Memories of Skateboarding and Nostalgic Assembly of a Re-Issued Mike McGill Powell-Peralta Skull & Snake Skateboard

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My Mike McGill Pro Model “Skull and Snake” Re-Issue Series 5 by Powell-Peralta, Complete with Gullwing Pro III Trucks and Sector Nine Nineballs Wheels.

This is a long read that combines autobiography, nostalgia, memory, and instructions. Visitors here might find it interesting and informative. My students might use it as a model for some of their own multimodal writing about memory, processes, instructions, and reflection.

While it has been over 25 years since I last rode a skateboard with my hometown friends, I recently felt drawn to the 7-ply deck once again and decided to assemble a board similar to my second skateboard–a 1990 Powell-Peralta Mike McGill pro board with VCJ’s Skull & Snake graphics, fish shape, nose and tail kicks, natural wood grain with Gullwing Pro III trucks (red), and Powell-Peralta Rat Bones wheels (neon green).

Before I got my original McGill deck, I learned to skateboard on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles complete skateboard that my grandparents–Wilma and Papa Gerald–bought for me from the Wal-Mart on Altama Avenue in Brunswick, Georgia (since replaced by a Supercenter about a mile away, and then the original site re-built as a Neighborhood Market a few years ago).

With the TMNT skateboard, I learned how to balance, turn, and ride on my grandparent’s back car port. At first, I held on to a broom handle to steady myself until I felt confident enough to ride without this support. I don’t think I had a helmet, but I did have pads and wrist guards–the former store bought neon green plastic over black, and the latter used, red, gifted or traded for–I can’t remember.

I rode and shared the TMNT skateboard with my friends who I paled around with when I stayed at my grandparents. However, I wanted to learn how to ollie and do tricks, but I found this to be next to impossible on the heavy, tank-like TMNT board. This is what began my search for a better board, relying heavily on the photo stories and advertising in magazines such as Transworld Skateboarding and Thrasher, and eventually led to me mail ordering the McGill deck and new hardware (was this a Christmas gift from my grandparents or my folks–again, my memory falters).

With the new McGill, I continued skating through the beginning of high school, but I drifted away from the sport when I got more interested in books (physics first, science fiction second), computers (Amiga, IBM-compatible PCs, and eventually, Macintosh), and cars (my first being a 1965 Ford Mustang, but always having a soft spot for the small Toyota pickup trucks that I used to deliver auto parts from my family’s business).

I don’t remember what became of my McGill. I suspect that I gave it to a friend before going to college where I really got into Rollerblading, but my memory fails completely on this point. I hope that I can remember what happened to my old McGill skateboard, not because I want it back, but instead simply to recall that moment in my life’s narrative. Related to this is the fact that I don’t seem to have any photos of me with my skateboard (though I do have a photo of me holding my Rat Bones wheels on Christmas Day). It’s an odd omission in the photographic record of my life of something I considered important to me at that early time in my life.

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In the film Hackers (1995), The Plague (Fisher Stevens) rides into the NOC on a McGill skateboard while Hal (Penn Jillette) studies the situation.

My re-interest in skateboarding began when I was watching the film Hackers (1995) in HD. I don’t think it registered with me when I first saw it when it was originally released that the film’s villain, The Plague (Fisher Stevens), rides into his company’s NOC (network operations center) on a McGill skateboard (see above).

Then, I caught up with my oldest best friend Bert over the phone. He lives in Seattle now, but back in the day, we used to skateboard in his neighborhood. Bert was a much better skater than me. Our conversation drifted back to skateboarding, including the time that he and I were stopped by a cop on our way back from a Hampton Inn construction site. The obese, good ol’ boy police officer asked us questions about what we had been doing and he stopped when he pointed his flashlight on our boards. Bert skated Vision, and I skated Powell-Peralta. The cop took a breath through his teeth and said, “now boys, I’ve done heard things about that POW-ell Per-AL-ta. They’s devil worshipers!” Bert and I smiled and nodded until he let us go on our way back to his house, but it’s a strange encounter that’s stuck with me.

Our phone conversation encouraged me to begin searching the web for information about my old skateboard. This led me to the Bones Brigade video The Search for Animal Chin (1987), which I shared with Bert via text message. By this point, I was thinking and spending more free time learning more about skating history and its evolution after I had left the sport.

While I was already burdened by a big research project on computers in science fiction from 1975-1995, which I’m continuing to work on, and the Third Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium, which I was organizing, I wanted to give myself something on the horizon to look forward to as a reward for this work. I decided to get the parts to build a new, complete skateboard similar to one that I had to before without breaking the bank, so I turned to eBay after striking out with the major skateboard online retailers and local shops, such as Uncle Funky’s Boards.

