The Tenure Verdict: My Own Personal Closing Ceremony

Ori Gersht, Blow Up, via

Nature is constipated the sap doesn’t flow
With tenure the classroom is empty
et in academia ego

the ketchup is stuck inside the bottle
the letter goes unanswered the bell doesn’t ring.

David Lehman’s “With Tenure

Don’t burst my bubble, David. Let me enjoy this for a little while.

*   *   *   *   *

Last summer I was in the midst of compiling my tenure dossier. I posted about the challenges of writing the Statement of Purpose, the components that made it into my 4″ dossier binder (I also included a copy of my Table of Contents), and the elation I felt at handing over five print and five digital copies of that 882-page *@!%&. In the latter post, I added what was, in my estimation at least (undoubtedly compromised by weeks of mental anguish), a pretty clever poem — a pseudo-cento — about the whole process.

I said back then, “If I make it through this thing alive, I’ll post my personal statement here […] for the (potential) benefit of those who are facing this ordeal in the future.” Well, I made it out alive — and, as of today, tenured. Hallelujah. (Congrats to my friends Trebor Scholz and Miriam Ticktin, who also received good news.)

So, I guess I should do what I promised to do, and post my personal statement. It apparently worked.

*   *   *   *   *


Netscape was born in 1994, just months before I started college. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how much the browser’s birth, and all that its name evoked – the plotting out of new informational and physical geographies – would shape my intellectual development and frame the questions that inspire me to this day. I began college as a chemistry major, medical school-bound, then after two years came to the difficult though liberating realization that my heart was not in the lab, but in books – which had dual significance for me, as both literature and material objects. I double-majored in English and Communication and dedicated my studies to exploring their intersection: how media were represented in literature and popular media, and how new technologies transformed writing, reading, print design, etc. Enthralled with post-humanist theory and artificial intelligence, I completed an honors thesis on the rhetoric of Microsoft consumer advertisements – specifically, how ads framed the relationships between the computer and the human user. My curiosity about the ways in which these new tools – and the new virtual spaces and intellectual infrastructures they were creating – interfaced with the material world, is what drove me to graduate school.

It was there, at NYU, where I recognized that the questions I was asking weren’t new at all. “New” media have long – perhaps since the dawn of humanity – altered the relationships between our conceptual and physical worlds. Early in my graduate career I drew inspiration from “medium theorists’” (e.g., Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, and Walter Ong’s) interest in media form, and their concern with how media have historically constructed information and cultural “environments” and occupied physical space. Yet as I began my search for a dissertation topic, I discovered a robust literature within architectural and urban studies on the impact of historical and contemporary media forms – from writing to film to AutoCAD – on the design of built space (e.g., the work of Mario Carpo and Beatriz Colomina, to name just two among many), but very little work within media studies exploring similar topics. Douglas Gomery and others were studying the design of movie theaters, and Lynn Spigel and Anna McCarthy were examining how television has informed the design of domestic and public spaces, but most media studies work on “space” seemed to adopt reductive, McLuhanesque references to “auditory space” or “literate space.” I wondered why architecture should be contributing more thoughtfully and concretely than media studies to these discussions about the past, present, and future of our mediated spaces. Since then, I’ve intended for my work to speak on behalf of media studies and in conversation with design studies. I’ve set out to demonstrate that media studies’ understanding of media form, and how that form influences the way people make and use media, can reveal media history’s pertinence to architectural and urban history – and can demonstrate media studies’ potential contributions to the conceptualization and design of future material worlds.

My timing was particularly auspicious. I started my dissertation just as the ideal case study presented itself. Rem Koolhaas had been commissioned to design the new Seattle Public Library, later celebrated as one of the most innovative library designs – in fact, one of the most innovative architectural designs, period – of the turn of the 21st century. Libraries, during those salad days of the tech boom, were variously pronounced dead – killed by the Internet – or “resurrected,” thanks to a concurrent building boom. And this library proved to be an ideal site through which to explore the convergence of debates and interests that intrigued me and proved so pressing: the tension between old and new media and between physical and virtual space; the suburbanization of our urban spaces and the commercialization of our public spaces; the evolution of our cultural and educational institutions; and the social, political, and epistemological consequences of those changes.

These broader debates have laid the foundation for my work – in publication, in the classroom, and in the community – over the past thirteen years. My combination of intellectual interests and practical concerns, which cross disciplinary boundaries and extend beyond academe, resonates with the mission of The New School. Here I have found a community with which to examine the continuing evolution of our mediated and physical environments. The New School, which recognizes itself as

…a place where learning is emancipated from the narrow confines of academic and professional divisions, where New York City is an extension of ourselves as investigators, artists and community members, where theory and practice are intricately interwoven, and where democracy and egalitarianism constitute the framework,

has proven an ideal home for my work (2003 Middle States self-study report). The Department of Media Studies and Film, in particular, with its commitment to praxis and the liberal arts tradition, has provided me with a group of colleagues and students who share my concerns and my commitment to engaged, critical, and innovative practice. And I believe both the university and the department have benefitted from my contributions. I have proven myself an active university citizen, serving in administrative posts and on many committees, developing new programs and helping to build our community by recruiting new faculty and students. The New School has recognized my work with awards and funding for my teaching and research, and students have acknowledged my dedication through their positive evaluations and continued contact, often for years after they’ve graduated. I hope to continue cultivating these mutually beneficial relationships, and for this reason I am seeking tenure at The New School.

