Issue #161 - The Spaces in Between
I’m in Cambridge Massachusetts, just across the Charles River from Boston, visiting Harvard University. The weather this week is incredible, up around 80˙F/50˙C. There’s white blossom on the trees, people are sitting out reading and chatting in small groups, it has been idyllic in so many ways.
Harvard is the oldest institution of learning in the US, much of it’s older buildings are inspired by those British universities, Oxford and Cambridge, and it is true that there’s a very traditional vibe to the campus. Sometimes it feels like I’m back home.
I’m here to deliver a workshop for students in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and spend some time talking with colleagues in the library about digital scholarship, and immersive technologies.
In March, I wrote a six posts, the most in a month since I started the newsletter. I want to thank you too for the great response to last week’s comics issue. I have to say that it was a lot of fun to write, and I thank Felipe Goméz for the inspiration. It is quickly shooting up the charts as one of my most read posts. I’ll have to remember to write an updated version sometime in the future.
I’m pleased to report that the Colombian Comics Symposium was a huge success, and I’ve sorry that I missed it, although I have enjoyed myself this week and so pleased for the opportunity to visit Harvard.
Teaching & Learning
I left Pittsburgh on Tuesday morning, flying to Boston, which only takes a couple of hours, and checked into my hotel in Porter Square which is about a mile from Harvard’s main campus, on the red transit line. It is a lovely area, once you get off the high street, the residential areas are full of old beautiful wooden houses, painted in pastel colors. It’s only a short walk or cycle (more about that later) down the road to the university.
I was a guest of Dr. Nicole Mills, a professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, who is also teaching French. I joined her class on Technology-Enhanced Language Learning, a similar program to the one I’ve been teaching at CMU, with a mix of students, some with teaching experience, some language graduates, or researchers in education tech. They were a super friendly bunch, with good questions. We enjoyed a lively discussion on the opportunities for teaching using immersive technologies, and I ran the session as a workshop, looking at the three affordances of Immersion, Embodiment, and Interaction as ways to approach the design of teaching activities.
I was pleased to stay for the second session which included a conversation with Dr. Julie Sykes who I’ve enjoyed meeting a few times, and is the Director of CASLS, the Center for Applied Second Language Studies, based in Eugene, Oregon. Julie is an incredible creator of games, and designs playful activities for language learning, everything from simulations, escape rooms, and augmented reality treasure hunts. I was reminded that we very nearly created an AR experience last year ahead of the AAAL conference, but time and other things conspired against us. It would be so lovely to pick up this up again.
Spaces to Connect
On Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning I spent a wonderful time with Matt Cooke, a librarian dedicated to digital scholarship. Matt is exploring ways to incorporate spatial and immersive elements in teaching and research. I’m a huge fan of Matt’s work, especially his creation of a 3D digital corpus analysis tool, which ports you into an immersive world where you might be surrounded by objects generated from a particular body of text. It is wild, a sort of surrealist dream where objects appear in front of you, a glimpse into the world of a piece of writing through the objects that reside there.
I joined Matt in Harvard Business School’s iLab (Innovation Lab), over the bridge on the south side of the Charles river. It was lovely walking over, past those traditional halls and buildings that we know from photos and movies. The lab itself was busy, buzzing with people at tables discussing ideas, shaping projects and taking advantage of meeting rooms, including a Sutherland room (named after Ivan Sutherland, the pioneer of virtual reality headsets); and a maker-space, media production room, and Matt’s office with a selection of HMD’s and immersive tools. Matt meets regularly with students and faculty who are interested in developing immersive projects, but are unsure where to start. I thought that this sort of consultancy might be good to offer back home at CMU.
On Thursday morning, Matt guided me though the labyrinth of rooms in the Harvard libraries, including this incredible space, The Woodberry Poetry Room designed by Alvar Aalto, which houses the poetry collection and archive of records, both music and voices that can be played on Aalto’s two specially designed phonographs.
Matt’s work includes coordinating with the scanning and photogrammetry unit who are archival much of Harvard’s object collection, which includes asteroids, architectural pieces and medical specimen. The setup is fantastic, a system of turntable and lighting, that captures objects in high resolution, so that students can analyze them in great detail. Matt’s latest edition to his toolset includes a Lume Pad, by Leia Inc, which is an amazing 3D without the glasses tablet. Using it to look at the scanned objects is like holding them in your hands, with the ability to zoom in or out, spin them round and look from all sides, truly remarkable.
Lost and Found
This morning I’m enjoying a coffee in Porter Square Books, they have a little cafe called Zing! with a wooden window table. I’m glad the shade is drawn, its cool in here and although its busy, I can write in peace. I have a few hours before I need to head to the airport.
Yesterday, after lunch with Matt, I headed further into the city to visit the MIT Museum, which curates collections from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is a tad expensive, but I did enjoy seeing original works by some my heroes Michael Resnick and the late Seymour Papert, who worked on playful and educational computing, starting the revolution in coding that took place in schools, and still influences curriculum to this day.
Okay, I’d better drink up and find a ride.
I hope that you’re well, it has been an amazing week and feel very lucky and privileged to do the things that I do. I hope to be back here again, it is very nice here. I should quickly mention, as I do on these trips, I found a nice Thai street food place for an evening meal, and a wonderful breakfast, speaking French with the Algerian owners of a little cafe just down the road.
Oh, cycling - I said I’d mention it. I’ve used bike share schemes all over the world, but never had a problem like this one. The bike couldn’t lock back into the station, and I didn’t know what to do, so the help desk, said take it back to the hotel and leave it there for them to collect, the only thing is they won’t turn the counter off the app until its been collected. I’ve asked for emails that I won’t be charged for a lost or stolen bike, but it is worrying…at the moment I’m 41 hours into the ride, and I can’t imagine how much that is. I’m still waiting.
A busy weekend ahead, footy on Sunday and hopefully I can see the Rugby team play one of their home games. I’m looking forward to heading home, it will be nice to be back (I haven’t slept well, just getting too old for crap pillows and dodgy AC).
See you next week.
I just published my first note on Substack Notes, and would love for you to join me there!
Notes is a new space on Substack for us to share links, short posts, quotes, photos, and more. I plan to use it for things that don’t fit in the newsletter, like work-in-progress or quick questions.