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While I couldn’t find my original McGill with a natural finish, I did find this brand new, black dipped, Series #5 re-issue on offer by a seller in Puerto Rico. We negotiated a best offer price, and I received it before anything else.

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I picked up a Gullwing Pro III trucks, wheels, bearings, risers, hardware combo from Raptorunner in Riverside, CA, and I ordered a Powell Peralta Tailbone and Jessup grip tape (and a helmet and pads) from TGM Skateboards in Mount Clemens, MI.

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My original Gullwing Pro III trucks were cherry red and stood out well against the natural grain of the board. I liked these new 9″, 155mm neon green ones, because they stand out against the black background on the new, black McGill deck. Also, my re-issued McGill deck uses the old truck bolt pattern, so I chose between these (note that the base plate has six bolt holes instead of four–to accommodate both old and new bolt patterns) and Independent Stage 11 169mm trucks. Ultimately, I opted for the Gullwings since I skated with them before.

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Raptorunner had several different truck, wheel, and hardware bundles. I chose this one, because it had these Sector Nine Nineballs wheels. They aren’t too big (I would have preferred 56mm) and they are real soft (78a), which will be good for the street crusing that I intend to use the skateboard for.

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To begin my skateboard’s assembly, I began with the Tailbone before applying the grip tape. I clamped the tail guard to the bottom of the deck’s tail and measured to ensure it was centered.

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Then, I used a small drill bit to lightly mark where I should drill the larger holes for the wood screws that will go through the top of the board into the Tailbone.

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I used the grip tape shipping tube to support the deck while I was drilling.

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Powell-Peralta’s instructions for the Tailbone call for a 7/32″ drill bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t have one in this size. I didn’t want to go with a larger hole (1/4″), so I tried the 3/16″ bit. Luckily, this was more than enough room for the wood screws to pass through the board without biting and then go into the Tailbone.

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Using my earlier marks, I drilled three holes through the deck’s tail. These will be used later for mounting the Tailbone.

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Before mounting the Tailbone, I applied the Jessup grip tape. I bought 10″ wide grip tape, which is just barely wide enough to give some room for error with the front of the deck. If I had to do over again, I would have opted for the 11″ wide grip tape.

I wanted the Bones Brigade logo to appear on the top of the deck, so I needed to apply two sections of grip tape–one above it towards the nose and one below it towards the tail. I measured these lengths twice and cut the length of grip tape into two sections allowing some room for error in terms of length. I used the pre-cut edges as the beginning of application above or below the Bones Brigade logo. I slowly lowered and pressed the grip tape to the deck so as to avoid any air bubbles under the tape.

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With the tape applied, I used the barrel’s edge of a screw driver to draw a scoring line around the edge of the skateboard deck.

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Then, I used a razor blade held from underneath the board to follow the edge of the board and cut the excess grip tape off along the scoring line.

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Next, I pressed the grip tape down around the edges of the deck.

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I ran a rolled up piece of excess grip tape around the edge of the deck to give the grip tape a clean edge all away around.

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With the grip tape applied, I used a screw driver to punch through all of the holes in the deck for the trucks and Tailbone.

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Next, I installed the tailbone by pushing through wood screws and matching them to the holes in the Tailbone.

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While I had a cordless drill on-hand, I preferred to install these screws by hand. I was afraid of over torquing the screws and losing grip in the Tailbone’s plastic. Installing the screws by hand allows me to feel them dig into the plastic and maintain a secure hold on the Tailbone through the deck without stripping out plastic.

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The final stage of the assembly involves the trucks, wheels, bearings, and 1/4″ risers. I laid all of these parts out to make the assembly quicker. For some of the assembly, I used the cordless drill with a Philips head driver, and I had my 1/4″ drive tall sockets in 3/8″ (for the truck mounting bolts) and 1/2″ (for the truck’s axle bolts).

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The first task was to install bearings and spacers in each wheel. I placed an Owlsome Precision ABEC 7 bearing assembly into the back of a wheel.

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Then, I used one of the trucks to help me press the bearing completely into the wheel so that it is flush with the wheel.

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Turning the wheel over, I dropped a spacer on top of the inserted bearing.

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Then, I placed another bearing into the front of the front of the wheel over the spacer, and again, used the trucks to help me press the bearing assembly completely into the wheel.

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Then, I pulled the wheel off, placed a washer on the axle, followed by the wheel with the front facing outward, another washer, and then the axle nut. I tightened the axle nut by hand with the 1/2″ socket. I left a very slight bit of play for the wheel on the axle.

