Reflections for the Open Pedagogy Event on Access Beyond the ADA, Thursday, 9/19/19

Jason Ellis' Boy Scouts Merit Badge sash with 40 badges, including Handicap Awareness.
Jason Ellis’ Boy Scouts Merit Badge sash with 40 badges, including Handicap Awareness.

On Thursday, 9/19/19, the OpenLab, which I joined as a Co-Director this academic year, is hosting an Open Pedagogy event on “Beyond the ADA” at City Tech in the Faculty Commons at 4:30pm. We will lead a discussion about issues of access, including those related to disabilities, while looking beyond compliance to dynamic, inclusive, and supportive pedagogies that enrich learning for all students. OpenLab’s theme for this academic year is “Access.”

While reading through the suggested texts informing the background of our discussion, I reflected on my personal, workplace, and classroom experiences relating to access.

My first memory of disabilities relates to my Uncle Pat. After returning from Vietnam, he started a family in Walnut Grove, Alabama and worked for the railroad. While at work cutting an in-service rail, another truck accidentally bumped his truck, which ran over him and left him a quadriplegic. On visits, I saw first hand how he overcame him disability through mobility with a puffer-controlled electric wheelchair, but the constraints of 24-hour nursing care and accessible buildings were also obviously apparent. Nevertheless, he always trounced me at chess–I just had to setup the board and move the pieces.

In my hometown, Emory Dawson was another quadriplegic that I knew through Boy Scouts. His injury originated from the Vietnam War and he had some shoulder mobility, which enabled him to drive his own van with the aid of a suicide knob and special controls for brake, throttle, and shifting. In addition to Scouts, Mr. Dawson was involved in many social groups and charities, and he led an active life to support them. I don’t know if it was *the* factor in its construction, but a fellow Scout took on the building of a concrete wheel chair ramp for a rank-level project at Troop 224’s hut in the back of Lakeside United Methodist Church on 341 Highway and Mr. Dawson visited our meetings on occasion.

It was during that time that I earned my Handicap Awareness merit badge on Feb. 5, 1990, which you can see on the seventh row of the image above of my Boy Scout merit badge sash with the International Symbol of Access surrounded by a green circle. The requirements of the merit badge focused on learning about disabilities and gaining an empathetic awareness of disabilities through simulated impairments of hearing, sight, manual, and mobility. Less visible disabilities were outside the scope of that component of the merit badge’s requirements, but they could be reintroduced through the learning and outreach components (but this was not, as I remember, something that I was cognizant of at that time).

I wondered how the merit badge might have changed since I earned it, and I’m glad to report that it had changed for the better, I think. In 1993, the merit badge was renamed as Disabilities Awareness, and its requirements shifted from personal simulation of physical impairments to learning first hand from others’ lived experience, identifying accessibility issues in the community, and performing advocacy for better accessibility. There was an advocacy element to Handicap Awareness (publicly sharing what you’ve learned with others), but Disabilities Awareness foregrounds this in a more integrated fashion. It would be interesting to read the merit badge series handbooks for the former and latter versions of this merit badge, but I only have access to the requirements while writing this blog post.

When I worked in Technical Support at Mindspring Internet in Atlanta, Georgia, I was tasked with working with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing via a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD). With a single line of LCD text and a running paper tape, I communicated with deaf customers to solve their technical support issues. Unfortunately, many customers had their TDD in a different room, different floor, different part of the house, than their computer. This introduced a tremendous lag between what I wrote questioning or instructing and their response following a result. Also, I was given this extra task to supplement my lower-than-expected phone support numbers (It’s my understanding that Mike McQuary pushed raw number of support calls over the quality of calls and successful resolution of customer issues–valuing quantitative measures over the qualitative effects of those measures on customers and employees). So, I was on the phone with one customer and on the TDD with another customer. Over time, I got better at switching my attention between customers, but more often than not, the customers on the TDD got the short end of the stick as my phone call numbers were given priority by management (QA Brian: “You’ve got to take more calls or you’ll get fired.”). It was an unfair situation for the deaf and hard of hearing customers.

When I began teaching, I worked with a student on the autistic spectrum. This was a challenging situation for the student as the reported accommodations couldn’t support their success in the classroom, and I took it on myself to provide additional support to help the student progress in the course. I was advised that there was only so much that I could do to support the student, and I should have, in retrospect, dialed back my professional involvement. Nevertheless, this student did help me recognize another side of student needs and the impediments to access that students on the spectrum encounter. I have adjusted my syllabi to be more accommodating to students–self-reporting or not–through multiple activities and assignment adjustments on a one-by-one basis (as long as course learning outcomes are always met).

