Monday, November 14, 2016

Tips To Improve Written Work for Grad Students

Having worked in post-secondary education for over seven years now, I've become intimately acquainted and vastly disappointed with university students quality of written work. I'm not complaining here about such niceties of writing as avoiding passive voice or not splitting infinitives. Rather, I'm stunned by how many grad students don't achieve the absolute basics, such as putting their name on their work or stapling their paper together.

During one's undergrad courses, students can get by and even excel with bad writing. Yet, writing papers is the bedrock of all graduate degrees in the social sciences, humanities, and even the sciences. Regardless of who is to blame for one's poor written communication skills, at the graduate level it is essential that students take the initiative and master the basics.

Good written communication skills are not only essential to get through grad school, but are also essential for many careers, particularly the kinds that grad students desire. If students think writing papers will end after grad school, they will be stunned by the lifetime of writing reports, minutes, specs, or project documentation that will be in store for them in many careers. So it's worth the time and effort to learn how to do it!

So using my experienced gained from years of grading graduate students' papers, I've collected some tips on how to improve their written assignments. Below are various rules for written work.

Top 6 Overall Rules (and Ways to Get Better Grades)

#1 Use the Academic Style Book for Your Department
All departments, faculties, or fields have a preferred academic style (e.g. APA, Chicago, MLA etc) that offers instructions on how to format papers, writing tips, and referencing rules. If a course syllabus or professor doesn't provide their preferred style ask them. Find the book, buy it, read it, highlight and bookmark it!

At times you will need to deviate from the official style (e.g., APA's rules about headers are absurd), but only do so with a good reason. Get permission from the professor when contemplating a major deviation from the official style.

#2 Follow the Rules for Your Class
Most professors have additional rules about formatting and items to include in assignments (e.g., a title page, end-notes, etc.). This is generally in the syllabus, but if it is not ask the professor for it.

For most academic writing, unless otherwise stated this means:
  • 12 point font size (going down to 10 for tables or diagrams, but no smaller)
  • Arial or Times New Roman font
  • 1.5 inch margins
  • Double-spaced (or at the very least 1.5 spaced)
  • White paper
  • Letter sized paper
  • Good quality paper stock - avoid paper that is so thin it is almost onion skin
  • Proper print quality - smeared ink or feint printing is not okay
As one who loves nature and doesn't want to see trees needlessly killed, I find two-sided printing to be preferable. But I seem to be in a minority about this among academics, so check on this.

#3 Adhere To Assignment Requirements
Read through the assignment instructions provided at least five times. Highlight each passage that suggests you need to do something. Make a checklist out of these highlights and BE SURE to achieve them all. Professors (and in the working world, bosses) know what they are doing when they make assignments (they really do), so give them the benefit of the doubt and make your life easy by following their instructions. Also, don't feel that you can do something similar to the assignment, but not actually meet the assignment requirements. Similar is not okay. Follow the requirements.

If you really want to try something different, it's really easy to ask your professor for clarification or permission first.

Once you have achieved the requirements, going beyond them is almost always a good idea. But this does not mean you can ignore the assignment requirements. I've encountered a lot of brilliant students who thought they could do something else instead of the assignment - but they missed the goals of the assignment (and the importance of developing the skill of following instructions) and got lower grades than their mediocre classmates. If you think professors are inflexible about this, just wait until your boss asks you to do something and you do something else and tell him/her that it's just as good - you'll be lucky if your boss let's you explain your reasoning as you're being escorted out the door.

#4 Use Formal and Informal Styles Appropriately
Recognize that professional, academic, and personal writing are different. They have different purposes and thus different rules.

Granted, although there is a trend towards all three becoming increasingly informal. Still, it always helps to consider your audience and write for them. For example, take something as simple as contractions. If you are writing to impress your boss or professor, it is almost always a good idea to use a more formal tone and formal grammar rules. It's true that contractions are not a big deal any more, but it wasn't that long ago that they were verboten - so do not use them. Did you notice how I combined contractions and full forms in the same sentence above - that's even worse, isn't it?

#5 Read Elements of Style (or a similar book)
This book by Strunk and White was referred to me by a former professor and it remains the best book I've encountered to help one improve their writing. It is a quick and easy read and not a grammarian's impenetrable tome. It's useful to read cover to cover and then refer to it as needed when writing.

For example, most students I have encountered do not know the correct way to use a comma. It's not a big deal, but at the graduate level seemingly small grammar and punctuation rules start to really matter.

