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Posts from the ‘reflection’ Category

one year ago…

March 15, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

If last year I was framing this journey as trying to listen to dark matter, fully appropriate a year later to find myself floating in deep space. It’s admittedly a pretty dark place but when I’m able to look past all the immediate discomfort of the present…so dazzling to realize I actually am here.

on learning the harder stuff.

March 14, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

This week in my intro to graphic design course we’re discussing critique. Critique is one of those subjects in the art and design world that has a mythic quality to it. With my students I emphasize that critique is always just about the work and never about you personally though perversely…it always feels like it’s about you personally and never just about the work.

As designers we are fortunate to be part of an industry where we get paid to make things and be creative. In this transaction, we should do our best but ultimately we live in the creative tension that knows that the majority of our output isn’t for our own pleasure rather it is for communicating a specific message from a client to an audience. It’s hard work untangling your identity from a design piece—learning to hold it loosely. That said; if you cannot find that separation space between what you make and who you are, guarantee you will not be able to survive in the industry.

In design world, how you do the work matters just as much as what work you do.


A couple weeks back I received some bad news about my dissertation committee. Because I had done a pre-presentation to my full committee (well documented in such posts as this one) the member who was supposed to be my calm, cool, unbiased external had apparently become tainted. I now had an incomplete committee with no external member. Though he had only good intentions, the very thing my supervisor hoped might speed up the process moved it into an indefinite holding pattern. Education is a complex process. Inherent in this complexity is that realization that for better or worse, his errors will bleed into me and vice versa. For the record: knowing this in my head and feeling this practically are two entirely different things.

As my year had been tracking to a March defense, the news broke me. I was angry that no one caught the error…frustrated that by no mistake of my own my plans were stalled out. I was disillusioned by an opaque system secret society bent on giving me no information or power but wanting all of my trust. While at the beginning updates that things were being “worked on” gave me some hope, as days passed I stopped believing. I felt my own anger turn into bitterness as I realized I wouldn’t defend in March and with every day that passes, even defending in April feels like it’s slipping away.

I’ve spent the last few weeks doing what any logical human would do, namely sending copious emails to the single contact I do have in the system asking for updates, asking for information, and generally asking for any scrap of reassurance that I have not been forgotten. I’d love to say these have been rational, respectful emails but more often than not they’ve been messy, filled with equal parts desperation, rage, and demands for answers that might make the situation hurt less.

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on process, abundance, and living in the daily of a doctoral student

November 23, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

I have an app on my phone called TimeHop. Basically, it’s an aggregator, collecting posts from my social media past and providing an update each day about what I was doing last year, two years ago, etc. I enjoy checking it every day because it’s a bit like having an external memory, opening a time capsule and reading a message from past Lisa—seeing a photo of baby Ruby.

Last year today was apparently the first time I submitted my dissertation proposal for formal review to the prof who was teaching my proposal prep seminar. Ironically, a couple days ago I again submitted my dissertation proposal to my supervisor for review. Apparently late November is when one submits dissertation proposals for review.

As an educator, I’ve gladly jumped on the “delight in the process of learning” bandwagon. I want my learners to trust themselves, to trust the process and not be so consumed with achieving the perfect outcome because outcomes are flashy and fleeting—they don’t transform you like the daily engagement with process. I’ve been known to encourage my fledgling designers by telling them that if they learn to delight in process, they will eventually have both a great outcome and a great new set of skills. Through process comes abundance.

As a doctoral student, I’m so ready to sacrifice some of the transformation + new skills of process for the dazzle of a fleeting outcome. Daily engagement with process mostly feels repetitive. There’s little magic in the cycle of consuming and connecting information, writing about it, editing, repeating. Most days the only thing that is getting stronger is the voice in my head that points out how slow I appear to be moving and reiterating that maybe I don’t have what it takes. An abundance of self-doubt and low-grade shame was not what I signed up for in becoming a doctoral student.