In this document I will review and reflect on my scholarship, teaching and service, in that order. In the process, I will refer to the documents in the appendices, which demonstrate my contributions to my department, to the university, and to my field. In many cases the material referenced in this personal statement and in the appendices is born-digital and cannot easily be printed out or transformed into a pdf; I provide links to these resources rather than including copies in the dossier itself.  [continues below]


Nature of My Research. The questions that drove me to graduate school continue to animate my research. For the past thirteen years I’ve explored the interactions between mediated and physical architectures, both physical and conceptual; and between media’s intellectual and material forms. I’ve examined what impact these issues have on our cultural and educational institutions, and what their social, political, and epistemological consequences might be. Although my Ph.D. is in media studies, I’ve done graduate coursework and completed post-doctoral study in urban studies, art history, and architectural history and theory. All of these fields inform my work and provide methods that I use in my research and teaching.

Over the past decade, media and communication studies (overlapping fields that, for the purposes of this document, I will regard as a unified field of study) have increasingly recognized that the questions I’ve been asking are of great relevance to the field. Many other scholars now share my conviction that media studies has something to say to architecture, urban studies, and geography. The Urban Communication Foundation came into being in the mid-2000s. There have been numerous publications and conferences on the “photographic,” “cinematic,” and “digital city,” including the Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ 2008 conference on “Architectures of the Moving Image.” And in 2010 SCMS recognized a “Cinema, Media and Urban Studies” Special Interest Group, in which I am active. There have also arisen new theories and methods that resonate with my own long-standing interest in media form and materiality; in recent years I’ve been able to draw from and contribute to the emerging fields of “design studies,” “sensory studies,” and “media archaeology” and from the cross-disciplinary rise of a “new materialism,” which is characterized by a return to objects and physical systems.

Drawing on these myriad inspirations, I have developed an approach that allows me to explore what I call the various “prepositional relationships” between media and spatial design – media in design, design as media, media for design – and how they’re mutually constructed. In other words, by looking simultaneously at these various relations – media used in design practice; objects and spaces that “communicate” their functions and values; and the design of spaces that either facilitate or complicate media access, consumption, and production – I can explore the mutual construction of material sites for, objects for, and experiences of communication. What this means concretely is that my research has examined (1) spaces in which people access or make media, (2) how media inform the design and experience of space, and (3) the spatial dimensions of material media – and often all three at once. In what follows, I’ll identify my various scholarly activities – publications, scholarly events and design projects, recognition of my work, and conference presentations – within each of these three thematic categories, which are of course not mutually exclusive. All publications referenced in this section are available in Appendix A.

Spaces For Media: Institutions Of Media Use and Media-Making. In my dissertation I examined how the design of the Seattle Public Library provided an opportunity for the library as an institution, and for Seattle as an emerging global city, to negotiate their places in evolving media, cultural, and political-economic landscapes. A Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania and a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in 2003 allowed me to travel the country, expanding my research to 14 additional libraries, all constructed during the library building boom between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. In each city I studied how local and international media shaped the discourse surrounding the design of their library; how architects communicated the design to stakeholders; how the library addressed the design with its publics; how the building itself functioned as a symbol of civic and institutional identity; and finally, how the architecture informed its publics’ interactions with media in various formats. In other words, I investigated various prepositional relationships of media and space in the design project: I looked at the role of communication in design (the role of interpersonal and mass media and various analogue and digital design media – e.g., models, sketches, animated fly-throughs). I studied architectural design as communication (e.g., building-as-symbol, as embodiment of its function). I considered the design, or “architecture,” of various media formats and communication technologies. And I investigated the design of spaces for those myriad forms of media.

My book, The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities, was published in 2007 by the University of Minnesota Press.[1] Architectural historian Kenneth Breisch, who reviewed my manuscript for the press, noted that I approached my subject

from a very welcome multi-disciplinary background thereby providing [my] readers with valuable perceptions and insights on [my] topic that are not easily available elsewhere, if they are available at all…. I am not aware of any published works…that come even close to the broad range of perceptions provided in this manuscript (see Appendix A.1).

The book has proven its value among both practitioners and academics. It was used in several library and cultural planning projects (e.g., Seattle, WA; Pequot, CT; Riverside, CA) and has been referenced or recommended by librarians, architects, and civic organizations (e.g., the Western Ontario Ministry of Culture and the Pacifica Library Foundation) involved in library design projects (see Appendix A.1 for reviews, references, and commendations). Fred Lerner, author of The Story of Libraries (Continuum, 2001), wrote me in early 2011 to share the following:

A while back, shortly after your book on “The New Downtown Library” appeared, I found myself at a faculty seminar at the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen. The topic was urban libraries in Denmark, and when I asked if those present knew of your book, I was told that indeed they did, and they thought highly of it. (As do I; I quoted a paragraph from it in the second edition of “The Story of Libraries”.)

The book has also been cited in academic and professional texts and has led to my invitation to contribute to various publications. It was reviewed positively in American Libraries, Library Quarterly, Public Libraries, Public Library Quarterly, Argus, and the Polish journal Torunskie Studia Bibliogiczne, and in various metropolitan newspapers.

