Stanley Tigerman’s conceptual collage depicts Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Crown Hall for the Illinois Institute of Technology—which houses the School of Architecture—sinking into Lake Michigan. Tigerman’s work is a critique on the state of architectural pedagogy in Chicago and its environs in the late 1970s. By this time, the Postmodern movement was becoming a viable counterpoint to Mies’s Minimalist aesthetic and was being taught at other schools of architecture in the United States.
School for poetic computation (SFPC) invited Daniel Shiffman for a residency in Spring/Summer 2016. The SFPC team helped Daniel set up a video recording studio at the school’s space at 155 Bank street. Daniel has been recording and broadcasting coding tutorials, as well as actively participating in Summer 2016 session, running workshops and organizing events with the Processing Foundation. Taeyoon Choi, SFPC co-founder and teacher, interviewed Daniel about his teaching practice.
Taeyoon: Dan, I’ve been following your books on Processing and many online tutorials for years now. You are a prolific writer and teacher. When I see your videos, I feel that you genuinely excited about teaching and helping students learn. Teaching seems to be so much of who you are. What was your motivation? When did you discover teaching and what keeps you going?
Dan: This is perhaps an odd thing to start out with, but I saw the musical Hamilton recently, which like probably everyone who has seen it, I am now obsessed with. I was thinking back to how I used to do so much theatre in college, musical theatre specifically. I didn’t expect or plan to be a teacher, but I have always been interested in creative arts — specifically performance and music — and at some point, through various circumstances and accidental occurrences, I ended up at ITP. There I discovered that I also have a love for programming. In college I enjoyed directing musicals, and teaching a class about making creative work has a strangely similar quality — helping people learn something and produce a project. I don’t know what motivates me. On the one hand, I like to think I’m interested in helping people, as a primary reason that I like teaching. On the other hand, I think it may be vanity, especially as it relates to making video tutorials. They are a performance and I often find myself obsessing over view counts, comments, likes, etc. This is not necessarily what I always think about when asked a question like this but having just recorded on a live broadcast on YouTube before this interview, it’s top of mind. If that makes sense.
Taeyoon: Yeah, it does. When you began teaching, like your first class ever, were you nervous?
Dan: Oh Iʻm still petrified, now (laughs). It relaxes over the semester. I would say I’m always very nervous at the first class, even more nervous if its an entire batch of new students.
Taeyoon: What about the live broadcast?
Dan: Yeah, so the live broadcast for some reason I don’t feel nervous. It sort of lives in this amorphous place and I have a lot of control over it. I can always turn it off. There is one thing about the university classroom that I don’t love about teaching. I know this is part of a larger conversation but in graduate school there’s a certain seriousness that I sometimes feel I’m supposed to have. I’m supposed to be a real teacher / expert / authority / scholar something or other and that makes me feel uneasy and adds to anxiety or nervousness.
Taeyoon: I try to deal with such expectation by being honest about what I can offer to the class. Sometimes I have students in my class who are knowledgeable or experienced on the subject matter. I ask them to help me explain technical topics. Other students learn by observing our conversation, and the student gets a boost in their confidence.
Dan: Thatʻs a nice way of thinking about it. Iʻve always really liked teaching complete and total beginner classes. I don’t know why that is exactly. But I feel more comfortable.
Taeyoon: When students with technical experience ask of very specific technical challenges, what do you think is the best way to work with them?
Dan: Yeah, one thing I think is a common thread in helping students with solving technical problems for a project is it’s really easy to overthink and go down a road following a super complicated library or algorithm that you don’t really need when a simple solution will do just fine. I think a good example of this is in computer vision problems. Let’s say you wanted to find the top of your finger. And you know you could start looking into contour detection and machine learning to do some sort of elaborate gesture hand tracking. But you could also just say “Hey! There are some bright pixels over there! The ones that are the highest are probably the top of your finger!” So sometimes I think that what can best help a student is to just to get them to talk through the problem. Students come to office hours because they can’t figure out a problem in their code and in the process of explaining the problem they realize the answer without me doing anything at all.
Dan: A lot of being a teacher is just being a warm friendly supportive person, not imparting knowledge. Just being somebody that the student feels supported by.
