Students respond to an unusual English course

etsy binary clock kit
The UWaterloo Arts Online magazine has published an article on English 408C, The Rhetoric of Digital Design, featuring interviews with students–some of whom definitely panicked when they saw the syllabus! Read on to hear what they have to say.–JLH

English 408C, The Rhetoric of Digital Design

The University of Waterloo is known for its innovation. But, when a group Arts students sat down for their first lecture in the English course The Rhetoric of Digital Design, the last thing they expected to hear was that they’d be building, coding, and using microcontrollers to create an ‘object to think with.’

Maker culture is a trend that is exploding into the mainstream with maker faires, spaces, and workshops. It’s also at the heart of this 400-level course. A maker is described as someone who makes or produces something and maker culture is an extension of the DIY phenomenon with a particular focus on technology.

Course professor Marcel O’Gorman takes a unique, experiential approach to academics, working heavily with the UW English Department’s graduate program in Experiential Digital Media. Along with Dr. O’Gorman (or Marcel as he prefers his students to call him), students work with Dr. Nicholas Balasis, a postdoctoral fellow with the Critical Media Lab – an area focused on research in the digital realm and how technology impacts the human condition.

When I first started this course I wasn’t sure it was for me. I was confused about how it related to digital design and I was expecting to use design software like Adobe Creative Suite, which wasn’t the case at all. This class has become much more challenging than I had ever expected, in a good way! Getting hands on and learning through experiences and processes has always been what makes learning fun and engaging for me.  – Victoria, 4A, Speech Communication

While the course may not have been exactly what students were expecting when they arrived in the classroom on that first day, most agree that while unexpected, the challenges and critical thinking components are what make the class unique. The course focuses on digital design in a much broader sense than the course description would suggest. Students are asked to use an Arduino microcontroller (a tiny computer often used in DIY projects) and various DIY websites to make an electronic device. Then, students are asked to transform the device, using the course readings as a guide to bring conversation to the devices they created, while blogging about their experiences along the way.

I remember reading the syllabus and getting this instant feeling of “how am I going to pull this off?” I’m not a blogger – I’ve tried four times to start my own blog and it’s never worked out! I definitely don’t know how to code and I’ve never touched any hardware materials in my life. Right off the bat, I genuinely felt challenged and, because I decided to take on the challenge, I’ve learned a lot about myself and gained some cool skills along the way. – Chinye, 4A, English Rhetoric and Professional Writing

 Theory and history come into play as well. Students read and discuss topics surrounding maker culture dating back to the Industrial Revolution and apply these topics to their design projects, while challenging what it truly means to be a maker or designer.

I think the biggest take away for me is that we, as Arts students, can “play” with technology in a more active way, as opposed to being a passive user, and really be able to engage with technology in a way that we are unable to in other courses. – Airlie, Rhetoric and Communication Design, Graduate Student

To learn more about the maker movement, check out Make Magazine, or visit the Kitchener-Waterloo Kwartzlab website to see a maker space in action.

Story by Guest Writer: Victoria Stacey
Image Credit: Etsy

The media dubs her one to watch: undergrad Chinye Osamusali

One of the great things about running the UWaterloo English department blog is that I have an opportunity to interact with students who I didn’t encounter in the classroom. Chinye Osamusali is one of those students–I’m incredibly jealous of those who got to teach her! Read on to find out why she was recently named one of the “55 Rock Stars of Waterloo” –JLH

JLH: I know you’re on the cusp of graduating–and congratulations about that, by the way–but if you cast your mind back, can you remember why you first decided on UWaterloo over other universities?
CAO: I was always a very forward-looking person, so when I was in middle school I was looking at high schools, and right when I got to high school I was looking into universities. Over the four years of high school where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do was always changing. It wasn’t until I was sixteen, and wrote a book as a personal project, that I thought I wanted to be a publisher. I decided to look into English programs. UWaterloo English is unique in that it’s much more than just literature studies, you can also balance that out with rhetoric, writing, business, and co-op as you choose. So I was drawn to this school because of the options.

JLH: You’ve been very active on campus: how do you think that has shaped your university experience? Has it led to additional opportunities?
CAO: I love being involved because I love meeting new people! So I’ve always tried dipping my feet into everything. I finally settled when I found UWaterloo’s world of innovation and entrepreneurship. While I have yet to develop something myself, I find great joy in supporting the amazing ideas other people are coming up with. I spent the last year as one of the presidents of Entrepreneurship Society at UWaterloo (EntSoc). This has definitely opened up other opportunities: I’ve travelled to cool places, been involved with awesome events, and met some of Waterloo’s brightest.