The theoretical models and methodologies that inspired my book continue to generate theoretical and practical projects. I’ve studied the design or renovation of other library (or library-like) facilities, including Louis Kahn’s Philips Exeter Academy Library (“Geometries of Reading, Light of Learning”), which in 2010 celebrated its 40th birthday and has struggled to incorporate new networked media into its classically geometric, codex-inspired design; Alvar Aalto’s Woodberry Poetry Room (“Fluid Text, Total Design”), which recently underwent a controversial renovation, also in part an attempt to accommodate new media; and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (“Infernal Archive”), which represents an archival space in limbo, stuck between the analog and digital. I’ve presented early versions of most of these projects at national and international conferences. My conference presentations have occasionally been referenced in other attendees’ publications (see Appendix A.8), and have led to my invitation to contribute to collaborative projects. For a complete listing of my peer-reviewed conferences (I’ve attended 12 and chaired panels at four since arriving at The New School in 2004), see Appendix A.9. I’ve also been invited to present my research and teaching at many workshops and symposia. For instance, I moderated a panel on “archives and institutional identity” for the Vera List Center’s celebration of The New School’s 90th anniversary in 2009.

My “prepositional” approach applies not only to places of media consumption. I’ve also looked at how media companies – such as China Central Television in Beijing (“Broadcasting Space”) and the InterActive Corporation headquarters in New York (“Edge Blending”) – can design buildings that facilitate the production of media, communicate their institutional and local identities, and embody particular ideologies and labor practices. And drawing from my service on various committees at The New School, I co-authored, with Robert Kirkbride, an article on the design of learning spaces, and the integration of media as a pedagogical tool, in The New School’s new signature building on 14th Street (“Chainbuilding”).

Mediating Spatial Experience. My teaching has always greatly enhanced my research. In 2005 my colleague Barry Salmon and I designed a new graduate seminar called “Sound and Space,” an early course in the now-thriving field of “sound studies,” that examined sonic histories, sound art, and mobile sonic media. Learning to listen rather than merely look at spaces led me to realize that much of the design scholarship and criticism I was reading was limited by its “ocularcentric” discourse, to use historian Martin Jay’s term. I endeavored to expand my own research to examine how libraries and archives can be designed to accommodate multiple sensory “conditions of attendance” – particularly sonic conditions – best suited for different media formats and habits of use. I presented my work, often using numerous audio field recordings, at conferences, including the “Cities and Media” conference in Vadstena, Sweden, in 2006. There, Michael Bull, a key figure in sound studies and editor of the then-new The Senses and Society, invited me to submit to the journal. My “Resonant Texts: Sounds of the Contemporary American Public Library” appeared the following year, and it has been used in undergraduate and graduate seminars and cited in papers by prominent scholars (see Appendix A.8). While my work proved its resonance within the larger field of sound studies, I also recognized that this emerging field could find an ideal home at The New School. As Barry Salmon and I were developing a sound studies concentration for our Media Studies curriculum, we published an article, “Sound Studies, Framing Noise,” that chronicled the university’s history of sound-related courses and research, and described what an ideal sound studies curriculum might look like.

In our article, we cited John Cage, who described a lesson in which he “had the lights turned out and the windows open. I advised everybody to put on their overcoats and listen for half an hour to the sounds that came in through the window, and then to add to them” (cited in “Sound Studies”). Cage, sitting in his noisy and frigid classroom, inspired me to investigate how media might be used to capture the other-sensory (i.e., that which exceeds the audiovisual) nature of urban experience. I presented some early thoughts at the MediaCity conference at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany, and was later invited to submit my paper, “Silent, Invisible City: Mediating Urban Experience for the Other Senses,” to their peer-reviewed publication. Malcolm McCullough, noted expert on urban computing, reviewed my chapter and wrote:

In quality of research and presentation, this paper far exceeds usual standards of edited academic volumes. It is inclusive but not pedantic, and fresh but not trendoid… [A]nother version of the paper could easily be copy-edited for a general readership magazine feature. It’s that good (see Appendix A.4).

This chapter, along with my “Sound Studies” article, has led to my invitation to contribute journal articles and book chapters, including an essay (co-authored with Barry Salmon) on “Sound, Urban Space, and Media in Contemporary Art” for The Oxford Handbook of Music, Sound, and Image in the Fine Arts, and to participate in sound studies-related working groups and conferences.

Many of the themes I’ve explored in my research were also at the center of Project Media Space | Public Space, a year-long series of scholarly and artistic events Dr. Elizabeth Ellsworth and I co-directed in 2005-6. This Faculty Development Grant-supported project involved several “themed” courses; a series of New School student and faculty panel discussions; screenings, invited presentations by the Project for Public Spaces, Antenna Design and media artist Krzysztof Wodiczko; a student-curated audio show featuring international artists; and a visiting scholar residency with Brian Massumi and Erin Manning. The project culminated in a ten-day exhibition in a gallery donated by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Those involved in the project transformed theory into practice; disciplinary scholarship informed the creation of the exhibition and all of the pieces included in the exhibition. Overall, Project MSPS followed the model of scholarly process: students and faculty conducted in-depth research, solicited work that responded to a set of relevant research questions, vetted and revised that work, then developed a forum for disseminating it.[2]

Forms and Architectures of Material Media. My research on and, more importantly, in libraries – where I observed people reading newspapers, watching movies, and listening to audio recordings – demonstrated that it’s not only the building that structures people’s interaction with media technologies. The design of media objects themselves informs how people use them, and those objects can interact with the spaces that house them in either beneficial or disadvantageous ways. Ideally, architects would design to accommodate various media forms, each with their own particular “architectures” and their distinctive conditions of attendance. I’ve addressed these issues in all of my writings on libraries and archives, but inspired by the growing literature on materiality in media studies (particularly the work of N. Katherine Hayles and Lisa Gitelman), I began looking at different media forms outside the context of the library, too.

