five ways I cultivate student engagement

multiple paths of entry; output; local experts; innovative inquiry; accessibility

multiple paths of entry

I work to foster a technically-rigorous, historically-situated, critically-sensitive engagement with technologies drawn from a range of industries and settings. Those technologies are often digital: In my courses on animation and computer art, for example, we have built drawing bots with stepper motors, repurposed MIDI data, and created responsive puppets with live motion capture). But older, simpler technologies are often richer for their accessibility. In Arcade Theory, for example, we spend a few weeks on chance: We cast plastic astragali, 4-sided proto-dice made from knucklebones of quadrupeds (our first “information technology”); we conduct a session of Exquisite Corpse; review a copy of RAND Corporation’s A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates; set up an automated station to determine if polygonal dice are reliably random; and look at the code of both a pseudo-random number generator and an implementation of Perlin noise. As we grow familiar with the material-technical character of randomization, we draw on supplemental readings: e.g., Casanova’s memoirs (on probability in card games), and Hacking’s masterful account of the invention of probability.


My courses typically emphasize novel forms of output. It is one thing to “make learning visible,” but I try to foster further student engagement by organizing curated events around their best efforts. In many cases, it is as simple as keeping a portable printer on hand and creating an ad hoc exhibit from current projects during class. Exhibiting in other venues, even in a tiny coffee shop off-campus, is frequently a source of quiet, unanticipated pleasure for students. Other forms have included business-friendly white papers, manifestoes, three-minute research pitch video, industry-standard video game proposal document, and so on.

local experts

I encourage local expertise, and look for new ways to acknowledge student skills. When working with a student to define early research strategies, I try to include (where possible) one or two expert students in my list of “initial experts to contact.” I make a point of acknowledging student expertise, and deferring to it, in class.

innovative inquiry

I challenge students to discover how otherwise unremarkable technologies might be recruited for the project of critical inquiry. Within class and without, I try to call attention to sites where students can make casual use of computation and procedural literacy in their research and their daily lives. Young women, persons of color, and non-traditional students merit extra attention here, always.


While I make a point of being available to students via digital means, face-to-face engagement is invaluable. Beyond standing office hour requirements, I typically try to be regularly available on-campus for at least 20 hours a week.