#6 Don't Describe, Analyze
In academic writing, you to demonstrate your intellectual abilities as applied to the course material. Unless otherwise instructed, avoid simply describing something and instead show your critical thinking. Strive for the highest level you can achieve with your writing. From lowest to highest:
  1. naming/listing
  2. describing
  3. explaining
  4. critiquing
  5. predicting (if appropriate)

Specific Tips for Written Work

Avoid acronyms and short-forms
Only use them, if you it is a term that repeats a lot in your paper and even then spell it out in full upon first usage and put the short form in parenthesis. For informal writing, you can use acronyms that aren't of crucial importance if the short-form is very well known, such as the CBC or IT Dept, or if it is a common term in your discipline. Even then, it never hurts to write out in full upon first usage.

Avoid long blocks of unbroken text
Remember the grade school rule of one paragraph per topic. Academics of old horrifically violated this rule in the hope that by obfuscating their work they would appear more intelligent. A passage of text that goes on unbroken for a page - or more! - is not intelligent, it's impenetrable. New topic; new paragraph. It's a simple as that.

Vary your sentence length
Those academics of old also erroneously believed that long sentences also reflected the vast complexity of their erudition. Long sentences don't make you seem smarter; they most likely are just run-on sentences that are just grammatically incorrect at best and horrifically impenetrable at worst.

Include a title page
Even if your professor doesn't specifically ask for it in the syllabus or assignment details. Even if a professor says you don't need one, still include one - this applies for academic and professionally writing. For one, appearance is always important and a title page goes a long way towards making your paper look suitably serious. Second, when grading comments are to be provided on your paper, having a title page protects your privacy by shielding other students from seeing your comments and possibly grade.

Use a floating header
Have a header in the top right corner of every page with your name or shortened title. This standard practices in academic writing, and it helps if your pages become separated.  I should also add to make sure your name is on your paper as I estimate about five percent of grad students neglect to do what even kindergartners know.

Staple your papers together
You'd be surprised by how many students hand in assignments not bound in any way. Paper clips, folding the corners of pages or use other ineffective binding contraption are not acceptable. Also, use a stapler that actually works properly (they are cheap or easy to borrow). For big reports, this means you need to use a heavy-duty staplers or cerlox binding. Both professors and bosses have A LOT of papers to go through and reports that become separated or are difficult to flip through are more than a little annoyance.

Word limit- make sure to get near it
A former professor gave me a useful target for what is reasonable parameters for too few or too many words - it is okay to be within 10% of the word limit either way. I think this is a great guideline and use it for my writing and grading. You are probably safe if you follow this. Either way, the ultimate goal is to be close to the word limit as possible.

Avoid the universal masculine
It is no longer socially acceptable to use masculine words, such as he, his, or man, to entail all men and women. This has been true since at least the 1980s, so doing so today is really backward and sexist. I actually find more women students are apt to use the universal masculine, perhaps erroneously believing they have license to do so. It is a linguistic form that discriminates against women - there is no reason to use it anymore.

Have an introduction and conclusion
All writing forms, need some sort of introduction and conclusion. These are needed as it is very jarring to just start a document in the middle of a topic or just arbitrarily and abruptly stop. No introduction, is like joining a conversation with friends and you have no idea what they are talking about; it sounds interesting but they just keep going on and ignoring you. No conclusion is similar, your friends just walk away and you never did figure out what was going on properly and where things were left off - how puzzling and rude.

You always have space for these as they can be really short if need demands it. In all reality, the body of your text will have lots of parts that can be condensed, unnecessary words that can be cut, and repetition eliminated - so there is no excuse to not have an intro and conclusion.

This is basic goal of introductions and conclusions do. They serve a much larger purposes that go A LONG way to making your paper more powerful and convincing and helping you get the outcome and grade you want.

Cut the crap and get to the point!
Stay on topic. Don't add filler (in this case, less is more). If you don't need to say it, then don't. I read fiction for flowery descriptions and passages waxing philosophical about tangential matters. Academic and professional writing is a type of persuasive writing that has a goal to clearly state a message and back it up.

Some would disagree with me and I've read some amazing academic papers that blend persuasive writing with narrative and emotional passages more generally seen in fiction. This is likely the hardest type of writing in the world to successfully pull off though.

Don't think that you are fooling anyone with including filler. Yes, it's better than being desperately short on your word count, but your fluff will be spotted.

Presentation quality matters

Appearance matters whether we like it or not. A polished and professional appearance of a documents makes it not only easier and more pleasant to read, but it also lends more credibility to the work. Conversely, if you don't take an assignment seriously enough to take a few seconds to avoid a messy looking paper then it makes the whole work seem lazy and sloppy.

