Issue #117 - The Spaces in Between
It is pouring down outside and I’ve already lifted the carpet in the basement so that it doesn’t get soaked. Pittsburgh basements aren’t often sealed, many of them retain their concrete floors with a drain in the corner so that when they flood they can empty out pretty quickly. We have a dehumidifier running pretty much all the time but it still smells like wet dog for a few weeks after a shower. It looks like this bad weather might last the weekend…
Anyway, hope things are better where you are and that you’re able to get out. At least I’m warm and dry with a coffee while I type. I’m thankful and feeling okay.
It’s been a tough week in the US, with news that I’ll talk through down below, re-reading my words they feel a little inadequate, I mean what can be said, there is so much wrong with the world right now, we have to be kind and find joy where it hides.
Teaching & Learning
A return to this section that has been on hiatus, and as a bonus I’m still including the spaces to connect section below.
I’m trying to sort out a load of kit to send out to my students so that they can take part in our course remotely. A headset and a small camera, monopod and accessories. I always include a foam windshield, the sort of popper that you can buy cheaply online that will transform the audio you record on your phone, you’ll be surprised the difference it can make. We’re so lucky to have all this stuff that we can use. I pride myself on teaching accessible courses that don’t need a ton of specialist equipment to service, but sometimes I think I’m kidding myself, it’s nice to play with toys when you can, this might be the only chance some of these students get to spend time learning about the technology while they are at college, and hopefully when they turn up to work and there is some of this kit there, then they’ll know what to do with it.
We’re going to experiment with Immerse which provides virtual spaces that you can access with a headset. I have been using AltSpaceVR (which was bought by Microsoft) but this platform seems to be a little more secure, provides better functionality and customization, and is designed specifically for use in education. I’ll let you know how we do.
I’m really looking forward to teaching again, dusting off the courses and re-familiarizing myself with the content (what I wrote). I have a little bit of time to update and add a few new bits, but otherwise it is intact. I think I’m most excited to be talking to students again and learning about their courses and the work that they are doing.
Spaces to Connect
I enjoyed a visit to the IDeATe rooms this week, welcomed by my lovely colleague Robert Zacharias (Zach) who teaches the physical computing course and manages the maker-space where students can complete their projects. An amazing space, I was incredibly impressed by the attention to detail, pieces of kit are easy to find and there are tools and testing equipment. There’s every type of wire you need, and rather than tediously rummage through tubs there is “Spool City”, build into the wall, clearly labelled, and easy to cut. Even the lighting has been adapted to soften the room, lamps above, wired to a dimmer rack to provide the right amount of light and reduced shadow. This helps when working by hand with very small parts and pieces, an almost perfect situation for makers.
I know that I’ve spoken about IDeATe before, the Integrated Design Arts and Technology network where my courses are also listed, but it bears repeated mention, this is the dream active learning project-led program that so many teachers have talked about for so long and it is right here.
We chatted with one of Zach’s students working on an accessibility project for a client with physical needs where every small movement and angle should be considered. The student has met with their user several times and its clear from the piece that is being constructed that a strong relationship has formed between them. “Good design is honest” said Dieter Rams, and what I think he meant was that a product shouldn’t try and do anything other than please the person that it is meant for. This requires empathy, care and the ability to listen and converse.
We found a few other projects around the rooms, everything from beautiful textile pieces, fabric art, laser cut, printed and molded forms. There is a looseness and sense of play here that warms my solar plexus. I can’t wait to work with Zach, I have to think of a project that he’ll be up for, that brings our students together to create something special.
People are reeling here from the news that a leaked Supreme Court ruling will end the constitutional right to abortion in the US and leave it to states to decide their individual laws. These states on the right have gerrymandered their way to power, have made voting harder, and have divided communities through culture war disinformation. If any of these anti-choice leaders really cared, then they would make healthcare more affordable and accessible, they would support sex education being taught in schools, they would support single parents, and not stand in the way of LGBTQi+ people looking to adopt. The US has some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; women of color have the highest risk of severe illness and death, many of these factors stem from poverty, and lack of access to healthcare, which means many conditions that could have been picked up early in pregnancy remain untreated.
Again, this issue is one of democracy and civil rights, as Heather Cox Richardson wrote pointed out on Tuesday.
“And so here we are. A minority, placed in control of the U.S. Supreme Court by a president who received a minority of the popular vote and then, when he lost reelection, tried to overturn our democracy, is explicitly taking away a constitutional right that has been protected for fifty years. Its attack on federal protection of civil rights applies not just to abortion, but to all the protections put in place since World War II: the right to use birth control, marry whomever you wish, live in desegregated spaces, and so on.
The draft opinion says the state legislatures are the true heart of our democracy and that they alone should determine abortion laws in the states. But Republican-dominated legislatures have also curtailed the right to vote. When Democrats in Congress tried to protect voting rights, Senate Republicans killed it with the filibuster.”
If the ruling goes ahead as per the draft, then it looks like the way is open for so many of the US’s 14th Amendment laws, which provide equal protection to any citizen born or naturalized in the US, be handed back to the states in the same way. This might mean states imposing laws on contraception, on same-sex marriage, inter-racial marriage for that matter. If Roe is overturned, then this will effect civil-rights, for all equality under federal-law will be subject to state-law.
It is true to say now that the new Justices lied when they said that Roe was “settled law” or that they would uphold the will of the American people rather than push their own ideological agendas. This is minority-will, undemocratic and despotic, it now doesn’t matter if this leaked paper becomes a ruling, the damage has been done, these old white men are emboldened, empowered as they continue to cause misery and despair.
Lost and Found
I have organized a trip for the faculty to see the Maxo Vanka Murals situated in St. Nicholas Church in Millvale, they were painted between 1937 and 1942 by Croatian Artist Maxo Vanka at the invitation of Father Albert Zagar. They are extraordinary, depicting immigrant life in Pittsburgh, reflecting the experience of the Croatian community and Vanka’s own beliefs in social justice, equality and anti-war pacifism. If you’re a reader of this newsletter and in Pittsburgh, then you’re welcome to join us, we might even be able to give you a ride, just ping me an email or reply to the newsletter.
I enjoyed this article in Edutopia about the importance of oral histories and why multilingual students should interview family members (via ACTFL Smartbrief).
Finally, there is a new book Why Design Matters: Conversations with the World’s Most Creative People by Debbie Millman (affiliate link) whose podcast, stating in 2005 was probably the world’s first for design and creativity.
I don’t know if I’ve told you that our green cards arrived, so we’re good to travel back and forth as we need for work and visiting family. We’re heading back to the UK in the summer, we can’t wait to see people. Certainly it will be a shock for our folks and friends to see how much growing our boys have done, especially our now fifteen year old. They last saw him as a boy and now he’s this big tall guy, it’s going to be amazing for him I hope as people adapt to him. He’s kind and good with conversation when he wants to be, it’s going to be interesting for him.
I also removed my out-of-office email as I’ve finished my sabbatical and now back to being a regular teaching schmoe with the new course starting soon. I can see soccer being cancelled this weekend (for the second week running after thunderstorms put paid to Sunday’s game) but I have a book that I’ve almost finished reading, so I can give some time to that. I’m also loving the second series of Russian Doll which is almost as mesmerizing as the first, with a wonderful comic and tragic performance from Natasha Lyonne, who I hear is a big wordle fan. It’s a tough story, history beats her up as she becomes the matryoshka of time to fix the past, sharp witted and laced with high volume spirits.
A long one eh? I hope that you’re well and remember, let me know how you are, leave a comment or tap the heart. See you next week, which promises sunshine. I hope the weather forecast gets it right.