Taeyoon: And you also don’t want to solve their problem for them.
Taeyoon: ‘Cause thatʻs easier?
Taeyoon: ‘Cause they’re actually not learning if they come to the teacher for all the challenges. So how do you support them without just fixing it?
Dan: Yes I think the most important role in teaching programming is to be available and friendly, to make the student feel comfortable, like this is something they can do, if they want to. They shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. They shouldn’t feel stupid. It’s creating the environment, because ultimately, they have to just learn by trying and getting stuck. A teacher can hopefully explain something clearly, that’s good too. But really I think a lot of it is the illusion of teaching, of creating an environment, a community in the classroom.
Taeyoon: Some of your audience of Youtube Channel and readers of your books are teachers and they use your material to prepare for teaching. I also noticed that other teachers assign your videos to the students as a preparatory material. I think it’s great that your work is circulating to the wider audience. What are your tips or advice for someone whoʻs beginning to teach? What do you tell your students who are considering a career in teaching?
Dan: Yes, thatʻs a very broad question. Thereʻs some specific things that jump to mind – go slower than you think, assume less. It’s easy to assume that students know something or feel comfortable with something and I think you have to assume less. It’s often better to spend more time going through topics and ideas slowly and carefully, even if you don’t get to certain things. Sometimes I’ll have a list. I want to get to these five things in class and Iʻll notice there’s ten minutes left and I’m on item number four. Iʻll make the mistake of thinking: “I said I was going to do this and I have this example prepared, I’m going show them really quickly!” I’ve learned over the years it’s better to say never mind, put that aside, I can do it next week or I can send an email. But you can create a feeling of confusion by being rushed and trying to like squeeze stuff in. I would say, in terms teaching technical material, it’s really just about being patient, going slowly and trying to create a kind of comfortable friendly environment in the classroom.
Taeyoon: Definitely. How do you manage classroom with different technical skill experiences?
Dan: Yeah this is a very common, every class at ITP is like this. Generally speaking I tend to bias my teaching a bit more towards the beginners. If people have more experience they can learn by contributing to the discussion and helping. An approach that I have, and this is specific to teaching code, but I will try to stay at two extremes. I will either walk through code in extreme detail so that beginners can follow or I will essentially ignore code and just talk about the higher level concepts of how things work. This allows me to get further and discuss more advanced problems. The higher level discussion is good for both beginner and advanced because everyone can participate. The advanced students might be able to just go look at the code themselves, the beginners might get the idea and come back to the code later. I don’t know what the magic number is but I try to do 50/50. Let’s learn this particular topic and go through these five examples in detail and then let’s look at these two more advanced examples from a macro view. In the end though I often wonder, all of this discussion is based around lecturing about code and more and more I’m trying to integrate workshop style teaching where the students are working on a problem then we discuss the solution and they ask questions.
There’s the thing now with the flipped classroom — lecture at home in video and homework in class. I try not to view teaching as if there are two distinct ways — you’re either flipped or not flipped. I’m trying to live in the grey area, experimenting to see what works best. But certainly I do think it helps to have more time for the students to collaborate, work in class and then discuss that work and ask questions rather than just listen to me go on and on.
Taeyoon: I think teaching a small group of people is really good exercise for beginner teachers. I realize it’s equally challenging to teach a small group like three people, as teaching a group of twenty students. However, teaching a small group is more manageable.
I think learning to teach is a very complex experience and can’t be overlooked. I think teaching is so hard, it’s about performing partly a comedian, partly a priest, partly a salesman, partly a therapist, partly a parent and youʻre vulnerable to criticism from every aspect of the performance.
Dan: Another tip that I would say is force yourself to teach the same class again. A lot of times you don’t have to force yourself, you get asked to, but often new teachers will be so excited about their new ideas and theyʻll want to keep teaching a new class. If you can go back and teach a class you taught before that, refine the process and also just give yourself a break and have some comfort knowing that you’ve done it before. Your mind can have more space to help in office hours or augment things. You can really burn yourself out on preparing new classes. Having now taught for many years, it’s quite noticeable, the difference between teaching a new class and a class Iʻve taught before. And it’s not something to undersell, the difference.
