseen labour the participant did, and a mash-up text of Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” lyrics from Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Sara Ahmed’s blog post, “Confrontation,” and Dani Beckett’s blog post, “100 Easy Ways to Make Women’s Lives More Bearable.”  We included images, too (see above), but some images struggled with being printed out. The result is a whimsical text of feminist wisdom and playfulness to comfort and motivate.

I’m really glad and grateful for being able to contribute to these projects. As much as I love these kind of workshops, it’s rare to collaborate with the entire workshop and develop two fun and functional projects to share with the rest of the summer workshops. Also, since participating in events and workshops and projects at the CML, my time in this workshop have inspired me to approach maker projects (or critical media projects) from various other angles.  “Making at the Intersection” provided me with new theoretical approaches, as well as new applications of familiar tools and new tools to use in future projects!

 

Games, Life Writing

Upcoming: Autobiographical Game Club

In the fall term last year, I proposed an autobiographical game club (like a book club but with games). But because it was the fall term and because I hadn’t really given a list of what we’d be playing/reading, it never materialized.

However, this summer, I’ve decided to re-attempt the Autobiographical game club and I’ve gotten a lot of interest. The club will be starting in June just following my CGSA presentation in Regina on May 31st, and it will be a local one (in Kitchener-Waterloo). However, feel free to “follow along”: Below is our reading list and I’ll be writing blog posts about our discussions (usually in the first week of the month). Although this will be more laid back and fun, I am hoping that this group and the discussions will get me thinking of a postdoc project since I (and my committee) are planning for my defence to be some time in the summer.

Here’s the list: I’ve tried to group them thematically and/or with readings (I’ve removed the date and times because I want this group to be local):

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Teaching

Last term gave me a teaching high (and the course evaluations only sent me higher)

So it’s been almost a month since my Superhero class has ended, and, for the most part, I feel really good about it. The class discussions were always amazing, and the work that students produced floored me every time – they gave a whole new meaning to going “above and beyond.” I also challenged myself in other areas – by sharing my mental health and having discussions of mental health in classroom, interrupting the scheduled material. I also pushed for an intersectional composition of the course reading list and approaches to the reading list, while still being accessible to first year students (or upper year students new to these concepts). And while some students wanted more “mainstream superheroes” than I included (Superman, Black Panther, Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel, Batman, and the deaf issue of Hawkeye) or more historically canonical explorations of the hero (like Gilgamesh) , a lot of students really appreciated the focus on comics and the diversity of the material. And the criticisms I received were rather constructive, giving me a better idea of how students, and in particular STEM students, understand Humanities-related assignments and rubrics.

So, I’d just like to share a few of the comments and then comment upon them, a sort of reflection on my teaching. Let’s start of with a couple that comment on diversity of the material taught:

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I’m not sure how exactly I “subverted traditional lecturing,” but perhaps it’s the combination of including “non-traditional” works and not solely lecturing the entire class. And while the one student, echoing a few others, would like some kind of traditional works included, the benefits of including the kinds of non-traditional/canonical works outweigh the wants of canonical texts. Nevertheless, if I were to teach this course again, I may consider including one or two mythical texts. The reason why I didn’t that term was simply the fact that I’m not familiar with Gilgamesh or Beowulf, and it’s been some time since I’ve read ancient mythical origins. But overall, I was floored by these comments and others liked it – to know that the efforts I put into composing this class were appreciated by the majority of the class because it introduced them to new perspectives and texts they never heard of was so awarding.

There a few that echoed “more structured guideline for assignments,” though. In the last two years, I’ve been trying hard to include a detailed rubric and guideline, especially keeping in mind that the majority of students I do teach at Waterloo are in STEM. While the Superhero course had a few humanities students, there were a lot of students in Science. So I found their feedback instructive. Most science students said that my feedback was very instructive and helped them become better writers, but the comments in the course evaluations wanted more clearer guidelines and/or expectations:

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Throughout the past couple of years, I’ve been editing and re-editing my rubric and similar assignments, looking over others to how they construct their rubrics and their guidelines. Although this year I did my best to tie my feedback to the language of the rubric, it seemed that students had issues with the language of the rubric. So, my attempts to point to the rubric wasn’t as effective. Going forward, I’ll continue to edit and re-edit my rubrics and assignment guidelines. While it’s difficult to reach out to all learners, it doesn’t hurt to keep trying to create an inclusive rubric/guidelines.

The rest of the feedback remained largely positive, with a lot of comments reflecting on how they were able to connect my lessons to real-world issues and to their own lives:

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With these comments, and considering the evaluations in total, I am seriously touched – I cried with joy, and was so happy that the labour and vulnerability I put into the entire course was acknowledged, appreciated, and had students take something away from it. I understand that I am in a more privileged position in taking these risks, so I don’t want to over-exaggerate these accomplishments. And I also want to acknowledge the labour of my students, and how they also exhibited courage and vulnerability in engaging with the excellent discussions we had. I feel that the class was a very serendipitous event that was so fruitful and instructive both for myself and for my students. I owe my students a lot of thanks for their comments and for the productive and inclusive space that they helped me create!