Another student had a severe vision impairment and had reported accommodations, including a phone with magnifying app for reading text and a student volunteer note-taker. While the classroom and supporting material could be adjusted to support the student when present, outside life prevented the student from attending some classes. This led to testy encounters between myself and the note taker, who felt their time being wasted, and follow-up conversations between myself and the student to facilitate peace between the student and note taker so that support would be maintained. Of course, life outside of school was creating a different kind of access problem for this student–getting to campus was a hurdle in part due to the student’s vision problem and the issues that can come up in one’s personal life that lead to problems, such as not having someone to help you navigate from home to campus.

I’ve come to realize that there are things that I can do to help as an instructor–those things that I have control over, such as pedagogy, syllabi, assignments, activities, and one-on-one support, and there are many other things outside the classroom that I don’t have control over. Also, the Open Pedagogy event conversation and the work that we can do together to increase access and lower barriers–in the classroom, online, on campus, and in our lived world–for students and faculty with disabilities is something that we must endeavor to accomplish.

In addition to the informative readings OpenLab Digital Pedagogy Fellow Jesse Rice-Evans assembled for the Open Pedagogy event, I found these additional readings useful for my thinking:

Adams, Rachel, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin. “Disability.” Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, NYU Press, 2015, 5-12.

Campbell, Kumari. “Ability.” Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, NYU Press, 2015, 12-14.

Mullaney, Clare. “Disability Studies: Foundations & Key Concepts.” JSTOR Daily, 13 April 2019, https://daily.jstor.org/reading-list-disability-studies/. Accessed 18 Sept. 2019.

Williamson, Bess. “Access.” Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, NYU Press, 2015, 14-16.

ENG3402, The Graphic Novel: Class on Superheroes, Antiheroes, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (filling in for Prof. Rebecca Mazumdar)

On Thursday, Feb. 14, I’m filling in for Prof. Rebecca Mazumdar in her ENG3402 Special Topics Class on The Graphic Novel.

Students were asked to read the first two books of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Chapter 3, “Blood in the Gutter” of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (1993) for today’s class.

During today’s class, we’ll discuss The Dark Knight Returns, Superheroes, and the Antihero. These topics will return for discussion in future classes when Prof. Mazumdar joins you next.

These are some resources that will inform our discussion (in the order of reference):

Nicholls, Peter, and David Langford. “Superheroes.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Eds. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 31 Aug. 2018, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/superheroes.

Langford, David. “Superpowers.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Eds. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 8 May 2015, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/superpowers.

Langford, David. “Clarke’s Laws.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Eds. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 2 Aug. 2016, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/clarkes_laws.

Tiner, Ron, David Roache DRo and John Platt. “Batman.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Eds. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 15 Oct. 2018, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/batman.

Langford, David. “Antiheroes.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Eds. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 6 Oct. 2017, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/antiheroes.

Kiste Nyberg, Amy. “Comics Code History: The Seal of Approval.” Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, http://cbldf.org/comics-code-history-the-seal-of-approval/. Accessed 13 Feb. 2019.

Publishing Studies

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Printing press on display at City Tech.

Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with colleagues about what Publishing Studies means to me. I edited my thoughts into the following note.

Publishing Studies: Theory and Praxis

Publishing Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study that encompasses rhetoric and composition, media studies, history of the book/newspaper/magazine/websites/etc., and practical skills including writing, editing, design, layout, production, marketing, business administration, etc. Publishing Studies programs prepare students for publishing industry careers.

Publishing Studies should be grounded in theory and praxis. Theory provides a foundation for understanding the field and its development. It gives ways of seeing and thinking about the process and purpose behind publishing. Theory helps one be a confident problem solver, an open-minded thinker, and a dynamic life-long learner who can adapt to changing work conditions and challenges. Balancing theory is practical skills. These skills are what help students build a portfolio, gain experience through internships and entry level positions, and obtain a job on their desired career path. Through their understanding of theory, students will understand that the skills they have when leaving a program will only go so far as the publishing industry changes. They can leverage their current skills to grow their skill set over time and be engaged members in their profession so that they know what new trends they should pay attention to and what new skills will keep them competitive in the job market.

Rhetoric

Publishing Studies is founded on rhetoric and composition. Publishing is all about communicating particular ideas to a particular audience using a particular (production scale/mass communication) medium. Knowing audience, rhetorical techniques, modes of communication (WOVEN=written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal), and the writing process are essential skills for anyone interested in the publishing industry. Furthermore, being a reflective practitioner–using journal writing and reflection–supports the acquisition, integration, and improvement of the use of rhetoric and composition principles in the work place. There is a lot of overlap in this regard (as well as in the tools employed in the publishing field mentioned below) with Technical Communication.