Taeyoon: It sounds like you don’t have much conflict between art practice and teaching practice. When I speak with my colleagues, it sounds like most of the people who teach Art and Technology field have some conflict. Many artists find themselves in a position where they have to teach technical materials to students but they would actually rather teach about the artistic ideas.
Taeyoon: On the contrary, it sounds like you are generally excited about understanding math and programming language and walking though that concepts with other people. Do you see this as an art practice, or something else?
Dan: When I first was learning about code and first discovering things like Processing, I worked on projects that maybe you could maybe call art projects. And then I just got more involved in working on Processing itself and somehow over the years I’ve just, I don’t know why, but I enjoy seeing other people make work from stuff that I have taught or developed more than like making the projects myself. I enjoy like putting the puzzle pieces together. As an employee of New York University, I get paid for teaching, but I think I’m also supposed to have a professional practice or art practice or research practice, and for me, the teaching itself, that’s also my art and research practice. Experimenting with live video streaming and new ways to teach online or doing strange things like wearing a chicken suit to teach programming not that I’ve ever done that (yet), that’s my practice, so to speak.
Taeyoon: I can also see your practices in two perspectives. The first perspective is an artist as a tool builder, making systems to realize their ideas. The second perspective is like a type designer, designing fonts and tools that other people can use.
Dan: Right. It is tricky for me, because many of the things that I teach about for example physics simulation and motion animation, that was stuff that I was doing in my own work. And then I started writing and making educational materials about that topic. But more recently I started teaching about things I learned how to do only to teach them! Making twitter bots is an example, I taught about making bots at ITP and I realized “oh! I’ve never actually made a bot other than an example bot!” And I often wonder, is this a problem? Somebody like Allison Parrish is going to have a deeper perspective having made @everyword and many other bots, being a part of the creative bot-making community, and having the experience of dealing with an audience, press, etc. So sometimes I worry about how important having that practice, professional or artistic or whatever, in a certain kind of technology, matters.
Taeyoon: Great, let’s get to the question of higher education. You’ve been teaching at NYU ITP as a full time professor for a number of years where you are an integral part of the vibrant academic community. Have you taught outside of NYU?
Dan: I have never taught a full semester course that wasn’t part of NYU, the most would be a full week workshop which I’ve done a number of times and conferences and festivals.
Taeyoon: Previously, we had some brief and broad conversation about the higher education institutions. Such as “What are the universities doing? What are we doing to our students? Is the high tuition ethical? What is the vision for educators?” We share the idea that teaching creativity and artistic expression through technology empowers people. If weʻre teaching and promoting freedom, open source and collaboration, how should the institutions reflect such philosophy?
Dan: Well, on the one hand, my reaction to that, is oh my goodness I’m so overwhelmed by the question because all I can do is try to have a nice positive experience with the students and faculty and other staff that I interact with personally in my smaller world. But I do think that that the expense of education is a major problem. Obviously I’m not saying anything revolutionary here by stating that. A place like ITP has a certain amount of international diversity which is exciting and interesting but it has very little socioeconomic diversity and so there are many voices that are missing from the culture and community at ITP which I think is a problem. And so I think that programs like ITP need to figure out ways to make education more inclusive. I think that there are other models, in particular for post graduate level education, that can live outside of a corporate university system. Weʻre sitting here at School for Poetic Computation. A lot of the things that students are learning skills wise and community wise at ITP you don’t necessarily need a large accredited institution to be able to have that environment.
Taeyoon: I think what the students pay for is academics and also to be part of a community. To play a devil’s advocate, is it possible that ITP has such a vibrant community because everybody is dedicated with a financial commitment?
Dan: Well there is a value in paying for your education. It’s like: I could host a free workshop on something or I could charge five dollars for it and if I charge five dollars people who sign up and pay the five dollars are more likely to show up. The problem is not that it costs something but what it costs and the debt that students find themselves with. Student debt is a major crisis.
