I started this newsletter just 2 months ago (that time feels like 2 years ago!) to highlight the creative work being produced despite social distancing constraints. This theme aligns with a cornerstone of the ExCITe Center: technology & creative expression. The last few weeks, I’ve been emphasizing racial injustice and anti-racism resources, sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others. Equity and justice are also the core foundation of our Center.
So, is ExCITe a research lab? A makerspace? An advocacy center? A game design studio? A training program for students? A home for innovative K-12 activities? A music performance space? Yes. All of those things and more. A few highlights from the ExCITe team this year:
- The Informal Learning Linking Engineering Science and Technology (ILLEST) Lab advances cutting edge learning science, particularly for students of color.
- SIM-PHL, a SimCity-style urban planning gameusing Philly’s Open Data, set in the city’s Mantua neighborhood, supported by the Knight Foundation.
- Digital Navigators: A tech help-desk for the West Philly Promise Zone community, to provide assistance with getting connected online.
- Young Dragons, our free middle school Summer STEAM camp, developed fully online and virtual activities for this summer, particularly for students in the Promise Zone.
What links these seemingly disparate elements? Well, Steve Jobs (way back in 1996, before his return to lead Apple) provided an incredibly insightful answer in an interview:
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things… A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.Steve Jobs, Interview with Gary Wolf in Wired Magazine (February 1, 1996)
It’s so simple and yet profound, and it’s a concept I firmly believe in. As a transdisciplinary center, the purpose of ExCITe is to “connect more things” to create a better future, whether that’s through technology, gaming, anti-racism advocacy, performing arts, learning science, student training, etc. And in doing so, our Center will continue to defy any simplistic description.
I hope you’ll consider supporting the ExCITe Center’s efforts today(June 24) through Drexel’s 24 Hours of Impact. (This is particularly for the Drexel community, but all are welcome to participate.) All gifts will directly support students whose work serves our community and neighborhood partnerships in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone.
(Socially) Distant Creations
- Lift Every Voice and Sing[Nicole Heaston, viaYouTube] A beautiful and moving collaborative choral performance, featuring prominent Black opera singers of today and years past.
- HearNOW At-Home Gala[The Philadelphia Orchestra] A special event, featuring composer Valerie Coleman’s “Seven O’Clock Shout”, commissioned for musicians performing & recording during social distancing, and honoring frontline workers. Stream available only through June 25!
- Hey Siri, I’m getting pulled over[The Verge] An iPhone shortcut to quickly begin recording an interaction with police.
- Ten Thousand Screens[Alarm Will Sound, via YouTube] An extraordinarily clever adaptation of “Ten Thousand Birds” (by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams) for 26 screens, shot in a single take.
- Evolution of Star Trek Theme Music[VioDance, via YouTube] A beautifully-done arrangement and video of Star Trek TV series themes by violin-DJ duo, Rebeca Sanchez and Davor Jelacic.
What I’m creating
This spring term, for the first time I taught a class completely online. The process included a number of new experiments, both failed and successful, and I’ve highlighted some of the projects in past newsletters. While I’m still reflecting and assessing how I can teach better online, I’ve released my class lectures as a YouTube playlist.