Media Studies

Media and materiality are really big components of Publishing Studies, because publishing is all about using mass communication media technologies to reach an audience. Important issues for Publishing Studies from a Media Studies perspective might include: the effect/affect of media on audiences, how does media change over time, how does media influence other media, what biases are built into particular media or how those media are used, and are there issues with particular media at scale (e.g., Facebook and Twitter’s role in Brexit and the 2016 US election). Aesthetics, design, layout, and UX are important, too, and they overlap (as do many aspects of theory) with practical skills.

History of the Book/Newspaper/Magazine/Website/Etc

Perhaps under the umbrella of Media Studies, the History of the Book and other produced media such as newspapers, magazines, websites, social media, and others, are key to a fundamental understanding of Publishing Studies. The field encompasses many different forms of mass communication technologies, and the intertwined histories of these media provide a useful context for how we are at this particular moment in publishing history while also revealing how the history of publishing is not a Whig historical progression, but in fact, contains many interesting dead ends and forgotten technologies whose time might not have been right but contained some aspects that were useful and might deserve revisiting in the present. Layered in these histories are issues of labor, capital, production technologies, world historical events, and societal movements, all of which have influenced the development of the publishing history.

Practical Skills

Praxis is tempered by theory. Theory is made meaningful by praxis. The two support one another and enrich one’s experience of the publishing field in a way that helps propel students toward dynamic careers instead of cookie-cutter jobs. Publishing careers include writing, editing, design, layout, printing, IT, programming, procurement, representation, marketing, fact checking, research, and business administration. All of these rely on a basic set of writing, communication, and interpersonal skills, and each branches off into a discrete set of current (but always changing) skills involving knowledge-based work (e.g., planning, research, summarizing, extrapolating, etc.) and tool-based work (e.g., Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, CMS, etc.). Each career path’s set of widely accepted skills (i.e., those skills that employers are looking for in employees) are those that should be researched and taught by faculty. Besides their course work, students can learn more about these through trade publications and books, mentors, and internships.

Retrocomputing at City Tech

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In addition to working on a book review today, I created a new OpenLab site for Retrocomputing at City Tech. In addition to recording how I use vintage computers in the classroom and in research, the new OpenLab site contains a catalog of my vintage computing archive. I populated this catalog with most of the hardware, but I plan to granulize it further and create a catalog of my software. This, of course, will take time. At least there is a place for me to record these things now within the auspices of the work that I do at City Tech. I updated my previous Retrocomputing Lab page on this site with a link to the updated site on OpenLab.

How to Add a Shelf to an Ikea Table Top Desk for About $16, with Thoughts on Making

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I believe that it is important for everyone to make things. Making uses the brain and the body. Making acts on the world. Making is an expression of ourselves. Making can be for ourselves alone or it can be shared with others. Making can be meta, too–making about making (like this blog post). Making in all of its forms is a really big part of what makes us human.

Doing a bit of making today, I built a raised shelf for my IKEA table top desk using pine boards. It began as a thing for myself, and it continues as a thing shared with you here.

I like working with wood. Unfortunately, I don’t get to build things with wood as often as I would like. When I lived in Atlanta, I had space and tools. Here in New York, I have little of the former and few of the latter. Nevertheless, I find small ways to stay in the woodworking game by building things to solve problems such as the state of my work-at-home desk:

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Even with my Intel NUC PC taking very little space on my desk, I felt overrun by my LEGO creations: Hogwarts Castle in the back, Rogue One scenes in the front, and Iron Man’s Hall of Armor to the right.

My LEGOs took the most amount of desk area, so I made it my goal to move them above my workspace onto a new shelf that I would build with materials acquired from the Brooklyn Lowes.

My IKEA table top measures 47 3/16″ wide  and 23 1/2″ deep. I wanted my new shelf to be high enough to clear my HP 22″ LCD monitor and tabletop lamp. I figured 24″ height would be enough clearance. Also, I wanted it to be deep enough to hold my LEGO models but not deep enough that it excessively shaded my desk or posed a problem for my forehead. So, I figured 10″ depth for the shelf was good enough.

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At Lowes, I purchased a 1″ x 10″ x 48″ pine board (to make the shelf supports), 1″ x 10″ x 48″ pine board (to serve as the shelf), 4-pack brackets (to support the shelf against the supports and the supports against the IKEA table top), and 4-pack braces (to affix the shelf’s supports to the IKEA table top). The total cost for these materials was about $16. Also, I used four deck screws that I had on-hand.

