No. 19 • 2020-09-30

Subscribe to Newsletter

Virtual Concert Halls & Classrooms

What do virtual music & arts collaborations have to do with education?  My experiences as a musical performer have greatly influenced my teaching, but I believe the relationship extends much further than individual training… there are deep similarities in objectives and methods:

  • In the performing arts, we try to craft an experience worthy of an audience’s time and attention.  It’s the same goal for class instructors.
  • Throughout history, artists have integrated new technologies and tools to inform, challenge, and yes, entertain. Again, the same could be said for teaching.
  • In the arts, we must connect with our audiences at some level… to get them to care. This is also crucial for learning.

I contend this alignment has always existed, certainly well before COVID, but now I’ll go even further: our explorations for virtual arts collaborations will not only influence, but inevitably shape the way we teach and learn in the future, both online and in person. 

Working remotely with musicians has brought into focus both the challenges and possibilities of virtual collaboration. While many want to participate in virtual ensembles, a significant number are hesitant due to both technical and artistic challenges. We’ve needed time to build some familiarity with new processes and eventually create new tools (like the Virtual Chorister app) to make participation easier and more accessible.

But through inspiring large-scale projects, like those of the Stay at Home Choir (pictured above), I am convinced that these kinds of collaborations will continue to have an impact, even in a post-COVID world (whenever that comes).

In the virtual classroom, I am teaching a seminar for first-year undergraduates (over 100 students in the class). In person, I would never be able to have each student introduce themselves individually (that would take weeks). Online, I asked my students to fill in a shared spreadsheet with their hometown, nickname, and what they find most inspiring about engineering. It was fascinating to watch responses appear in real-time, with some contributions building upon others. It turns out even Google has its limits, and having 100+ students edit the same document simultaneously was too much, and some students were locked out. Oh well, live and learn… we’ll have to build a better tool for that!

These explorations all start in unfamiliar territory, but offer opportunities to experiment and learn together. To me, the links between arts and education have never been stronger or more clear: Good instructors are artists. They are creators of media. They are developers. And they are the ones who will create the future of learning. Eventually, we will return to stages, auditoriums, and classrooms, but those artists and teachers who have been experimenting all along will have even greater insight into crafting worthy experiences, integrating new technologies, and getting audiences to care. 

Thanks to all who joined the second of our Creative Conversations yesterday! Register here for our the final event of our mini-series on October 13.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • Lift Every Voice and Sing [105 Voices of History National HBCU Concert Choir] A stirring performance of Roland Carter’s arrangement by conductors and singers representing the nation’s Historically Black Colleges & Universities.
  • PHLConnectEd and the Digital Navigator Program [Technology Learning Collaborative] A webinar about current efforts in Philadelphia to address digital equity issues, part of National Digital Inclusion Week (Oct. 7).
  • Parallax Podcast: The latest episode features urbanist and Drexel colleague, Alan Greenberger, Distinguished Fellow at Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation and Dept. Head of Architecture and Interior Design.
  • Air on a G String [The Swingles] Ward Swingle’s classic arrangement of J.S. Bach’s well-known work. Catch their full performance at the Live from London online festival of vocal music (available for streaming through Oct. 31)!

What I’m creating

My Virtual Chorister app is almost at 7000 downloads!

The most frequent by far, has been for an Android version. Today, I’m announcing that I am officially working on it…  I hope to have more news in the next few weeks!

No. 14 • 2020-08-12

Subscribe to Newsletter

Civil Dialog

During the pandemic, we have become even more reliant upon (addicted to?) social media for, well… socializing. It’s nice to still connect with friends & family and stories of interest, but we know it’s also a source of tremendous angst, frustration, and rage-induced thumb sprains. Let’s face it, the notion of a civil conversation online has become somewhat of an oxymoron. 

Twitter is sometimes called a “public square”, but what if your tweets were actually writ large, projected into the physical Public Square?  Might that facilitate more productive conversations about social issues and challenges, regional and national concerns, and current events? That’s the premise behind the new project, Civil Dialog, created by my friend and colleague Dr. Frank Lee, Director of the Entrepreneurial Game Studio at the ExCITe Center, which premieres this evening through the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

You may be familiar with Prof. Lee’s previous work in putting classic games Pong and Tetris on Philadelphia’s Cira Centre skyscraper, creating the world’s largest video game display. A follow-up effort, Skyscraper Games, partnered with local schoolteachers to teach coding to middle schoolers, premiering their new game creations on the Cira Centre. His work integrating creativity, technology, education, and civic engagement embodies everything we aspire to at ExCITe.