One of my early projects focused on letterforms. In 2004 I happened upon an article in Print magazine featuring the design of a new typeface for the nation of Qatar. I set out to explore how one mediates national identity through letterforms. I had seen this done on a smaller scale, through signage and supergraphics, in many of the libraries I visited. But how does one typographically brand a whole nation? I published my work, “Font of a Nation: Creating a National Graphic Identity for Qatar,” in Public Culture in 2008. This piece has elicited attention from international scholars and designers and was reprinted in the influential design magazine Volume. More recently I’ve been interested in architects’ renewed interest in print forms. With the flagging economy, designers are turning their attention to alternative forms of design practice, including “architecting” little magazines and zines. My “Click/Scan/Bold: The New Materiality of Architectural Discourse and Its Counter-Publics,” which focuses on architects’ recent highly self-conscious interest in diverse formats of design publication and publicity, is forthcoming in Design and Culture.

And my work in developing “Understanding Media Studies,” a required introductory lecture course for our MA Program (see Appendix B.6), has led me to think about the various “intellectual architectures” of research tools and learning technologies. “Delicious: Renovating the Mnemonic Architectures of Bookmarking” examines the pedagogical value of one of the research resource management programs I recommend to my students. My lesson on note taking, in which I explore the ways various media and software formats structure our intellectual engagement with texts, inspired me to edit a special issue of The New Everyday, an online journal that’s experimenting with alternative models of peer-review. For the “Notes, Lists, and Everyday Inscriptions” issue I solicited contributions from scholars, artists, and curators, and I worked with NYU Libraries and the editor to develop a new interface for the journal. The issue was featured in the Wired Campus section of The Chronicle of Higher Education (see Appendix A.2).

My most recent work “scales up” this examination of media forms to examine how the design of historical media networks and infrastructures, like pneumatic tubes (“Puffs of Air”) and telecommunications networks, have shaped the material city. My next book project, a proposal for which is currently under review at a respected university press, draws on work in the emerging field of media archaeology and methods from the field of archaeology proper, and integrates them with urban studies. Urban Media Archaeology examines the longue durée of urban mediation, focusing on media technologies – telegraphy and telephony, print, writing, and the voice – that emerged before the widespread availability of the mechanically reproduced image (most work on the “media city” starts with photography), yet which have had residual impact on the city through the present day. I have been awarded a Research Incentive Grant from the Urban Communication Foundation and a Visiting Scholarship at the Canadian Centre for Architecture to support my research for this project, and I am currently seeking funding from additional sources.

My presentations at the 2010 Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference and the 2010 “Reimagining the Archives” conference at UCLA allowed me to workshop several ideas for the book. The latter conference gave me an opportunity to explore pedagogical and design applications of my research, which was a key theme of the “Urban Informatics, Geographic Data, and the Media of Mapping” workshop I organized for the 2011 SCMS conference.[3] This workshop led to my invitation to participate in the “Signal Traffic II” workshop, focusing on media infrastructures, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in June 2011.[4]

My “Urban Media Archaeology” graduate studio (see Appendix B.5) also feeds directly into my research for the book project. Students conduct primary research and build an interactive map that cartographically represents many of the arguments I present in the book. Our work makes use of the Urban Research Toolkit, an open-source mapping platform for urban-focused “multimodal” teaching and research. I’ve been collaborating with my Parsons colleagues XXX and XXX on the tool’s development. We’ve benefitted from a $9500 Innovations in Education Fund grant from The New School, and we presented our work as part of Parsons’ Streaming Culture series in Fall 2010.[5] My colleague XXX and I are seeking additional funding for the project. Although we were not successful in our first attempts (NEH and Rockefeller, where we advanced to the second round), we did receive positive feedback from the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities. One of our reviewers said the following:

This project proposal is superb conceptually. The humanities significance is very strong, based on the PI’s (my) deep scholarship in media and urban studies. From a conceptual standpoint, the applicants have made a solid case that the existing online geohistorical platforms have not yet achieved the kinds of conceptual mapping proposed here. Especially exciting is their goal of “not only visualizing data, but also sonifying or texturalizing it – for allowing the map to capture the multisensoriality of mediated urban experience” (see Appendix A.7).

We plan to revise and resubmit our proposals in 2011-12.


Teaching Responsibilities. As I discussed my research, I hope I’ve made clear that my teaching is an integral part of that work. Many of the courses I teach are inspired by, or have inspired, my scholarship. Since 2004 I have taught 14 different courses: graduate and undergraduate; required and elective; lecture, seminar, and studio; theory, production, and hybrid-format. Course codes, descriptions, and enrollments are listed in Appendix B.1. In Appendices B.2 through B.7 I feature six of my classes, which I’ve chosen to represent a range of topics, pedagogical approaches, goals, and student populations. For each class I provide syllabi and, when available, additional course material (some online) and letters from students and colleagues. I’ve organized these courses in chronological order to best represent the development of my teaching over time. In the sections that follow I’ll highlight most of these six courses, as well as other courses I’ve developed, as I address my teaching philosophy and methods and my growth as an instructor.