Dan: But youʻre right that ITP benefits from this kind of immersive dedication over a long period of time in a community, a dense community. Feeling invested in that community. The issue is that the cost and debt limits students’ creativity and exploration during their time at ITP with the worry of what they want or must do after they graduate. It’s hard to be an artist or work at a non-profit or pursue a social justice / activist career. Students should feel free to play and be open in their thinking while at ITP and feel less anxiety about how to deal with life post-ITP.
Another aspect of this discussion in terms of education that I think is important is differentiating computer science, which I view as a very specific formal study of systems design and algorithms as they relate to computing, versus literacy with technology, creative literacy, creative coding, coding. I’m not sure what term I should use for what I teach, but I don’t think it’s computer science.
Taeyoon: Definitely. I think thatʻs a great point about relevancy of creative coding in a larger context. Does everyone need to spend two years learning code to be a creative technologist or media artist?
Dan: I mean it’s tricky. When I started at ITP in 2001, when I would mention the program the reaction I would get is even around Tisch / NYU was: “Huh? What is that place? I’ve never been to the fourth floor.” The idea of “creative computing,” and initiatives like “computer science for all”, none of that was in our culture. Yes, students at ITP still do plenty of wacky stuff but I often think about this one student, I’m forgetting the name, who made a project where she played the violin on her hair. She pulled her hair out with the bow and this was just the most beautiful thing. I think that with the professionalization of media art and creative technology like you’re saying, that playfulness can be lost. And playfulness isn’t just good because it is playful. Playfulness can contribute to things that turn into the things that are practical and useful in life. I also want to respond to your question about should everyone be a creative media artist. Certainly not everybody needs to be a creative media artist, I think learning to play the piano and spend one’s life playing the piano or dreaming of being a marine biologist and becoming a marine biologist are perfectly reasonable things to do. I don’t even think everyone necessarily needs to learn how to code. But I do think that what’s missing are more pathways for people who are outside of the traditional “I’m going to go learn computer science” track we have culturally established. We need more pathways for computing, creative coding more accessible to different kinds of audiences that haven’t historically had access.
Taeyoon: Definitely. What do you think about US universities expanding their branches overseas?
Dan: Another good question. I’ve been amazed at what’s happened with the IMA program in China at NYU Shanghai, Marianne Petit and other folks there have created a wonderful, amazing community. The more that different cultures can talk to each other and have channels of communication and learn from each other, that’s a good thing.
Taeyoon: In a Capitalist society, education is a product. In such logic, it makes perfect sense for universities to branch overseas, to the emerging market and new people. However, I sometimes wonder what this expansion and growth actually mean. I go back and forth about being highly critical about the uncontrolled growth of American universities and then optimistic about a chance to introduce openness in oppressive countries. I’m aware that professors who are teaching or running the US universities abroad are conflicted as well. We don’t get to hear their voices so often because I don’t think they’re comfortable talking about it publicly. I think the more we talk about it openly, it will be easier to understand the lasting impact.
Dan: Ultimately for me, there are these big complex questions, financial questions, cultural questions, but I try to personally focus on the people. The thing that I find so positive is meeting new people from new parts of the world and learning from them and realizing things that didn’t occur to me in my teaching. So in that sense, the people I have met through NYU’s international expansion has been very positive for me.
Taeyoon: I agree with you about focusing on the people, like the students and the teachers because I think the systems change when people change. It rarely works the other way around. You invited me to the showcase of the NYU Abu Dhabi students few months ago and the students were fantastic. Diversity of ethnicity and gender among the student body was more broad. That was good to see and I could tell that it was a life changing experience for them to go to art museums and meet artists in New York because they never thought art could be a profession. Also some of them said they never thought art could meet their interest in physics or technology. So I don’t question the value pedagogy and human interaction for a second. However, the question is What does it mean to be a good citizen and an ethical educator for the future? And what is the culture that weʻre promoting by being part of this? I think there’s a common goal for us in the community and I’d like to know your thoughts on it.
Dan: Well for me the main thing that I am enjoying from this conversation and spending time here in the SFPC space is to be able to have these conversations through osmosis. For me I’ve been closed off in the New York University bubble. Of course I know about SPFC and other schools, but to be physically be present here and have these conversations, I think that we can only benefit from more collaborations and conversations. This also relates to my work with The Processing Foundation. That’s such a big part of my life right now. Processing isn’t new, but the foundation is: what are we exactly? How does Processing collaborate and play a role in the universities, in places like SFPC? I’m excited to be able to be here and think about these questions and have these conversations.