Civil Dialog will display tweets on select topics in an animated, large-scale projection for 4 consecutive nights (9-10:30pm) on the western side of Nesbitt Hall at 33th and Market Streets on Drexel’s campus. Dr. Lee’s team of students and technologists developed a custom system and visual presentation to highlight visibility and active discussion for nearby viewers and those watching online. The intention is to start a conversation where local residents and remote participants can develop empathetic views and become co-creators of public spaces both virtual and physical on Drexel’s campus.

Topics have been curated by students from our Pennoni Honors College, whose recent panel events have been facilitating community discussions on challenging issues facing our nation: sexism in politics, criminal justice reform, environmental justice, gentrification and systemic racism. The project team will present discussion prompts and surveys and moderate the ongoing Twitter thread.

Though it was conceived before the pandemic, I believe the project is another great example of Creating at a Distance. All are welcome to participate: Follow the @Civil_Dialog Twitter account and reply to prompts starting this evening (Wed 8/12 through Sat 8/15). If you can’t view the building projection directly, you can watch a video stream via Twitch and Periscope (by following on Twitter). I look forward to conversing with you (at a distance)!

Next week is my monthly break to focus on other projects, but look out for our ExCITe Center monthly mailing. Creating at a Distance will return in two weeks, August 26.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • A Killer Party: A Murder Mystery Musical [Music: Jason Howland, Lyrics: Nathan Tysen] A new digital musical experiment for the isolation era with a stellar cast of Broadway veterans. All 9 short episodes to be released this month ($12.99 for the full season).
  • Hamilton Mask-Up Parody Medley [The Holderness Family] I am not throwing away this… mask! Right up my alley, as I am passionate about Hamilton and mask wearing.
  • Christopher Jackson: Live From the West Side [Kimmel Center] Hamilton nod #2… An online benefit performance by the original George Washington (Sat. 8/15 at 8pm, donation required). Proceeds will benefit the Kimmel Cultural Campus Road to Reopening Relief Fund.
  • And So It Goes [Stay At Home Choir with The King’s Singers] Beautiful rendition of a Billy Joel classic. I signed up to join the next Stay at Home Choir project.
  • Parallax Podcast [featured in Issue No. 1 of this newsletter] has been killing it with recent guests James Johnson-Piett, Omar Woodard, Keira Smalls, and Shannon Morales. Worth checking out, if you’re not already a subscriber!

What I’m creating

I can’t really take credit for this one, but one of my former PhD students, David Rosen, recently had his dissertation research on creativity and music improvisation highlighted in this fantastic video produced by the National Science Foundation. Also check out the startup he’s founded, Secret Chord Laboratories, which includes some familiar faces from our research lab!

No. 1 • 2020-05-06

Click to subscribe to newsletter

Conversations with civic innovators in Philadelphia

Parallax is a podcast dedicated to understanding and growing a culture of civic innovation in Philly. They speak with leaders across various sectors, disciplines, and communities in Philadelphia, taking on some of the city’s most pressing economic, social, and environmental challenges. These conversations seek to increase knowledge exchange & empower residents to become actively involved in a community-driven approach to innovation.

Hosted by the incomparable Liz Brown, they continue to drop new episodes, including topics addressing the COVID-19 crisis. Recent guests:

  • Brian Murray, Principal of SHIFT Capital
  • Marri Porter, Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy & Strategic Initiatives
  • Bruce Katz, Author of The New Localism and The Metropolitan Revolution.

Click the button below or search for “Parallax Collab” in your podcast player.

Listen and Subscribe Here

* Parallax is supported in part by an ExCITe 2019 Seed Award for Civic Engagement.

(Socially) Distant Creations

What I’m creating

Donald Kennedy, eighth President of Stanford, recently passed away from COVID-19. In remembrance of him and his support of Stanford and Fleet Street (the a cappella group I sang with), I created this tribute performance of the Stanford Hymn (with virtual contributions from 60+ former and current members).