To improve presentation quality:
  • Include effective headers - try to condense the header into the key terms and essential words only.
  • Bold all titles and headers. Underlining is generally an obsolete style (due to hypertext).
  • Headers should never be orphaned on the bottom of the page. They should always be with the text they are referring to so force them onto the next page if needed
  • Use images wisely - these can really improve the power and appearance of a paper, but make sure that they can be viewed optimally.
  • Use white space judiciously - not too little and not too much though.
  • Razzle Dazzle Them - Consider adding an image or design to your title page. Use colour in your diagrams and tables and print in colour. Use really nice paper stock.



Plagiarism is taken extremely seriously in academia. It is not just academically dishonest, it is illegal (as you have infringed on the intellectual property of others). I've also noticed that more students are paying services to write papers for them.

In our Google and world now it is easy to catch. The consequences are dire for students caught doing this - generally a failing grade and possibly expulsion from the university.

I've seen cases where all a student had to do was put their plagiarized passages in quotation marks and cite the reference to go from failing the class to getting a B. So why not try quotation marks instead?!

Learn the rules of your plagiarism, every university has them posted prominently on their website and EVERYONE who works at a university will happily point you in the right direction if you are unsure.

If you feel you are in over your head with a course, have too many competing pressures - talk to the
professor. You'd be surprised how many are willing to cut students some slack or accommodate them somehow. No pressure is worth failing a class, having the academic violation go on your record, and possibly being expelled.

It's in one's best interest to follow these tips as grades will rise. It will also help one develop more effective writing skills that will set them apart from most of their fellow future graduates.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

4D Cinema Now in Canada!

This past weekend I went to the cinema see Dr. Strange with my wife and daughter. Nothing strange about that as I love superhero films and we pretty much see ever one at the cinema. The experience was particularly special as it was the first time I have ever seen a feature length film in 4D.

It wasn't special just for us, but rather for Canada - as this is our first 4D cinema in Canada and it opened only a few days ago. The cinema opened with Dr. Strange so we were among the first to view cinematic event. The 4D cinema is at Cineplex Yonge & Dundas - read more about it their website.

4D is a marketing term to entail movies that go beyond just 3D to offer assorted special effects to bring elements of the film into the real world. There is no consistency in how the term is used so it can include many different types of things. It can run the gamut from adding one new sensory experience (such as scent or seat buzzers) to a fully moving ride with multisensory experiences. Here's a great timeline of 4D cinema.

Granted, this wasn't our first 4D experience. It seems like most A list amusement parks have them. Walt Disney World and Universal Studios that have made 4D experiences a thrill. My first such one was as a teenager with Muppets (which is the only such show I've seen to combine animatronics and costumed actors in the cinema).

But even Ontario has had some 4D short films at Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls and the dearly-departed Ontario Place in Toronto. Also, a few years ago we saw Spy Kids 4 with scratch-and-sniff cards to add odour experiences at key moments (some more effective than not).

This, however, is the first permanent location to show 4D feature length films in Canada and it's in my hometown!

The ad for the cinema claims that 4D offers the potential for the following real-life sensory experiences:
  • motion - chairs can vibrate and move up, down, left and right and fairly fast too - but motion seems limited to about 10 cm
  • seat "ticklers" - that are more like "hitters", they push at your lower back and legs
  • air - vents near your head blow wind past your ears, apparently the cinema has wind machines too
  • snow and fog - at the front of cinema only - apparently bubbles too but I didn't experience this
  • rain - all over cinema and with the Dr. strange quite a bit of it (not soaking but did make my 3D glasses spotty) - there is an off switch for this, but of course no one pushed it
  • strobe lights - to simulate lightning
  • scent
All other 4D films I've seen used these effects as a gimmick. Except for Ontario tourism film I saw at Ontario that used it to give film moments a unique sense of place.

Dr. Strange in 4D was definitely gimmicky at times and to such an extent that it was a distraction. But it also advanced my sensory connection to the film and helped draw one into the experience of the character's world or identify with the character.

There's a scene in the film where the lead character was driving really fast on a winding road and then had an accident which was accompanied by corresponding seat motions that really added to my enjoyment of the scene. Fight scenes were similarly enhanced by seat motion and gusts of wind. I also enjoyed a scene on a snow-blown mountain top when actual snow started to fill the theatre.