A note about selecting the shelf: If you’re doing this on the cheap like me, your selection of wood can serve in your favor. What I mean by this is that instead of building a shelf with some kind of support underneath it to prevent warping due to the weight of what you place on it over time, you can select a warped board and use the warp in your favor. To do this, find a board that is not overly warped but has some warp in its breadth. When building your shelf, have the warp pointing upward. Of course, running a support under the shelf and affixed to the shelf support on either side will strengthen the shelf to hold more weight, but with a light duty shelf like I am building, I chose to save the material and money.

The 1″ x 10″ x 48″ pine board was actually 47 15/16″ long, which meant that it would overhang my desk by 12/16″, so I split the difference and marked the shelf supports 6/16″ or 3/8″ from either end of the shelf. Also, instead of centering the shelf supports, I placed them at the rear of the desk and the rear of the shelf. Again, this is a light duty installation, so I didn’t think this would become unstable with how I planned to use it.

Next, I cut the shelf supports out of the 1″ x 4″ x 48″ pine board. Surprisingly, it was 47 15/16″ long, which is closer than 48″ than I expected. To cut it in half as accurately as possible, I took my miter box saw width into consideration with planning my cut. As you can see below, I wrote on the board which side to cut on to offset the board’s odd measurement.

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The next step was affixing the supports to the shelf using deck screws that I already had on hand. Of course, pine is soft wood, but there is still the possibility of splitting it, so I pre-drilled four holes in the shelf (two on either end for each support) and two holes in the top of each shelf support. Before drilling, I drew a box on the shelf bottom for each support’s location. I halved this lengthwise and then marked 1″ from either end for my drill/screw locations. I did the same for the ends of each support board so that the holes would line up when I drove in the screws.

The final step of completing the shelf and shelf supports assembly before installing it on the IKEA table top involved installing two metal brackets to prevent shelf sway. These came with tiny philips-head screws, so I took a risk and did not pre-drill holes for these.

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Finally, I installed the shelf assembly on top of the IKEA table top using four braces and two brackets. Each shelf support received two braces on the outside, and one bracket on the inside, centered. Again, I did not pre-drill holes in the IKEA table top or the pine board. I figured that the IKEA table top has a honeycomb structure inside with only parts of it being reinforced for the table legs and frame. I hoped that there would be enough material for the screws to dig into, and it seems to have been the case. However, I had to up the RPMs on my cordless drill to get the screws started and through the laminate covering the IKEA table top.

With the construction phase completed, I was able to begin enjoying my new shelf resting above my desk.

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And move my LEGO models into their new home.

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The making, of course, didn’t end there. In parallel, Y and I took pictures of my building progress. Then, I began writing this blog post and embedding the photos to share with others (another form of making). Maybe now, you will go make something of your own!

Workshop on Communication, LEGO, and Serious Play. Led by Patrick Corbett and Me: Wed, Apr 5, 12-1pm

scholars-exchange-legoIf you’re around City Tech tomorrow and would like to learn how Patrick Corbett and I are building students’ communication skills with LEGO and Serious Play activities, stop by the Faculty Commons in N-227, Wed, Apr 5, 12-1:00PM. We’re only talking for about 5 minutes. The rest of the time will be hands-on activities with the same LEGO kits that we use with our students, but the workshop will be fine tuned for the faculty participants. We welcome participants’ feedback, questions, and ideas.

More information about the workshop is included below:

What Is Serious Play? How Does It Work? Who Learns What?

Our research introduces City Tech students to “serious play” as a way to think about how they communicate in a variety of situations. In our serious play workshops, small groups of students complete structured LEGO-based challenges that require them to design, and then share, their solutions with each other. Each challenge builds on some aspect of their identities as communicators as a way to productively highlight and discuss differences in communications needs and styles of individuals in group contexts.

What Can You Expect If You Show Up?

An interactive and fun Scholars Exchange event! Following a brief introduction outlining our approach to learning, research methodology, and workshop design, we are going to demonstrate several of the modules from our student workshops. Come prepared to play with LEGO bricks, discuss what you create, and share your ideas with each other (and us)!

My City Tech Nucleus Article, “Multimodal Writing and Sci-Fi” with OpenLab

ellis-openlabI wrote a brief article titled “Multimodal Writing and Sci-Fi” published in the Winter 2017 issue of Nucleus about how I use City Tech’s homegrown, open-publishing platform called OpenLab in my teaching and professional collaborations, such as the Science Fiction at City Tech initiative and the City Tech Science Fiction Collection. You can find the article here on page 18 or click on the image to the left.