JLH: You made Cybernorth Ventures’ “55 Rock Stars of Waterloo” list recently. Can you talk a bit about what that means?
CAO: Cybernorth Ventures is a private venture capital fund that helps fund early-stage startups. They put together a list of the “55 Rock Stars of Waterloo,” modelling it after Marc Andreessen’s “55 Unknown Rock Stars in Tech.” It’s a list of movers and shakers in the Waterloo community. I remember when my co-president and I were asked to be on the list. We didn’t fully understand what the list was about, but we sent in our information. Next thing we knew, the list came out, and we’re getting messages from all over Waterloo congratulating us on such an achievement.

Looking back, I realize that this is really an acknowledgment of how EntSoc has become an influential part of the Waterloo innovation community, which is the goal we set when we re-branded at the beginning of Summer 2014. I am incredibly proud of this achievement and I can already see it opening up some pretty cool doors in the future!

JLH: Reflecting on your experience at UWaterloo, what classes or classroom experiences have had the biggest impact on you?
CAO: Off the top of my head, I can think of three. The most recent and probably most influential was Marcel O’Gorman‘s Maker Culture or Digital Design class. The class made me rethink what innovation means and it helped me realize the value of being able to work with technology and code. As a result, I can better emphasize with the people I work with in entrepreneurship. It was a very hands-on way of learning the difference between doing something because you’re passionate about it and doing something to make money.

The other two classes I found helpful were ENGL 251B with Diana Lobb and ENGL 347 with Chad Wriglesworth. Both of these professors are not afraid to let you write an essay about whatever speaks to you – in fact, they encourage it. With that kind of creative freedom, you really get a sense of who you are as a writer and can explore the kinds of issues you’re passionate about. I believe an English degree should let you feel like you have a voice by the end of it. I’ve become passionate about feminism/sexuality, race/diversity, and poetry.

JLH: Finally, after you graduate, how will you celebrate?
CAO: I think I did most of my celebrating when I went to San Francisco during reading week, but I’m definitely going to spend the summer with my friends and family. I’m moving to Chicago, IL for my M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern in the fall, so I’m going to make the most of the time I have here in Canada!


Turkey Demolishes Hagey Hall

turkey 2
I cannot make this stuff up: on the heels of the goose nicknamed the “Spawn of Satan” which has been terrorizing Hagey Hall, the turkey who was determined to gain entry last week has finally achieved his goal, smashing through a third-floor window. I can honestly say I never thought I would be referencing WKRP on the UWaterloo English Department blog, but it turns out turkeys really can fly.
turkey 1No one in Philosophy was harmed; the turkey is now with the Humane Society.

CBC reports: Canada Goose “Spawn of Satan” terrorizes Hagey Hall

Colin Wallace turkeyThe CBC headline proclaims: “Canada goose ‘Spawn of Satan’ terrorizes University of Waterloo.” You can read the article below, and follow the link to see video footage. I didn’t have a photo of the goose, so instead I am using the photo of yesterday’s bird sighting at Hagey Hall: a giant turkey which spent the day staring plaintively through the doors.

From CBC:

Canada geese are known to be aggressive when defending their nests, but one goose in particular is striking fear into the hearts of women and men at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

The goose, which lurks outside the Hagey Hall building, was dubbed the Spawn of Satan Goose by Reddit user Quock, who claims to have been attacked twice. Quock posted a warning to other students on the University of Waterloo subreddit, prompting others to share their terrifying tales of goose aggression.

“We were driving around listening to a fire mixtape when this goose blocked the road near HH [Hagey Hall]. My friend got out to shoo him away and he nearly died,” said hononhonFRFR, who posted the video above.

“I was going for a run last Saturday and right by HH, I saw this goose taking on another mated couple of geese in the middle of the road,” said another Reddit user.

“I haven’t been attacked by a goose in my five years at the school. I left my last exam from the PAC on Friday and was hissed at by this goose. So close,” said LeafsFan13.

The troublesome goose also has two listings on the university’s Goose Watch website, which keeps track of nesting pairs and helps people plan goose-free routes through campus.