When it doesn't work is when there is an effect just to do something (presumably so people feel they are getting their money's worth). For instance, the seats moved too much generally as sometimes motion was used when anything on screen movies. Motion works great when it the protagonist is also in motion, but doesn't make sense when an inanimate object is moved.

I think scent would be a great addition - and Dr. Strange had lots of times when it could be used effectively. I've heard that we were supposed to smell incense at the temple Dr. Strange visits, but all I ever smelled throughout the film was Windex. My wife and daughter only ever smelled lemon (but they said they liked it).

My young daughter loved the experience and said there was nothing she disliked. Here's her review:
I really like how the chairs moved and the rain.  I liked how during the movie when Dr. Strange was on the mountain there was snow and wind in the cinema. I like 4D because it realty brings a movie to life, as what's happening in the movie is happening in the theatre. Some movies would be good in 4D, but some it wouldn't be quite as good. I think it is better for action movies - Star Wars would be neat. Sometimes it shook you too much or punched you in the back, but that only bothered me the tiniest little bit. But it might bother others. I thought it was really fun and cool!
It is people like my daughter that this type of experience is geared towards. It's possible at some point that 4D effects could be used only to serve the art of filmmaking. Dr. Strange was a good film but it's not high art - films like this are meant to give the audience a good time. And 4D does really enhance that. It's not something I'd want with all my films, but for these blockbuster action and fantasy films, I think it is a really fun addition.

It will be interesting to see how this technology and corresponding use by filmmakers develops.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Toronto team “Kid On The Moon” Wins at Global NASA Space Apps Challenge

I have been working with Tanya Oleksuik, who works for a local arts organization in my neighbourhood, on my PhD dissertation research on mobile, locative media. Tanya was part of a team at East End Arts that developed an online, participatory oral history and arts project for Toronto's East End (read more about the project on my blog post Inspired By...Map) .

While working with Tanya, I learned about an exciting project she did as part of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) global challenge "to create mobile apps and technologies that aid in space exploration and help improve life here on Earth". I was thrilled to learn recently that her team had won for their category. It's an amazing accomplishment and showcases the innovation and talent happening in mobile media here in Toronto.

Here is the press release for this project announcing their NASA win:


May 28, 2016, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Toronto team Kid On The Moon is on a mission – to inspire the next generation of space explorers. They were announced this week as the global winner of the NASA Space Apps Challenge for Most Inspirational project.

Over the weekend of April 22–24, 2016, developers, makers, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs took on NASA-designed challenges, creating a diverse range of solutions. Over 15,000 people worldwide took part in the 5th annual NASA Space Apps Challenge, with over 1,200 projects developed.

A part of NASA's International Space Apps Challenge, the NASA Space Apps Toronto hackathon challenged participants to think critically about technology and its effect on the world around us. The NASA Space Apps Toronto challenge took place at Symbility Intersect, at which the judges awarded Kid On The Moon as one of the winning projects, propelling them into the global competition.

"This event brings together the STEM community in a unique way to collaboratively tackle complex problems," said James Costa, lead organizer of NASA's Space Apps Toronto. "With SpaceX's recent Falcon 9 tests and NASA's ongoing achievement in space exploration, this is a great time to get kids excited and thinking about careers in space again."

Kid On The Moon is an interactive app that is dedicated to inspire children 4-8 years old become passionate about space travel through self-guided exploration of the moon both on and offline.
The Kid On The Moon team members and app creators are: Tanya Oleksuik, Huanning Wang, Allard Schipper, Katrina Shiu, Mohammad Zubayer, Nippun Goyal, James Chiu, and Sophia He. This diverse group brought together their ideas, wide range of skills, and imaginations to create the Kid On The Moon project at the NASA Space Apps Toronto hackathon in response to NASA's "Book It To The Moon" challenge.

"Toronto is a city full of creative people actively contributing to science, technology, and innovations around the world," stated City of Toronto Mayor John Tory. "I'm proud to see a Toronto team recognized by NASA and representing Toronto-made innovation on the global stage."
The winning team members will be invited to attend an upcoming NASA launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The NASA Space Apps Toronto event was supported by Lead Sponsors: City of Toronto, StartUp HERE Toronto, and XE; Host Sponsors: Phuse, Symbility Intersect, and HackerYou; and Community Supporter: Ace Hill.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Inspired By...Map

As part of my research into how people are using geoweb technologies, I've been interviewing users and developers of digital media applications related to place. While searching for innovative projects along this line, I found out about an arts association near where I live who had created an amazing online community mapping project.