But, here’s what I’ve learned this year—what the past twelve months of writing dissertation proposals has taught me: process does produce abundance but my definitions of both have been way too limited.

I used to think that process was like driving to a grocery store—abundance was seeing and reveling in all the choices you had upon arrival. When you delight in the journey, you are rewarded with a prize. You select, you consume, and you repeat.

Now I think process might be more like finding land and clearing it, planting seeds and tending them…watching, waiting, and hoping for good yet fully aware you are only one actor in the system. Process teaches you, but it is teaching through breaking, through reflecting, through moving on, through reaching out. Abundance too is not so much having many different options; rather it is realizing your place interwoven into a landscape whose edges are constantly shifting and changing. This new way of seeing helps me be more patient and though its far slower than I would choose, I know it is transforming me for good and at a far deeper level than I thought possible.

So back to work I go, reading, connecting, writing, editing…hoping for good yet fully aware I am only one actor in an abundant system. And for today…that is enough.

on wild things, being artsy, and taming + being tamed by complexity

September 22, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

When I was working on my MFA in graphic design almost ten years ago, one of my first instructors began class by stating that the purpose of all design was to “tame the complexity of content.” As a dutiful student (with no formal background in graphic design thus that much more eager to learn all I didn’t even know I didn’t know) I wrote down this phrase and posted it to my workspace. The idea of the world being all sorts of out of control and designers being wild beast tamers captivated me. Whether it was through information graphics or publication design or even environmental signage—I was going to bring the wild things of complexity into submission and make the world a better place in the process.

This phrase became a mantra of my grad school years and when I began teaching students of my own, this was one of the first phrases I passed along to them in the hopes that it would inspire them as it had inspired me.


But here’s the thing…more and more I think it might be wrong.


The past three years of being a doctoral student (not to mention the past thirty-four years of being a human) have shown me that if anything…complexity is gaining the upper hand as it aligns me to its rhythms of serendipity and teaches me each day to have open hands in the midst of constant unpredictability. Rather than taming complexity, complexity may well be taming me.

Meredith Davis, a design educator from North Carolina who has been foundational in one of the first design PhD programs in the States, says that design education today is ill equipped to deal with complexity thus students today are leaving programs ill equipped to actually function as designers in society.

Design education is defaulting to simplistic, reductionist methods allowing a student to “solve” a visual problem over the cycle of an eight, ten, or sixteen-week class. Though these problems are somewhat grounded in real-world practice, they are always under the control of the teacher. In this narrative, students do not learn to navigate the complexity rather they have the illusion, as I did, of taming a creature that in fact…was never fully wild to begin with. Davis calls on educators to make pedagogical shifts so that students’ educational journeys are more about learning to be comfortable living in the complexity rather than reactively reducing or taming it.

This morning my supervisor was part of an opening keynote debate on the shortcomings of art + design education at the Designs on eLearning (DeL) Conference, an international conference on technology in art + design higher education. Though I completely wanted to attend in person because technology in art + design higher education is basically my life, a whole bunch of complex and decidedly un-tameable (hahaa) circumstances prevented me from making that a reality.

And so this morning I drank coffee in my pajamas with Ruby Joy and tried my best to hear from a seat about 700 miles west of center stage, mediated completely by Twitter. Though he’s lately been very into emotions and wellness and what it means to be human, I don’t see my supervisor as being a particularly relevant guy to the artsy crowd so I was curious just what he’d have to say about the shortcomings of art + design education.

That said, though my perspective was exceptionally limited as it was cobbled together from the experience of about three people live tweeting, it seemed as things unfolded….he and Meredith Davis are apparently besties.

According to my supervisor, design education is failing in its ability to provide students with experience navigating complex systems. It’s solutionist and reductionist and ultimately views the world as a complicated set of items to be sorted and classified as opposed to a complex set of variables with multiple points of engagement that no one person can fully grasp. Design goes for the low hanging fruit of pleasing aesthetics while ignoring the deeper issues of social justice, cultural engagement, and sustainability. In other words…design education is operating under the assumption that if we can tame the wild things—charm them into submission so they look respectable, this is enough.