Taeyoon: And I think that was happening at the “Learning to teach” mini symposium. I remember De Angela Duff who teaches at the NYU Tendon School for Engineering had a similar curriculum but very different approach. It’s exciting to think about other audiences like high school students. Processing foundation is doing all kinds of outreach, Claire Kearney-Volpe is researching about programming education for the people who are blind. It’s a big statement but I think art and technology community has always pioneered the democratization of technology by making tools available. So I think the idea of open source and free software is still relevant in our work for the community, and this relates to the idea of becoming a good citizen who are reliable and thinking about the interest of the whole group. I remember you were really excited about SFPC when we started and been very helpful and you’re here as an Artist In Residence now. The final question is What are things that we are not doing a lot of work that needs to be done?
Dan: Good question. Well you brought up the accessibility. Thatʻs something thatʻs majorly missing from creative coding projects. I can’t think of a tool thatʻs used commonly at ITP that’s open source like Processing and is easily accessible for the blind for example.
Taeyoon: Let’s imagine there’s some person who’s skilled at code. What are some of the things that you want to do but you don’t have time to do? Something that excites you, that they can help with?
Dan: Thatʻs a good question. I don’t know why I’m drawing a blank here. One thing I’d like to do is caption all of my videos. Another topic I’ve been thinking about recently is the relationship between teaching the kinds of things that we do at SFPC and ITP and middle or high school education. There are teachers all over the world who are teaching Arduino, creative coding, art and technology, computer science in high school. I would like to have more conversations between people who are actually practicing the art of teaching middle school and high school with those of us that are working in these open source communities. For example, when we had our learn to teach conference here I don’t recall if there were anyone from like a high school level there represented. So I feel like that’s something that’s missing.
Hi!! I love your family au!! I was wondering if you could do prompt number 93 in the family au, about the triplets? I understand if you have a lot of stuff to do, but I was hoping you would get around to it. Thank you so much :)!!!!!!!!!!!!
SORRY FOR THE DELAY! >.<
I’ve got three exams in the next three days (f*** you pedagogy) and I’ve rewritten this first part a couple of times actually. Yeah, first part. There will be a second part. :D
Anyways… the Family AU takes a different turn down the angst-highway because I felt this could use some realistic aspects. I think you’ll get what I am talking about once you’ve read it.
093: “I told you we should have just gotten that German Shepherd
puppy.” - ½
and Eli rarely have an argument. And most of the times it’s over in
less than five minutes because one of them will apologize, even if it
wasn’t her fault. They just hate fighting.
no! We can’t!”
told you, didn’t I? I won’t approve. We wanted to save what
little money we have left over at the end of the month for our summer
vacation. So the answer is: No!”
money was this one topic that didn’t apply to this rule. Arguments
between Eli and Nozomi regarding this topic are rare. But they have
the potential to become really bad.
Nico and Honoka have to witness this for the very first time. They
don’t want to spy on their parents, they just wanted to know if
their mama would be able to convince their mom to buy a puppy. Nozomi
had told them to stay in their room and to wait. But the triplets
wanted to know.
they have to see their parents fighting because they wanted
- mad men
- yiddish (by a fellow gentile)
- the civil war
- thomas jefferson
- the constitutional convention
- the founder of our college
- broken window theory
- rudy giuliani
- pirates of penzance
- phillip k. dick
- my senior thesis
- the photo exhibit that i spent hundreds of hours curating
Pessimism, or the philosophy of desire, has a marked allergy to academic encompassment. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud all wrote the vast bulk of their works from a space inaccessible to the sweaty clutches of state pedagogy, as, of course, does Bataille.
Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: the Virulent Nihilism of Georges Bataille
After a week at BNV, I have to say that I am deeply disappointed in how I see A LOT of coaches working with their youth. I’m concerned that youth poetry is becoming trauma VS trauma with no intention as to why these poems are being written or performed. I am concerned that as educators, most coaches are not educated in safe practices with their youth. I would like to rally veteran educators together to start a Brave New Mentors Pedagogy. How and most importantly WHY are we pushing youth to unsafe spaces?