The project, Inspired By...Map, was created by East End Arts as a way to capture the arts and oral histories of the people living and visiting in Toronto's east end. Soliciting contributions from people connected to the neighbourhood, they have created an online, interactive map of people's meaningful places. Through a variety of modalities (images, text, and videos) people's stories and creations are put on the map of Toronto.

A map of Toronto's east end, with icons indicating areas where content has been geotagged. A caption reads Inspired By, how does the space we travel through inspire us? These are stories from the east end of Toronto, start exploring.

I had the chance to ask Tanya Oleksuik and Cindy Rozeboom some questions about their impressive project.

Glen: What motivated you to develop the Inspired By...Map?

Tanya & Cindy:
In 2014, East End Arts was only a year old and developing our organizational sense of self. As a Local Arts Service Organization, we are mandated to provide support for a specific geographic area of Toronto.

We were wondering what, if anything, actually unifies the people within this area, given that the communities are, as with all of Toronto, diverse and constantly changing. Unable to come to any conclusions about who east-enders were, we decided to examine where.  If the people are different, but the place is the same – what then? Inspired By was sparked by wondering how the actual physical spaces that we share impact and/or inspire those who pass through them.

Inspired By was made possible by a grant from the Ontario Cultural Development Fund.

Glen: What efforts have you taken to get community involvement in creating the content for Inspired By...Map?

Tanya & Cindy:
We have held both facilitated workshops with community groups, as well as have an ongoing open-call for submissions online.

Community workshops have been led by Community Story Strategies and, so far, have included a job-seeking club at Riverdale Hub, a recycled fashion collective at the Newcomer Women’s Service, a summer camp of children at Community Centre 55, and an open public session that toured the Winter Stations in 2015.

Local kids working on their creations for the Inspired By...Map
Each workshop starts with a group photo-taking walk around an area, followed by a writing session where participants choose one image and react to it – either in writing or verbally.

Glen: What has the response been to the project?

Tanya &; Cindy:
The response has been really positive and heartwarming. Everyone has a personal story behind their favourite spots in the city, and most love to share those stories with others. Each story shared adds a new layer to the map of inspired places.

We held an Inspired By viewing party in 2015 and a room full of people listened, watched, learned, and laughed along with the wide range of stops along the map. With a range of creative expressions in the submissions, the audience was taken through visual, written, and audio stories of reminiscence, longing, love, and joy, all inspired by East End places. The evening continued with the sharing of even more stories, including people adding their own layers of memory, history, and experience to the places marked on the map.

Glen: In terms of the content people have created has there been anything surprising?

Tanya & Cindy:
Interestingly, many of the submissions involve memories – the image of what IS brought back thoughts of what WAS. It is also interesting to see the differences in tone and interpretation of seemingly unrelated objects – an excited child remembering hockey practice with their dad looking at a fence, speculations on social change drawn from a crack in the pavement. It makes one wonder how much we “see” with our eyes, and how much is brought to any picture from our own individual storehouse of experiences and expectations.

People are inspired by so many different and unique things. The stories people share about what makes a place special to them reminds us that inspiration can be found in unexpected places and are beautifully unique in meaning to individuals.

Glen: How do you think this map will have people consider or reconsider Toronto's East End?

Tanya & Cindy:
The map is still a work-in-progress, so it will be interesting to see how neighbourhood changes will be reflected. Someone may have mapped a spot that in a couple years’ time may be transformed into something completely different. The map allows people to mark a place and time and capture a memory or moment.

Glen: Is there anything else you'd like to add or that people should know about this project?

Tanya & Cindy:
We'd love for the map to continue to expand. Anyone who lives, works, and moves through the east end is invited to contribute to the project and help it grow, one place at a time.

This project is not only a really interesting and imaginative glimpse into the places and stories of east end Toronto, but also a model for others regardless of their location. This project is a great example of how to use community mapping efforts and geoweb technologies to capture and share something meaningful to people.

Whether you live in Toronto or not, I highly recommend getting inspired by Inspired By...Map.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Transforming Concrete Jungles Into Rainforests Through Mobile Media

I just found out about an exciting mobile media project occurring this month in New York City in honour of Earth Day. The project, JUNGLE-IZED: A Conversation with Nature, encourages people to use their mobile device to experience the famous Time Square in a new way to encourage people to reflect on global environment issues.

Through audio pieces related to the Amazon rainforest, NYC's concrete jungle is transformed for users. Users walk around several blocks of Times Square with an Android or Apple mobile app and special headphones. Each street near Times Square represents a different time in the daily life of the Amazon.