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With all of the wheels assembled with bearings and spacers and these installed on the trucks, I was ready to complete assembly of the skateboard by mounting the risers and trucks to the skateboard deck.

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First, I pushed the 1 1/4″ truck mounting bolts through the skateboard deck.

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Then, I mounted the 1/4″ riser through the bolts on the underside of the skateboard deck.

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Next, I turned the skateboard on its side and mounted the trucks.

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I hand threaded the four hardware nuts on each mounting bolt for each truck.

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After confirming each nut was threaded correctly, I used the cordless drill to snug each bolt down to the nut and then hand tightened each bolt in an X-pattern until I was confident in each truck’s mounting to the skateboard deck.

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With the trucks mounted, I have a complete skateboard ready to take out and hit the streets with. The soft, larger wheels should be great for riding in my neighborhood. However, I have been looking at Powell-Peralta’s G-Slides, which I might get later.

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I opted to cover the “Bones Brigade” name beneath the logo, because I wanted a little more grip on the tail section of the deck.

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My original McGill had a nose kick while this late-80s re-issue does not. Nevertheless, I think this will be a fun skateboard to ride. Y asked me to wait until she returned from her trip to see her parents before I rode it in case I hurt myself. She’s back, but the weather isn’t superb, so I might content myself with daydreaming about riding my new skateboard until we can take it out together.

In all honesty, I have to remind myself that I can’t necessarily do the things I did when I was younger, or put another way, I can try to do the things that I used to do, but there will likely be more serious consequences. C’est la vie!

Why Do I Build LEGO Sets Before Creating My Own Models? Thoughts on Haptics and Star Wars Rebels 75053 The Ghost

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I recently purchased the LEGO Star Wars Rebels 75053 The Ghost set to cannibalize for a MOC project. However, before I parted out the set and sold off the minifigures, I built the set one time and purposefully spread the build time across several days even though the set itself should only take a couple of hours of concentrated build time to complete. Why?

A personal reason stems from the enjoyment and stress relief that comes from building something with my hands. I see the model take shape as I place brick after brick. I take joy in the innovative techniques employed by the model’s designers. I reflect on the relationship of the model to its source material–in this case, the television program Star Wars: Rebels.

From a learning perspective, the haptic experience of building the model by following its instructions teaches the builder the process and techniques of the designer. Combined with the builder’s experience gained from model building and creative expression, one can reflect on the model’s design and guess about alternative methods and potential roadblocks encountered by the designer in earlier versions. In a sense, LEGO bricks serve as an interface between builder and designer, and through the interface, the builder learns and imagines new possibilities, which the builder can turn toward future projects. Building, pulling apart, rebuilding, redesigning, and creating forms the basis of a self-perpetuating active learning experience–one that begins guided and ends self-directed.

By spreading the build across several days, it allowed me to enjoy an extended building experience while giving my brain the space to think about and reflect on the building techniques employed by the sets designers. Had I built the model as quickly as I could have otherwise, I would not necessarily learn as much from the instructions and haptic experience of following the instructions to construct the model.

Based on my extensive first-hand experience as a LEGO builder and an educator who uses LEGO in his Technical Writing and Science Fiction classes, the transition from guided to self-directed learning is one of the powerful characteristics of LEGO as a learning platform. Furthermore, its orientation as a technology of play opens engagement and enables learning that is fulfilling because of the enjoyment that it can bring about (of course, LEGO might not be for everyone and the source of enjoyment in learning differs from person to person–as with the projection learning with lecture and PowerPoint, or other forms of active learning exercises, I propose that LEGO is another tool in the educator’s toolbox that can be used, repurposed, hacked, etc. as the case and need arises).

Before I disassemble The Ghost, here are some images of a nice model that accurately captures its source while adding play elements that fans of the series–young and old–will likely enjoy.

If you’ve deployed LEGO in some way in your classroom or assignments, share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below or ping me on Twitter.

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Dissertation Paragraph Summaries Before Defense, May 2012

This is the sixty-third post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

When my dissertation defense date approached and my dissertation was completed, I wanted to help myself recall my arguments and examples more clearly. To that end, I wrote out by hand short summaries of each paragraph in my dissertation, which you can read as this PDF. I divided my handwritten notes by chapter and section. Each paragraph summary contains the main thought and a brief synopsis of examples or other supporting evidence. In some ways, it is like a reverse outline, but the dissertation was already completed and the summaries were not used for reorganizing the layout/arrangement of the dissertation’s logic. I am currently sending an expanded version of my dissertation around for possible publication. This PDF of my dissertation paragraph summaries are not the original form of the dissertation–only a summarization of each of its constituent paragraphs. For my students, I recommend this exercise–summarizing essay paragraphs during drafting to help you think about the logical order of your essay/argument and to help you know the material better for discussing, teaching, or presenting your work.

