Distant and Critical

“Critical making refers to the hands-on productive activities that link digital technologies to society. It was invented to bridge the gap between creative physical and conceptual exploration.” -Wikepedia.

Tucked away on the 4th floor of the Cathedral of Learning lies Virtual Media Lab where Dr. Zach Horton hosts his Critical Making course in the fall. Every day I contemplated taking the elevator which was recommended for 5 floors or higher, but 4 flights is still exhausting! As an eager freshman, I wanted to maximize my first semester, so I enrolled for this course in an effort to knock out my arts and writing gen ed. Little did I know, this course would fundamentally change my approach in college.

Critical Making involves tours of maker spaces, discussions on the weekly reading or books assigned, papers on themes emphasized in class, and projects carried out at any of the various maker spaces on campus. My final project involved making t-shirts using the embroidery machine and vinyl cutter. I mentioned this to one of my friends and she enthusiastically sought out the Virtual Media Lab to use the embroidery machine. The goal of the lab and other maker spaces on campus is to fuel student led projects and connect them to each other. Exposure to these spaces spurned my hobbies in design, creating t-shirts, and woodwork — activities I would not have engaged with in college if this class did not illuminate the resources existing at Pitt. These isolated endeavours spurned my interests in creating and the themes from Critical Making fostered an internal discussion on how my creations influence my surrounding. I eventually applied and received the Creative Arts Fellowship and Year of Creativity grant to work on a script for a coming of age screenplay centered around minority students in college (“The Dorm”). With my lack of experience in film, Dr. Horton was the perfect mentor to guide my project.

My experience will be beneficial for incoming students to understand. Students would benefit from my skills in applying for funding, starting projects, understanding the importance of peer collaboration, and reaching out to mentors for help. More importantly, connecting with them as peers and re-emphasizing concepts Dr. Horton teaches in a different way to hopefully resonate with students. I also have extensive experience as a teaching assistant for General Chemistry 1 and 2, Physics 1 and 2, and Organic Chemistry 2.

This fall, we are in a dynamic, hybrid online system with some students, or possibly the entire class, online, with physical lab access as a constantly changing variable. Since this class had a lot of in person interaction and often incorporated the physical lab, it will be challenging to transfer it into an online format. As a student who had to work on projects for this class and balance the limited amount of lab time, I feel that my input would be valuable in allocating time for students and helping them plan projects. My main project this semester is to bridge the gap between students and campus resources like 3D printing and the maker community. I will use existing organizations like the Center for Creativity to accomplish this goal. Depending on the status of campus, I hope to host some maker events in the VML or record videos for students to watch. Increasing their familiarity with the resources on campus will encourage them to take advantage of them in the future. 

As an aspiring physician, I see direct parallels in teaching and medicine. Healthcare is messy with information and opinions that physicians sift through to form health care plans. This ability to answer patient questions, stay current on new research, and devise treatment plans resembles the skillset of an English teacher. Just as a physician replaces hypertension (medical term) with high blood pressure (colloquial term), English teachers scale new information to meet their students’ level. Creating lesson plans current with the evolving English language while incorporating students’ questions will strengthen my communication, and interpersonal and empathy values. I see similarities in a teacher ensuring a student keeps up with their schoolwork and a physician ensuring that the patient understands and commits to the treatment plan. Further developing my teaching abilities will allow me, a future health care provider, to help patients build their comprehension skills and health literacy in the future, equipping patients to take charge of their health.

The Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship provides an opportunity to further develop my teaching and interpersonal skills, work with my peers, and to create. My Rehabilitation Sciences major, minor in Chemistry, and certificates in Global Studies and Transatlantic Studies have informed my path towards medicine. However, after taking Dr. Horton’s Critical Making course I kept an eye out for projects that would draw on my diverse and unique skill set. I hope my involvement in the course fosters meaningful creation and a sense of community among the many maker spaces on campus.

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