Along the lines of a Guy Debord d├ętournement, the dramatic and interactive juxtaposition
seeks to help people reconsider their role and consider linkages in the global environment.

The project was developed using Vancouver company Motive's software platform. The Motive software was used to geolocate the audio tracks of the Amazon around Times Square and to indicate the radius that triggers audio files and for fade points.

I had the chance to meet a cofounder of Motive, Ryan Chapman, last year when I was in Vancouver. Motive provides a hosted platform to ease the development of mobile games and locative media apps. Find out more about Motive through my conversation with Ryan.

I'm excited to see this project as it demonstrate how powerful and innovative mobile media can be.

If you're in NYC check it out or read more about the project here.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Locating Overlooked Histories: An Interview with Queerstory Founder

As part of my doctoral research on locative media and its role in our relationship to our places, I interviewed the founders of the locative media app, Queerstory.  Queerstory is Toronto's first LGBTQ geolocative history app and I would argue of the most effective geolocative history apps anywhere.

The Queerstory mobile app points users to nearby points of interest in a map or list based view. How Queerstory differs, however, that rather than just having text descriptions the app includes video oral histories, interviews, and artistic interpretations. Users can also refine the content based on various themes, such as activism, culture, and culture. The app is free and available on Apple, Android, or the mobile web.

I interviewed both of the Queerstory's founders, Michael Alstad and Janet Hethrington on their work with Queerstory and their ideas on the role generally of locative media. As a sneak peek from my research, here are some Q&As from my interview with Michael.

Glen: What motivated you to develop this application?
Michael: Year Zero One (YZO), a media arts organization that curates digital art projects both online and in public space,  has been producing locative media projects since 2003 beginning with the pioneering Teletaxi project. We produced a locative history app in 2012 in affiliation with the Textile Museum of Canada called TXTilecity. TXTilecity is a mobile app that leads users on a self-directed tour through sites relevant to Toronto’s garment and fashion industry history through a series of site-specific short video docs and a commissioned media artwork.

With the success of TXTilecity, I was keen of adapting the locative history concept to produce Queerstory – an app and website exploring over a century of Toronto’s LGBT history that was launched to coincide with World Pride in 2014. Toronto is a world leader in progressive LGBT policy and has a rich and diverse queer political, social, and cultural history that is somewhat understated and hidden in comparison to other international centres like New York City where sites like the Stonewall Inn are marked with plaques.

I see the Queerstory app as a digital placemarker that commemorates and preserves queer history. It allows for a more multidimensional and sensory-based experience of lived history as it relates to the urban environment.

Glen: What has the response been from users?
The response to Queerstory overall has been positive. App users have been impressed by scope and diversity of stories and histories. Some users were intrigued to discover several sites and neigbourhoods not traditionally associated with the gay community and its history.

It was noted the number of overall sites might be too ambitious for one continuous tour and also the amount of video content consumes a lot of data for limited cell plans.

With my personal user experience with Queerstory, I felt the media artworks by Keith Cole and Caitlin Fisher – where the artists led you on their unique individualized tours and interpretations of queer history – I explored and engaged with the physical surroundings and places more.

Glen: How is experiencing a place with your app different than without it?
Michael: I think the process of walking through the city and exploring these sites is an experiential and fun way of discovering and learning about queer history.

Most of the mapped sites in Queerstory could easily be overlooked. For example, the site of the Barracks Bathhouse, a heritage house on Widmer, a narrow street in the entertainment district lined with old Victorian row houses, is a key historic queer space linked to one of the most important events of Canada’s gay liberation movement - the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids and riots. The mass arrests and ensuing riot are considered to be the Canadian equivalent of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City.

Also an important place related aspect of Queerstory is the in-situ interviews. We noticed a pattern with our interviewees - that being situated in the sites where the histories occurred triggered their memory with renewed insights and reflection on the events.

I believe that the layering of hidden stories, rare archival material and on-site interviews creates a unique sensory experience of place.

Glen: Mobile media is criticized for distancing people from places. Can you comment on this?
Michael: On one hand, I see mobile media as physically distancing people from one another in public spaces and cafes where individuals are cloistered with their mobile devices, headphones, and laptops. On the other hand, I personally see the value in information layers, alternate narratives, and digital annotations on places are useful and beneficial as long as you’re objective and can filter the info to enhance your personal experience of place.


Queerstory was recently recognized for their innovative use of media to document and share Toronto's history by winning an award from Heritage Toronto.

Visit the Queerstory website for more information on the app and their content.