Teaching Philosophy. As one inspired by spaceboth physical and conceptual – I regard teaching as the “construction of learning spaces.” Even my courses that are not explicitly about space are often designed cartographically or architecturally. I’ve found that organizing a course of study in terms of literal and metaphorical space can help students orient themselves in relation to the larger map of the field and to different scales of analysis (you’ll see this in my Foundations of Media Theory syllabus, in Appendix B.3). This spatial paradigm has informed my teaching values in three significant ways:

  • Content’s Form and Space. Much work in Media Studies focuses on the text, and on representations of various entities or ideas within the text. In my courses we also attend to the form that content takes; and to the ways that form and content, considered together, cultivate particular relations with readers/viewers/listeners/etc., and with the physical and/or virtual spaces within which mediation takes place. In “Media and Architecture,” for example, we study not only representations of “the home” or “the city” on television or film or radio, or in books and magazines, but we also examine how the media object — the film screen, the manuscript, the iPod — informs how we produce and relate to our built environments. “Libraries, Archives and Databases” similarly calls attention not (or not only) to the content of the documents housed in these institutions, but to the architectures of the institutions themselves and the ideologies and epistemologies they embody (see Appendix B.7). In order to explore the spaces in which mediation takes place, I frequently incorporate field trips into my classes; the “Libraries” class, for example, has toured the New York City Municipal Archives, the Morgan Library, and the Reanimation Library, an artists’ library of de-accessioned books.
  • Theory in the Lab, Practice in the Seminar. All of my courses involve both traditional research and writing and alternative forms of scholarly production – from blogging to theoretically-informed multimedia production and exhibitions. Different modes of practice afford students an opportunity to explore diverse ways of “processing” a research project or thinking through a theory or concept. In my “Media Space / Public Space” class, which I co-taught in Fall 2005 with Elizabeth Ellsworth and taught alone in Spring 2006, students created papers or mixed-media pieces that responded to the theories (about media’s role in constituting publics in urban space) we explored in class, and then my Spring 2006 “Media Exhibition Design” class curated and installed an exhibition in a downtown gallery, featuring the “Media Space” students’ work (see Appendix B.2). My Fall 2006 “Immediacy” class investigated the future of publication and theories of editing in order to inform our work in soliciting submissions to, editing, and producing a multimedia online journal.[6]
  • Spotlighting the Backstage. In recent years, I’ve been able to draw many parallels between my own praxis-based teaching and the Digital Humanities, which emphasize new modes of scholarly practice and production. Two values of the Digital Humanities that I find particularly inspiring are the focus on process over product, and the “laying bare” of that process and opening it up to scrutiny.[7] Students benefit from having an opportunity to reflect on their work, rather than simply submitting final projects and forgetting them. For this reason, I’ve implemented self-evaluations and Process Blogs, where students can address their achievements and frustrations, their methodological break-throughs and dead-ends, throughout the semester. And I’ve engaged students in the process of assessment. There’s much debate over how to evaluate “multimodal” student work[8]; in “Immediacy” and “Urban Media Archaeology” I’ve opened up this debate to my students and invited them to work collaboratively in developing our own set of assessment criteria. My “Media Education Lab” class likewise encouraged students to think about how various institutional and disciplinary structures, pedagogical approaches, and epistemologies shape the way we teach and learn about media. The Lab students collectively created a proposal for a new praxis-based undergraduate media studies major and presented it to the Provost and Associate Provost.I also aim to highlight the processes and structures of learning by building spaces for “institutional critique” into my courses and the curriculum as a whole. Demystifying the creation of courses, degree requirements, syllabi, etc., for students offers them insight into how units of instruction, skills, and knowledges, build upon each other in the pursuit of a goal — be it a course project, a degree, exploration of a field – and helps them conceptualize and create the building blocks of their own learning. I’ve created structures through which my graduate students can critique our course design and shape our course syllabi for part of the semester.[9] And in “Understanding Media Studies,” a course required of all of our first-semester grad students, I aim to help students understand the dynamics of the field, locate themselves within it, and develop competencies they need in order to contribute meaningfully to the field’s and their own development. I describe these goals in a guide I distribute to my Teaching Assistants; see Appendix B.6.

These various cartographic projects and processes, I’ve found, help students appreciate the breadth and depth of the field and develop the knowledge and skills they need to navigate through it.

Criteria for Evaluating Teaching Success. I conduct the mandatory student evaluations at the end of each semester, and I carefully review the students’ comments. My evaluations are strong, and students commonly express appreciation for my organization, knowledge, and accessibility, and for the thoroughness and promptness of my feedback. One student said of my Fall 2010 Media and Materiality class: “Shannon’s organization is amazing. The structure of the class is right on, and the field trips and final project were refreshingly different.” Another wrote: “I really enjoyed this class and the experience of learning and producing researched work in a ‘non-traditional’ but still academically rigorous way.” A student in my Fall 2010 “Urban Media Archaeology” class noted that “This is one of the few courses which apply The New School model of theory and production and methodology… Very powerful stuff.” Students occasionally offer constructive criticism about readings or assignments; I take their recommendations seriously and often use them in syllabus revisions.

I received heartening confirmation of my teaching skill when I learned that I’ve been awarded a 2011 Distinguished University Teaching Award. The fact that I was nominated for this award by my students suggests that I’m serving them well. I’ve included in Appendix B.8 a sampling of letters I’ve received from students – both current and former – regarding their experiences working with me.