In my next Recovered Writing entry, I will post my dissertation defense opening statement. Stay tuned!

Recovered Writing, Brittain Fellowship, CETL Brown Bag, Writing the Brain: Using Twitter and Storify, Oct. 2, 2013

Slides from "Writing the Brain" PowerPoint.
Slides from “Writing the Brain” PowerPoint.

This is the sixty-second post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

In this Recovered Writing post, I am including two PDF files that I used in my presentation on “Writing the Brain: Using Twitter and Storify” for the 2 October 2013 CETL Brown Bag Workshop. The first is my PowerPoint presentation file and the second is my handwritten presentation notes. Normally, I type up a carefully written script for my presentations, but in this case, I wrote my speaking notes out by hand. While I was driven my a tight deadline imposed by several other responsibilities converging at the same time, I saw this as an opportunity to experiment with a way of presenting that I normally don’t do and I wasn’t completely comfortable doing. As I tell my students, we grow by challenging ourselves, doing new things, and experimenting with new approaches. This was one such attempt on my part.

Fall 2013 ENGL1101, The Concluding Lecture: Advice from a Georgia Tech Alum to Future Alumni

The end is just the beginning.
The end is just the beginning.

During today’s class, I will present a final lecture titled, “The Concluding Lecture: Advice from a Georgia Tech Alum to Future Alumni.” There’s a lot of things that I wish I had known when I was an undergraduate at Tech. On reflection and through experience, I gained insights that I wanted to make available to my current Georgia Tech students. I am making the PowerPoint file and my notes available below.

Download the lecture’s PowerPoint presentation here: ellis-jason-final-lecture2.

Notes to accompany “The Concluding Lecture: Advice from a Georgia Tech Alum to Future Alumni” follow below:

During today’s lecture, I wanted to talk about one big idea that’s been implicit in the readings and discussions that we’ve shared regarding the brain. That idea is: “Who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow.” What I mean by that is our biology, experiences, thoughts, and choices shape who we are and who we become each moment of our lives. Sometimes these changes can be small and sometimes these changes can be large.

Another way to think about this is that we are like patterns. Our lives, thoughts, and memories are patterns that form, reform, and change based on a number of variables. Some of those variables, like cats, are outside of our control. These things include our genes, disabilities, economic situation, and past. While there’s a lot about our lives and pattern that we cannot control, there’s also a lot of things about our pattern that we can control. These are the conscious choices and decisions that we make in life.

In this lecture, I would like to talk about those choices that I think are particularly important to Georgia Tech undergraduates but that are often pushed aside, ignored, or forgotten in the forward rush to a degree. Choosing to focus on these important things will lead, I believe, to a more robust, meaningful, and enriched undergraduate experience that will prepare you for success in the next stage of your life.

Learn: Feed your curiosity. Gain as much knowledge in your field and others as possible. Form connections between the many things that you learn. Be interdisciplinary in your thinking and learning. Pass on what you have learned to others–in doing so, you will gain a deeper mastery of what you have learned.

Connect: Form connections with faculty at Tech. Seek out mentors to guide you in your progress. Your advisors and mentors will become your colleagues one day when you enter the field as a graduate of Tech and professional. Learn from your mentors and advisors.

Explore: Explore the spaces you inhabit and work. Explore your major and connected disciplines. Explore how you can connect your major to other disciplines. Open doors and find out what’s going on (as long as you won’t be breaking laws or entering a dangerous space). Exploration is another kind of learning.

Travel: Visiting other places is a special kind of exploration and learning. However, it is also a kind of education that you cannot receive in the normal classroom setting. You will learn new perspectives from those you live around. You will gain new insights from the history, economy, and politics of the places you live. My strongest regret was not taking advantage of the study abroad programs at Georgia Tech. There are many, many study abroad programs here–find out about them and take advantage of them.

Meet: Go out and meet people! Meet famous people. Meet smart people. Meet people in your community. Meet other students at Tech. Meet people in the Atlanta area. Superficial connections are not what you want. The important thing is to expand your network of friends and colleagues and form meaningful relationships with those people. Talk with people. Learn from others.

Help: Make the effort to help others. Help your classmates. Help people in your communities. Help your family and friends. If you contribute to building stronger communities through outreach and doing good deeds, you will build a stronger community that will in turn help you in the long term.

Make: Create things. They can be digital, physical, or abstract. The important thing is to never rest. You should always be engaged making things–professionally or for personal enjoyment. The things that you make will in turn make you through the experience of creating.

