What makes UWaterloo English Innovative?


Typewriter with wiresIn the fall, for the twenty-third year in a row, Maclean’s magazine ranked UWaterloo as the top university for innovation in Canada. Most of the media commentary about this focused on our science-oriented faculties (Math and Computing, Engineering, etc.). And it struck me that we don’t talk enough about innovation in the arts and how we deliver our programs, and just what that might mean to different people. So I asked some of my colleagues: what makes the English Department at UWaterloo innovative? Read on to find out what they said.

Kathy Acheson, Associate Professor (English); Associate Dean, Graduate Studies
My answer to the question, what makes UW English innovative: we do. We hire people who have never seen a box they can fit inside. And the cultures of our university and our department let us try new things. It helps us succeed, but it can also help us fail — and constructive failure is as important to innovation as success.

Jay Dolmage, Associate Professor (English); Associate Chair, Undergraduate Studies
It isn’t just the the Waterloo English Department itself is innovative — because every department will tell you that. The proof is in the classroom: our students actively innovate in each of their classes, as they write poetry, make movies, build machines, solve research problems, recover forgotten stories, subvert advertisements, curate and critique social media, collaborate to build arguments and proposals and grants and performances. And when our students head out to co-op, or their other Waterloo classes, or their careers, they bring this careful and critical creativity with them.

Aimée Morrison, Associate Professor (English); Associate Chair, Graduate Studies
The PhD program in English is innovative in that the degree is structured to train all students in both literary study, and language and rhetoric. Students spread their coursework across these areas, and write one Area Exam in a literary field, and one in a language and rhetoric field. As a result, our students themselves innovate blended research methods and topics in their dissertation projects.  The MA program—well, all three MA programs!–in English is innovative for the co-op option it offers, where students blend 8 months of paid work into the course of their degree, earning both money and real world work experience even as they undertake graduate level research.

Marcel O’Gorman, Associate Professor (English); Co-Director of the Critical Media Lab, UWaterloo English
What makes UWaterloo English innovative is that our understanding of innovation is freed from the constraints of commercialization or even practicality. For us, innovation is an intellectual process that involves giving students the cognitive tools to develop new ideas, question the status quo, and communicate in new and challenging ways. A great example of this is our approach to digital media design in the XDM program. In XDM, students create digital objects-to-think-with. Some are completely useless. Some have great commercial potential. Some might end up in a gallery. But they are all intellectually innovative, wielding digital media in new ways that prompt speculation on the role of technology in our lives.

Image: Stephen Trothen, English XDM student: The Library of Beta-Memex Mindfulness

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