Original article  from CBC with video.
Thank you to Colin Wallace from accounting for the turkey photo.

Best Signage on UWaterloo Campus

It’s the time of year when this familiar sign appears on the door outside of my office. In honour of the “No Dancing” policy in English, Women’s Studies, and History, I’m sharing some of the other more perplexing or unusual signs I’ve seen on campus.
IMG_2616[1]Is it a unisex bathroom every day, but only a shower in emergencies? Really, I want to know.

It’s as if they couldn’t decide between using the Oxford comma or not, and so just disposed of the commas altogether. Also, I have no idea what constitutes an authentic hot dog.

IMG_2643[1]In case you can’t read it, it says “Elevator to Student Success.” I know it’s not an actual marketing campaign circa 1965, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like one.IMG_2644[1]Here’s where knowing that compound adjectives should be hyphenated might have been useful. Every time I see this sign, I think, “wow, yet another person who really doesn’t like those Vibram FiveFinger toe shoes.”  IMG_2645[1]Foy·er ˈfoiər,ˈfoiˌā/ noun. Definition: an entrance hall or other open area in a building used by the public, especially a hotel or theater. Welcome welcome to the entrance entrance.IMG_2646[1]I’ll admit, I don’t speak German, but something tells me the message here is important enough it should be in a language more common among the UWaterloo undergraduate population.IMG_2639[1]I have yet to see anyone curled up underneath this table. Of course, exams aren’t over yet.

Any I’ve missed? You can always share your favorites in the comments section.

A new faculty book on Necromedia

necromedia_cover_umn Congratulations to UWaterloo English professor, Marcel O’Gorman, on the publication of his book, Necromedia, by University of Minnesota Press. See below for the press release and a description of what necromedia is: An unusual answer to a common question: Why does technology play such a powerful role in our culture?  In Necromedia, media activist Marcel O’Gorman takes aim at “the collusion of death and technology,” mixing philosophical speculation with artistic creation, personal memoir, and existential dread to document a struggle to embrace the technical essence of human being without permitting technology worshippers to have the last word on what it means to be human.

Critical Media Lab Salon: bodies, art, and technology

I am very excited about the last Critical Media Lab Salon talk of the semester, featuring Dr. Daniel Vogel, of the University of Waterloo’s Cheriton School of Computer Science, and Lauren Burr, PhD candidate, Department of English. Daniel Vogel’s installation
Siftor was the most fun I’ve ever had at an art gallery. Read more below.–JLH

WHEN: Wednesday, April 15, 4:00-6:00pm
WHERE: Critical Media Lab, in the Department of English Digital Space at 44 Gaukel St., Kitchener (across from the bus station; look for the new signage)


Subtle Interaction and Art (Daniel Vogel)
Efficiency and usability are universally acknowledged as important design criteria for interaction, but expressivity and aesthetics are often an afterthought or omitted altogether. In this talk, I will describe Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research focusing on expressivity and aesthetics using subtle interactions: interactions that are “fine or delicate in meaning or intent.” Conté is a pen-like input device modeled after an artist’s crayon that leverages subtle changes in contact geometry to make touch input more expressive. Siftor is a wall-sized interactive installation that uses subtle body movements and visualizations to create an aesthetic experience for serendipitous discovery of art works. These projects also demonstrate how art can inspire HCI research and even become a platform for conducting research.

Augmenting the Soundscape: A Tool for Aural Adventures in Urban Environments (Lauren Burr, David Jensenius, and Mark Prier)
In this presentation, we will introduce and demonstrate an early iteration of a sound-based locative augmented reality engine and smartphone game. Equal parts experimental game and artwork, this project will allow gamemakers with no programming skills to overlay physical geography with sonic psychogeography. Games created for our platform will incorporate prerecorded sounds, sampling, ambient noise, and sound synthesis, all of which can be modified through filters or by other game elements—duration of play session, player history, proximity to other players—in addition to extended geolocative data such as weather conditions and time of day. Gameplay will take the form of an investigative, playful sound walk, and the procedurally generated soundscape will shift based on each player’s unique traversal of their physical space. Our talk will provide an overview of the collaborative process, a brief contextual theorization of the project, an introduction to the engine, and a preview of HATFinder, an espionage-themed game set in Los Angeles that that we will be presenting on site at the end of April.

Image: Siftor, by Daniel Vogel