Most semesters, particularly when I’m teaching a new course, I also complete a self-evaluation of the class and my own performance (you’ll find examples in Appendices B.2, B.5 and B.6). Completing these evaluations compels me to reflect on the semester and candidly address what went well and what didn’t, and what I’ll have to change for next time. I commonly distribute my own student evaluations at mid-semester, review students’ blogs to assess public opinion and their personal development, and regularly check in with students throughout the semester to find out what’s working or not working for them. I also use my website,, to reflect publicly on my course design and revision and other pedagogical strategies. Sometimes my blog posts elicit helpful public comments or private emails – but even if they don’t, the practice of writing about my concerns allows me to think through them and devise solutions.

Of particular note, I believe, is my recent performance in “Understanding Media Studies.” This course presented significant administrative and pedagogical challenges because, over the preceding semesters, it had met with resistance from students and suffered from dwindling faculty support. Although I had taught UMS before (I led the inaugural section in Fall 2008), I thought it best, given the recent unrest, to reconceive the class for Spring 2011. My course development involved wide review of relevant pedagogical and curriculum development literature; comparison of syllabi from similar courses at institutions around the country; and consultation with past and present teaching assistants and with numerous current students, alumni, and faculty colleagues. At the same time, I extensively revised and updated a set of research guides I developed for the class in 2008, and which other instructors have used.[10] I scheduled a class-wide “course feedback” discussion mid-semester, and implemented several of the students’ recommendations in our final weeks. At the end of the semester, I received positive feedback. One of my Teaching Assistants commented that the class was well “organized and coordinated to serve the diverse needs of students… [T]he students of the Spring 2011 semester were more satisfied than ever. And it made my job as a TA much easier. It was a great experience working with you” (see Appendix B.6).

Pedagogical Development. Courses and their teachers require constant refreshment. Regularly offering new courses – sometimes in areas in which I have no special expertise but particular curiosity – helps to keep my teaching fresh. When I do re-teach an old course I always revisit my reading list, assignments, and lessons. Sometimes new technology makes an old course new again; I build a website for nearly all of my courses, but I often use new combinations of media each time I offer a familiar course. I also experiment with new teaching models: service learning, project-based learning, and learning that takes place outside the classroom. I’ve received support from the Faculty Development Fund and Innovations in Education Fund on three occasions to support my pedagogical developments.

I constantly refresh myself by regularly reading books, periodicals, and blogs on teaching and learning. I’ve attended workshops on the teaching portfolio and evaluating the quality of online courses, and I’ve led sessions in the Provost’s Office’s Pedagogy Workshop.[11] In 2010 I was selected as a member of the Provost’s Office’s Applied Think Tank; my research focused on opportunities for developing “multimodal” learning initiatives at The New School.[12] In addition, much of my service – including as chair of Media Studies’ PhD proposal committee and on the Faculty Development and Innovations in Education Fund selection committees (see a sample review in Appendix C.2), and as program director – has allowed me to explore new approaches to undergraduate and graduate education. As I noted earlier, the work I do to develop as a teacher has also benefitted my scholarship, occasionally inspiring publications.

Student Advising. I regard my office, Joe’s Coffee, and the tea salon as other “places of learning” that extend the work we do in the classroom. The discussion that takes place over a marked-up seminar paper or an application to a PhD program is no less integral to student learning than the lecture or in-class discussion. Since arriving at The New School I’ve advised, on average, 30 to 40 students per semester, so I’ve had to be creative in designing settings and situations, like Town Hall meetings or special-interest group gatherings, in which I can reach students in small or large groups. These have even included formal events: For several years I’ve served as a faculty respondent for our student-organized Critical Themes in Media Studies conference, and in 2008 I organized a workshop for all invited participants; the materials I created are still circulated.[13] In Spring 2011, at the organizing committee’s request (many students had expressed interest in non-traditional doctoral programs) I organized and moderated a panel of doctoral students who are completing “multimodal” dissertations.[14] I’ve also served as a juror or critic for student exhibitions and thesis presentations at The New School and other universities.

Due to staff turnover I’ve also on occasion performed advising-related administrative tasks. In Fall 2006, as I was beginning my term as Director of Graduate Studies, our program’s Student Advising Coordinator resigned, and I assumed his responsibilities, which are described in Appendix C.1.

Thesis and Independent Coursework Advising. Thesis advising is one of the great joys of working with students. These are instances of voluntary collaboration, initiated out of mutual respect and shared interests. I’ve been fortunate to work with some fantastic students, many of whom have gone on to do wonderful things. Among the 12 students for whom I have served as Primary Thesis Advisor since I arrived in 2004, two have won our department’s Distinguished Thesis Award (which has been conferred only since 2009). One of my advisees was awarded the 2011 Dean’s Commendation, and three have been elected to serve as our division’s graduation speaker. Several of these students are either teaching or pursuing advanced degrees (one of my recent advisees was awarded fully-funded fellowship to a PhD program in Architecture at Columbia University). I’ve also served as Second Reviewer on seven theses and advised eight independent studies and independent production projects; all my advisees are listed in Appendix B.10. I should also note that in 2004-5, as part of my responsibilities as Thesis Coordinator, I served as external reviewer for 44 thesis proposals and 20 completed theses.