I want to say that I don’t agree with him and as design educators we’re so far evolved that it’s all about systems thinking and design-for-good and equality and yet…I know what my curriculum looks like and I know my institution-mandated learning objectives and both skew way more toward surface-level taming, with as little complexity as possible.

That said I also know educators who are making a profound impact moving design from exclusive studio space to inclusive interdisciplinary domains. In many ways I think they are living in embodied solidarity with the wild things and both their students and their institutions are much better for it. I hope this is our future.

It was a fun + challenging dialogue to watch (in a highly detached manner) as it unfolded. I think it’s very good for design to have these dialogues, as I know too well from conferences I’ve been to it’s too easy as educators to geek out about visuals and type and the minutia we’re all passionate about and forget that we have actual human students in our care and nurturing them to care about the world by interfacing their skill set may well be even more important than making sure their type skills are flawless (or perhaps a very very close second)….maybe my supervisor is relevant to the artsy crowd after all.





an open letter to the 2016 Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute Participants

July 27, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

Hello Digital Pedagogy 2016 Attenders!

Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Lisa Hammershaimb. I was part of the first DigPed Lab last August. You can read a bit about my experience here and here.

Though I know you’re different than I am, the academic environment in VA is way different than WI, and the second time is inherently different than the first time around, I thought it might be helpful to share a couple recommendations.

So first…congratulations on making the choice to pack up your life for a week, trek to Virginia, and be open to whatever may happen! If you’re anything like me, the prospect of week-long sleep away summer camp (complete with pedagogy rockstar counselors) is ridiculously exciting and also (if you’re totally honest) a a bit terrifying. Embrace and be open to both the excitement and the terror because they’re both giving you good practice being a “normal human”…which is the best way to receive what will happen during the week. Though no doubt robots and machine learning will be hot topics during the week…digped is messy human to its core.

Along these lines, jump into things as soon as you can. For me as a super introvert, my first impulse is to watch from the sidelines, assess the situation–be aware of all exit routes. If this sounds like you too…totally cool…but for this week try to do the complete opposite. Introduce yourself, meet people, share your ideas and your background and your story and do everything in your power to make others feel comfortable so that they can do the same. These are your people…this is your team for the days ahead when you’re going to be called upon to do difficult, vulnerable work so do your part to make sure everyone is seen and heard and valued.

Next, be intentional about making time to hang out with others outside of your track. This is one of my regrets about my DigPedLab experience. I was part of the Networks Track and we were a tight knit crew, which I completely loved. However…we became so comfortable with each other that as the week progressed I found myself seeking them out in common sessions, at meal times, even on Twitter so we could continue to conversations we began in our own dedicated meeting times. I think finding your tribe inside your team is vital but…stay curious about how other tracks are coming along and what other tribes are learning. It sounds simple, but try sitting with new people at meals and in large sessions and again ask questions and share and learn from their learning too.

Third, (and somewhat paradoxically as the undercurrent of the previous paragraphs have been “go!” “meet!” “be best friends with everyone!”) take time away from DigPedLab when you need it. DigPedLab is a marathon. Five days is a long time to live in such a high challenge, high contact, high engagement space. Sean Michael Morris and Jessie Stommel always encouraged us that if we needed to skip a session and go be in nature or go take a nap or just go mindlessly drink beer and eat brats (remember…we were in Wisconsin) do it and feel no shame because part of pedagogy is knowing how to self regulate. Needing to take some time off doesn’t mean you’re weak or not as dedicated as other participants…process at your own pace. The conversation will always be ready to welcome you when you get back.

Finally, remember to share with all of the DigPedLab attenders who may not be physically present in VA but who inevitably will make their presence known via Twitter, Virtually Connecting, etc. Donna Lanclos write a brilliant piece about Absence Presence DigPed PEI.

