Written by UWaterloo Faculty of Arts

Andy MA candidate | Experimental Digital Media

Andy MA candidate | Experimental Digital Media by UWaterloo Faculty of Arts

The Experimental Digital Media (XDM) MA equips students with the skills to support deep reading and critical analysis, while also offering an understanding of ethical approaches to technology in culture. These skills benefit individuals looking to work in communication design and to build expertise in the rapidly evolving field of communications.

Andy’s desire to delve into the XDM program emerged after taking Professor Marcel O’Gorman’s course “Rhetoric of Digital Design”, which focused on maker culture in his fourth year of his undergraduate degree. That course, like the XDM program it was inspired by, had a large impact on Andy because he had academic freedom with his projects and his learning. Andy says “Prior to this course, I hadn’t thought about ‘thinking through making’, but it clicked with how I wanted to approach writing and research: I didn’t want to be limited to only reading and writing, I wanted to also explore other forms of art and media.”

XDM students take core courses such as Media Theory and Critique: Data and Society, and Digital Abstinence, where they execute their own maker projects to bring tangibility to their learning and ideas. Reflecting on the application of maker culture to his studies, Andy says “We look at the history of tools and making, and how it appeals to our desire to connect with our life’s work in a deep, embodied way. But we are also critical of how these ideas can be re-packaged and sold.”

For elective courses— even a literature course, for example—students are encouraged to propose an XDM spin on their course projects and deliverables. In American Literature (ENGL 760) taught by Professor Marcel O’Gorman and Professor Kevin McGuirk, students read a variety of philosophy and literature, from thing theory and post-humanism to popular science fiction an indigenous literature. In the course, students looked at philosophical and literary movements in the 20th century that aimed to reinvent looking at art or objects themselves. This course implored students to reevaluate their stance on agency, artistry, and the power of everyday things. To convey this, Andy created a “Cornell box”, using his grandmother’s old breadbox to display a jewelry case, other found objects, and a book of short poems she had transcribed. Like Edith Wharton in Tender Buttons, Andy aimed to cherish the poetic resonance of everyday objects. While he could only imagine what these things meant in her life, he reflected on how the objects somehow arrived to be in an artistic display, submitted in a classroom environment, for evaluation.

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In American Literature, Andy created a "Cornell box", a reimagining of everyday items, from possessions he inherited from his grandmother.

Since joining the program, Andy has immersed himself in the program culture. He attends Digital Wednesdays, workshops hosted at the Critical Media Lab for XDM students and others. During these workshops, students participate in digital media tutorials, including programming an Arduino hardware kit to move a robot arm, scraping data off of Twitter, and making glitch art. These workshops also offer students the freedom to work on digital projects that interest them, while utilizing peer feedback to contribute to overall project creation, creating a positive support system for digital projects.

Andy recently landed an eight-month co-op placement at Blackberry, where he holds the role of Communications Specialist for Secusmart. In this role, he writes and edits product documentation, administration guides and troubleshooting manuals for customers. Reflecting on his co-op experience, Andy says “Co-op is a low-risk way to gain good employment experience while making money. Why wouldn’t I seize the chance to try work in another industry? I haven’t decided on a career path, so this allows me to explore my options.”

Many of the skills Andy has spent years developing while studying English have been put into practice in his new role. “Part of what I love about English is teaching people about writing and what makes communication effective. I really love editing, and having worked at it for years academically, it’s great to put into practice professionally.”

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Andy presents his research on the semiotics of the squat at an Indianapolis conference.

While Andy is still in the proposal stage of his major research project, he knows he will analyze fitness culture. He says “I intend to explore how our relationship with fitness is similar to our relationship with technology.” Andy is also in the process of collaborating on a grassroots literary publication that develops emerging, underrepresented writers from Kitchener-Waterloo region. He hopes that this project will help diverse voices to re-imagine the city while contributing to the local literary scene.