Department Service. I became a University Citizen the moment I arrived at The New School in Fall 2004 (see Appendix C.1 for a list of all my service activities).[15] I’ve derived great satisfaction from contributing, even as a junior faculty member, to projects that profoundly shape the institution: I’ve been involved in creating the mission statement for our new division, selecting new senior faculty colleagues and deans, creating new university-wide curricula, and designing learning spaces. I’m grateful to have been recruited into service positions that take advantage of my strengths and speak to my interests.

Many of my early appointments, particularly within the department, didn’t always draw on my obvious strengths – but these positions allowed me to discover skills and interests I hadn’t before acknowledged, and helped me to become familiar with the ins and outs of the university relatively quickly. When I joined the department I was asked to serve as our program’s Thesis Coordinator and Admissions Coordinator. I have already described my advising work as Thesis Coordinator, yet the job is also administrative. One of my administrative tasks (see Appendix C.1) was to create, with input from our department leadership, a Thesis Handbook (see Appendix C.2). In my work as Admissions Coordinator in 2004-5, I reviewed nearly 400 applications, determined their final rank and scholarship award, and contacted all top-ranked candidates. I served as chair of the Admissions Committee for the two following years, and each year I worked with the Chair and the Dean of Admissions to further streamline the admissions process, to increase the effectiveness of our application review, and to improve our yield and recruitment of top candidates.

Within the Department, I have served on curriculum, advising, strategic planning, program review, and search committees, and I’ve chaired five of them. The charges of these various committees are described in Appendix C.1. Most recently, I’ve chaired our department’s PhD Program Proposal Committee; I’ve included a draft of our proposal in Appendix C.2. My work on this committee has benefitted from my interest in pedagogy and my ongoing research into new models of graduate education.

My primary contribution to the Department was of course my service, from 2006 to 2009, as Director of Graduate Studies. I describe my responsibilities, which involved providing academic leadership to a program with over 500 students and 60 faculty, coordinating all part-time faculty reviews, overseeing major curriculum revisions, and developing a new required introductory lecture class, in Appendix C.1. I’ve also included, in Appendix C.2, course schedules I developed, information about the Student Travel Grant program I created, and sample correspondence with part-time faculty. The first semester of my term as director was particularly challenging because, not only was I acclimating to a demanding new position, but I was also filling in, as noted above, as our program’s only Student Advising Coordinator. At the same time, our Executive Secretary resigned, so I inherited many of her responsibilities as well.[16]

Divisional Service. While program director I served on the Executive Committee and the Chairs and Directors group. I’ve also served on search committees for an Assistant Professor in International Affairs and Media and two Senior Faculty in Civic Engagement; the latter was an extremely demanding and time-intensive undertaking that ultimately proved very rewarding for those on the committee: we were able to think collectively about experimental pedagogy and scholarship and their assessment.

University Service. My interest in architecture, and the design of libraries in particular, has led to my involvement in the IDEO space planning research for The New School’s new signature building; Shepley Bulfinch Abbott & Richardson’s library planning focus groups; and early discussions regarding the dedication of digital storage space for theses and dissertations. I’ve also enjoyed my service on the Design and Social Science committee and my involvement in numerous thesis reviews in Parsons. I was particularly excited to be invited to serve as a special faculty advisor for the recent Vera List Center fellows selection process, and to be involved in the Center’s 2011-13 programming focusing on the theme of “thingness” – a theme that overlaps with my own research and teaching on “materiality.” I’ve contributed to Provost-charged Media Studies curriculum committees in both 2007-08 and 2010-11 and to the “Mission/Vision” committee for the NSGS/Milano merger; these committees involved a great deal of thinking about praxis, which has inspired my own teaching. I’ve also served on a few university-level search committees: for a Parsons faculty member in interactive game design, for a Dean of Online Learning, for a Dean of Parsons’ School of Art Media and Technology, and for Media Studies’ Department Chair. I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this document additional service activities that have informed my research and teaching.

Service to the Profession. As I’ve described above, both academics and practitioners within the media, design, and library fields have acknowledged that my work has made a valuable contribution. I’ve been contacted by public library organizations and advocacy groups regarding their own library design processes. I’ve also been involved in design-related public programs and have served as an invited critic in design studios at Parsons, Columbia University, Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard University. I’ve been invited to review manuscripts for Polity Press, and for Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature; the International Journal of Communication; and Design and Culture; and have critiqued work for colleagues whose books have been published, or are soon to be published, by the University of California Press and Polity. See Appendix C.3 for a list of my service to the profession.

Given the extraordinary service responsibilities I faced in the early years of my career, I had little opportunity to establish myself publicly in my field; my only public presence was through my publications. I’ve been a member of a few professional organizations for years, but it has taken me some time to make connections within those organizations and to discover which is the best fit for the kind of work I do. I’m a member of the College Art Association, the Society of Architectural Historians, and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. SCMS recently launched a new Special Interest Group in Cinema, Media and Urban Studies, and I assisted in 2010 with the creation of a website for the SIG.[17] I intend to become more involved in this organization and, eventually, to seek a leadership role.