Nobody Mean More: Online Workshop for Writers/Artists/Scholars Responding to Police Violence
We are out in the streets. We out of words to describe this. We are walking in circles. We are out of our minds. We are out of our bodies. We are everywhere. And we are nobody. And it hurts. This course is for those of us who are scholars, writers and artists who are figuring out our role in a moment characterized by (a need for) drastic change. This one night workshop draws specifically on ways that June Jordan and Audre Lorde responded to police violence as poets, university teachers and public intellectuals. We need the depth of their legacy right now as much as we ever have.
The class will draw on Sista Docta Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s chapter “Nobody Mean More: Black Feminist Pedagogy and Solidarity” in the book The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (eds. Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira.)
As she says in the chapter itself “This chapter is a meditation on what it means to be nobody in a university economy designed to produce somebody inviduated, assimilated and consenting to empire. Is it possible to instead become nobody in the academic space? Is it possible to align with the illegible oppressed/contemporary subaltern, the falling apart abject nonsubject, inside a university English class?” (Participants in the course will get a pdf of the full chapter to refer to for the class.)
If you, like Audre Lorde and June Jordan, are a writer or teacher or a theorist or a thinker or an activist or a mother or all of these things at the same time, join us for a supportive space where we tap into the the power of black feminist legacy and empower each other (the nobodies that we are) to face this moment.
Anyone who identifies as an artist, writer, scholar or intellectual who wants to clarify their revolutionary role in this moment by learning about the approaches that black feminist ancestors June Jordan and Audre Lorde took.
How do I log-in to the course?
Log-in information will be sent to participants who have registered for the event on Eventbrite 6 hours before the event and 30 minutes before the event, through the Eventbrite platform. Please be sure to register before 6pm on the night of the event and please check the email address associated with your paypal or eventbrite account. We will be using a technology called Zoom which is accessible from computers and phones.
What if I just want to read about this on my own?
Please read The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent which in addition to Sista Docta Lex’s chapter on June Jordan and Audre Lorde also includes chapters by many other activist scholars.
Hard to tell from this pic that we spent the night talking about about @mrjohnnyperez’s experience of 3 years in #solitaryconfinement & how in his new role as a Reentry Advocate he is using #virtualreality as one of this tools to end inhumane uses of solitary, and @wanderguster’s new role as the director of #virtualreality at #globalnomadsgroup building pedagogy around issues such at the #syrianrefugeecrisis or #fooddeserts . Thanks @urbanjusticecenter for hosting a very hype-free VR discussion. Now we just need the rest of the world to stop calling VR an #empathymachine. (at Urban Justice Center)
idk whether this paragraph is actually unfocused and wobbly or whether i’m overthinking it
Calls for trigger warnings are often perceived as hostility
to challenging ideas, but there is a difference between the idea and the manner
in which it is conveyed. None of my respondents objected to the topics covered
in their classes, but rather to the lack of warnings and, occasionally, the
dismissive attitudes of their teachers. And while anti-trigger warning tracts
rightly emphasize the need for students to encounter difficult material, they
ignore or minimize the importance of adequately preparing students for it. Most
of these students completed their work, but less attentively and carefully than
if they’d been prepared. This isn’t just psychologically risky; it’s also poor
I’m interested in reading the latest and greatest well-researched books out there for education. Not only am I preparing for National Boards, but I feel a little out of touch with some of the theories out there and am looking for new ideas to revitalize my classroom and my pedagogy. Please recommend a book or two! I’m especially interested in classroom management, how to best incorporate 1:1 laptops, and best practices to engage students. I’m also sort of interested in teaching when you have a mental health condition. I teach high school English (mostly 9th and 11th graders, all levels of EC/ESL-inclusion and honors) so any best practices for that would be great too (I love Jim Burke’s The English Teacher’s Companion).
I’m going to tag a few education tumblrs that I follow so I get some good recommendations–hope that doesn’t bother anyone!