Do Good Work: Make things that you are proud of. Put the time and effort into making things that you can stand behind. This is hard to do sometimes in classes, but you should think about how to turn assignments to meet your needs as well as the needs of the class’ outcomes. This means think about how you can create things that will earn the grade you want while also serving your uses outside of the class–such as adding a new document to your professional portfolio or using an assignment as an excuse to learn a new skill or software.

Reflect: Above all else, reflect on your life, on the things you do, and on your successes and failures. Learn from the choices that you’ve made before so that you can make better and stronger and more effective decisions in the future. Reflect on all aspects of your life–not just on your writing or major-specific work. Reflect in writing–public or private–for the maximum effect on your thinking and brain wiring. Make your reflections a part of your daily practices. It takes time and energy, but the results over time to improving your likelihood for success is tremendous!

Graduate: Certainly, keep your eye on the prize. It might take you four years, five years, or even longer. No matter how long it might take you or how winding your path might be to graduation, be tenacious in your progress to completion. In the words of Commander Taggart from Galaxy Quest (1999), “never give up–never surrender.” If you find that you need to take time away from school, there’s no reason not to return later. I did that and I believe that I am the better for it. The experience that I gained during those years away from Tech were tremendously useful to me. Anyways, if I can do it, I know that you can, too.

Mirja Lobnik’s and My Workshop at the Assessing Multimodality: Navigating the Digital Turn Symposium: Multimodality and Perception: A Multi-Sensory Approach to Teaching Rhetorical Skills

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Perception and cognition.

This morning, Mirja Lobnik and I will be co-hosting a workshop on “Multimodality and Perception: A Multi-Sensory Approach to Teaching Rhetorical Skills” at the Assessing Multimodality: Navigating the Digital Turn Symposium co-hosted by Georgia Tech’s Writing and Communication Program and Bedford St. Martin’s. Our workshop is about multisensory perception, multimodal composition, and cognition:

Associated with the use of various media to create cohesive rhetorical artifacts and the neurology of the ways humans process information through different sensory channels, multimodality has gained considerable ground in the composition classroom. Insofar as multimodal pedagogies emphasize the role of students as active, resourceful, and creative meaning-makers, it tends to enhance student engagement and, by extension, the teaching of composition and rhetorical skills. Focusing on sensory details of embodied, lived experience, this workshop centers on teaching that engages students both in mind and body. This approach not only promotes the students’ creation of multimodal artifacts but also encourages students to explore and critically reflect on personal experiences. Specifically, Lobnik focuses on aural composing modalities, including speech, music, and sound, and assignments that highlight sound as a rhetorical and creative resource: a transcription, audio essay, and a video. Ellis discusses cognition, metacognition, and curation and an assignment that integrates Twitter, Storify, ComicLife, and the written essay.

If you get to attend our workshop or the symposium’s other great sessions, please tweet using the hashtag: #AMsymposium.

Notes from Dr. Laura Otis’ LMC Distinguished Speaker Presentation at Georgia Tech

Dr. Laura Otis presenting in GT Library's Ferst Room.
Dr. Laura Otis presenting in GT Library’s Ferst Room.

Today, Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication invited Emory University’s Dr. Laura Otis to give a presentation in the Library’s Ferst Room. Dr. Otis’ presentation was titled, “The Surprising Antics of Other People’s Minds” [read the abstract here].

In Dr. Otis’ work, she aims to show with data that she has collected from interviews with an admittedly small number of English-speaking people from the United States that:

1) visual thinking and verbal thinking are not opposites and they cannot be separated,” 2) there is no such thing as a visual thinking type or a verbal thinking type–every mind is unique, and 3) visual and verbal inclinations are not destinies. Anyone can develop visual or verbal skills with practice.

She also offered two suggestions for literary studies:

1) refer to visual imagery in readings, because this might help include more students who may feel excluded by verbal readings, and 2) take reader’s visual imagery seriously, because this might help reconnect the reader to creative writing as co-creator of its imagery.

You can download my handwritten notes on Dr. Otis’ talk and the Q&A session from the event as a PDF from here.

I enjoyed Dr. Otis’ presentation, and it provided me with a new insight into something that I had already read and thought about but in a more biological sense: we each think differently, because our brains are wired differently. Our experience of the world and life, which includes our biology, environment, and culture, leaves its indelible trace on our brain’s physical wiring. As we live, our brains wire themselves to accommodate new memories, abilities, and ways of thinking. It makes sense that all of these experiences would shape our thinking, but more importantly, we can exert our own conscious control over our thinking by adopting reflective practices and training/practice to improve abilities that we already have to greater or lesser degrees.