06 January, 2015

Georgia Tech Features Humanistic Perspectives

LMC Creates 140-Page ‘Calling Card’ with New Book. School Shares Stories of How it Connects Humanities, Technology

By Margaret Tate (GT Communications)

While the nationwide push for STEM education has caused hand-wringing and eraser-gnawing in some English departments, Tech’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC) has long worked within this reality, as reflected in its first-ever book, Humanistic Perspectives in a Technological World.

Filled with photos and essays by LMC faculty as well as statements from academics and administrators across campus, the 140-page, hardbound volume was the brainchild of LMC Department Chair Richard Utz.

Its 18-month gestation period was not without issues, however.

“You will not find a single institution that has something like this, where every tenure-line faculty, plus Brittain fellows, have contributed 1,000-word essays,” Utz pointed out. “You know why? Because people will say no!”

If LMC faculty at first thought Utz had his head in the clouds, in a sense, he did. As an external candidate for department chair a few years back, he Googled “LMC,” and the first thing to come up was “Large Magellanic Cloud.”

“It’s a nebula with a lot of star activity,” he explained. “And that, to me, seemed to describe what LMC is — a lot of great, fantastic individual researchers and groups, but not necessarily a unit that recognizes that it’s because we’re in the same place that many of our activities are possible. So, how do you get people to think about what everybody else is doing? By creating a volume that ‘binds’ everybody together.”

His hope is that the book will spark more conversations and collaborations among faculty, and he also sees it as a “calling card” that will give other disciplines, alumni, and prospective students more awareness and appreciation for how LMC contributes to the Tech education and experience.

Almost all Tech students take their requisite English courses through LMC, but Utz thinks more might opt for an LMC major or take LMC electives if they knew about the school’s research and scholarship.

“How can admissions officers and advisors recognize someone who would be a good student for our majors if they don’t have a clear picture of what we do?” he said.

Enter the book, which was launched at LMC’s 2014 alumni celebration in November. Every essay addresses the interplay between humanistic perspectives and some form of technology.

The two are inextricably linked, according to LMC’s Alumni Project Director and Assistant Professor Krystina Madej, and always have been.

“Human beings have never stopped wanting to tell stories, ever since the beginning of time,” she said. “When we wrote in hieroglyphics — that wasn’t enough. We wanted to move forward. So we wrote stories in books — that wasn’t enough. We always want to share more through the ways that are around us, so the technologies and the narratives are very symbiotic.”

One of the 34 entries that tell LMC’s story in Humanistic Perspectives is “ADAM, EarSketch, and I,” by Associate Professor Brian Magerko, which offers a look at the work done by his Adaptive Digital Media Lab, including EarSketch, a multidisciplinary research project that introduces high school students to programming code through music remixing.

There’s “On Narrative,” by Professor Carol Colatrella, which discusses how students can benefit from the value and power of storytelling in their professional and everyday lives.

There’s “Designing Community Engagement,” by Assistant Professor Christopher Le Dantec, a computer scientist who came to realize that “of the many things that are possible with technology, the only possibilities that truly count are those that resonate with human values.” He and his students launched a smartphone app so Atlanta cyclists could record their rides and share the data with city planners.

Then there’s “The Poem Is a Bridge: Poetry@Tech,” wherein Professor Thomas Lux writes that good poems are not written, they are “engineered.”

If none of this sounds like “art for art’s sake,” that’s OK with Utz. Just as Georgia Tech realizes that a humanistic perspective makes for better scientists, engineers, and business people, he observes, the fact that his faculty must continually find meaningful and creative ways to incorporate technology into the teaching of literature, media, and communication makes them better humanists.

“We teach so many students from outside of the humanities, so we have to go back to the roots of the humanities — what does it mean to be a human being?” he said. “For those who are at institutions where it’s established, you don’t have to explain yourself every day. But if I teach students from mechanical engineering, I need to create for them a path to the beauty of the language, the constructedness, and the craft of literature. How do I do that? By selecting topics they can relate to, by opening the door for them.”