My own website,, has helped in cultivating my public presence. I’ve used it as a space through which I can address pedagogical issues and discuss my research in-progress. Several of my teaching-related posts – which have focused on such issues as course design, the challenges of teaching required courses, and criteria for evaluating “multimodal” student work – have been circulated within the Digital Humanities community. And my post on the insularity of architectural blogging elicited many comments and was referenced in an article in Blueprint, a British design magazine (see Appendix A.10). That article played a role in an international series of conversations hosted by the Italian design magazine Domus. I was invited to participate in the New York event, and later to contribute a book review to the Domus website.[18]


My focus on the “prepositional relationships” between media and spatial design – media in design, design as media, media for design – is sufficiently extensible to be applied in a wide range of spatial and temporal contexts. And because media and design are both fields defined by their continual evolution, my work in the space in-between these two fields promises to remain perpetually fresh and inspiring. There are also more widespread and enthusiastic expressions of interest – from within media studies, and particularly from the emerging fields of media archaeology and sensory studies; from design studies; and from an increasing variety of fields that have some investment in “media space” – for the type of research I do. I have mapped out immediate and long-term goals that will enable me to maintain my productivity and, at the same time, continue to make significant contributions to various academic fields and design professions.

My immediate goal is to secure a contract for my Urban Media Archaeology book and to complete the manuscript. Simultaneously, I’ll be working with my colleagues in Parsons to develop the Urban Research Toolkit, which will host interactive supplements to my book. Encouraged by the positive feedback I’ve received on both projects, I intend to continue to seek funding for both. For the longer term, I’m developing plans for my third and fourth books. One will be an edited collection examining methodological and pedagogical uses for mapping in media studies; this project gives me an opportunity to investigate how mapping can tie together the three threads of my work – spaces for media, mediating spatial experience, and material media forms – in both my research and my teaching. The other book will focus on conceptual and material “architectures” for organizing media. I plan to explore the aesthetics of information organization – in other words, how artists help us understand the new systems and institutions of organization and classification we develop to accommodate media in ever-evolving formats. These books, like Urban Media Archaeology, will likely have an interactive component, or may even be entirely interactive. I will continue to explore new methods and modes of “multimodal” scholarship and ideally improve my own design skills so that I can contribute meaningfully to the production of non-print-based, or not solely print-based, scholarly production.

Throughout my academic career I’ll remain committed to, and expect to continue deriving great satisfaction from, teaching and advising. I’ve designed and taught many new courses over the past seven years, and as a result I’ve rarely taught the same class more than once or twice. As much as I enjoy the process of course-building and relish the excitement of leaning with my students during the inaugural presentation of a class, I also look forward to having an opportunity to teach a few courses repeatedly, to refine them, to allow a class to become familiar. At the same time, I hope to have opportunities to contribute courses – either new ones or adaptations of my existing classes – to Lang, Parsons, and other divisions.

Media Studies has been waiting to activate a network of “point people,” or faculty coordinators, for each of our curricular focus areas. I plan to move ahead on my own and develop a community of interest around the Media and the Urban Environment focus area. A group of students has already come together through my classes and Christiane Paul’s classes, but I’d like to formalize their bond by hosting regular gatherings and creating an Urban Media website, where my Research Assistant and I can post relevant classes throughout the University, local events, calls for proposals, etc. I’m also excited about the potential for continued involvement in university-wide pedagogical initiatives. I’m glad to be participating again in the Provost’s Office’s Pedagogy Workshop. I’d like to take part in, or perhaps organize, other teaching and learning-focused workshops and working groups. I’m also eager to contribute to the development of similar working groups organized around shared faculty research interests. Equally important to the invigoration of the intellectual community of The New School is the creation of a PhD program. I’ve been involved in the early and ongoing discussions regarding a Media Studies PhD, and I’m excited to continue these discussions and ultimately contribute to the creation of an innovative program at The New School.

I’ve been an active contributor to The New School’s development because I believe in what it stands for: praxis, interdisciplinarity, experimentation, engagement with the city, public responsibility. The New School has demonstrated its investment in me, through awards and grants, by entrusting me with the responsibility to contribute to weighty decisions, and by granting me the flexibility to make choices regarding my teaching and scholarship and fostering my innovation in these areas. I see many exciting opportunities for continued development. TNS can bolster its reputation as a center for engaged scholarship in new forms, expanding beyond the traditional scholarly monograph; for new, more responsible and responsive types of doctoral education; and for new, flexible problem-based programs. I look forward to contributing to these endeavors, particularly by continuing to create opportunities for my service, research, and teaching to beneficially inform one another, as they have for seven years thus far. I am eager to continue this partnership with the university, so that we may continue to inspire one another to be ever innovative, ever experimental, ever new.

[1] I originally secured a contract for this book from Smithsonian Books in early spring 2003. The book was ready to go to press in Fall 2004 when I learned that the Smithsonian Institution had “reinvented” its Books division, and that all scholarly books not yet in production would be “released.” Fortunately, within a few months the book had found a new home at Minnesota.
[2] See
[3] See
[4] See
[5] See for video.
[6] See the publication:
[7] See
[8] My blog post on this topic — — elicited comments from several key figures in multimodal education.
[9] I’ve written about my collaborative course design process on my website:
[10] These resources are available on my website:
[11] I posted my Spring 2011 workshop presentation online:
[12] Here I reflect on this work:
[13] See
[14] See the conference website:
[15] Since 2005, I have been appointed to anywhere between four and 11 committees each semester.
[16] Our remaining office staff and I pitched in to complete the spring course grids and guides, organize the registration process, build several yet-unbuilt courses, and handle several unanticipated scheduling conflicts. I managed schedule builder and change forms and coordinated the end-of-semester student evaluations and distributed summary reports to our faculty for the graduate program. At the same time, I served on the Executive Secretary Search Committee that eventually brought in our then-new marvelously competent assistant, Janelle McKenzie.
[17] See
[18] See

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