It’s a weird mind warp all the ways boundaries are hazy and soft when people aren’t limited by presence meaning same time zone or geographic real estate. As physical attenders, you all have the “front row seats” on the action so relish it and be fully present but also remember that there’s a whole metaphorical stadium around the world also attending with you. Share your thoughts via the hashtag (if you’re comfortable), share your reflections via a blog (again if you’re comfortable), find a Virtually Connecting hangout and get some camera time (guaranatee that won’t be comfortable but…will be worth it! : ).

The power in these ideas and experiences is ultimately in the ways they can be fluid and living–growing and evolving. The seeds from DigPedLab are wildflowers scattering on the wind, resilient and bringing beauty wherever they land. Treasure the ways your experience is fully yours…special to you alone, but scatter too and see how your experience can transform in ways you cannot even imagine.

on being a visitor at DigPed Lab Cairo

March 28, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

“All these borders and boundaries are porous but we all pretend they’re not porous.”
George Station

Just finished the first installment of my efforts to weekend binge watch DigPed Lab Cairo. I was part of the first DigPed Lab in the States. As someone new-ish to the world of academia/pedagogy, it was hands down the highlight of my year and the ideas and engagement from that week have become foundational in how I view pedagogy and my own responsibility as an educator in the world. Cairo, Egypt is admittedly a completely different culture than Madison, Wisconsin so I am curious to learn more about what happened there – see how the ideas translated and even more see if any participants, like me, experienced a fundamental shift in how they view pedagogy and their own responsibility as educators in the world (spoiler alert: found a total DigPed kindred spirit in @NadinneAbo and so excited to learn more from her!)

I’m hopelessly behind making it through all the things over the weekend…apparently being talented at binge watching Project Runway doesn’t correlate to conference watching. That said, I’m dazzled enough by these ideas so I’m fine with a meander rather than a binge—more reading a novel than cramming for an exam.

So for the first chapter, what follows is a very brief reflection on the first super sized Virtual Connect hangout video with a room full of on-site and online participants who were discussing a piece by Lanclos on the the death of the digital native , a further elaboration on the Resident + Visitor idea for digital engagement. All quotes in this post are pulled from the video.

“I migrated to Google Plus from Moodle…During the revolution…I had to keep in touch with my students all over the place when everyone got evacuated.”
-DigPed participant whose name I didn’t catch but is at 20:46 in video

My big takeaway so far is that right now everyone is navigating the messy, imperfect, awkward growing pangs of what it means to integrate open or even online practices into pedagogy. The continuum seems to be less about who is operating in open versus closed systems and tool affordances but rather what responsibility do we have toward our students to model behavior and share practice? How do we creatively navigate and share—welcome others in and also allow others to welcome us into new spaces and ideas? How do we assess our options and be true to an ethos even as we remain nimble in the use of tools/practices/methods? It seems if one pushed these questions enough…ultimately the questions cycle into the realm of what does it mean to be human and experience connection and care within these networked spaces?

“We have a duty of care to provide our students with opportunities to practice…”
Donna Lanclos

As a graphic design educator who knows I’m doing trailblazing work, I’ve tended to think I’m the only one struggling with these questions and everyone else has it all together…all the other disciplines have found the perfect balance and are constantly sharing thoughtful creative blog posts with the world while the design educators are hoarding their work and teaching yet another generation that ideas are scarce and good work is guarded work.

Turns out…these struggles aren’t the exclusive domain of art and design disciplines. It sounds a bit perverse but this universal struggle gives me hope. Hearing people who are brave enough to talk about these things and brave enough to conduct their lives in ways that aren’t easy but are so necessary gives me the courage to enter the dialogue too. At this point perhaps just being open to being open is the most important thing. Or…maybe installment two of the conference will reveal the magic answer. : )


oceanic crossing…from the middle

March 4, 2016

lisa hammershaimb


Getting a doctorate is an oceanic crossing…and I am in the murky space, somewhere between one third and one half across. The timelines keep getting redrawn not because I am lazy but rather because the landscape is so vast. I know the place I will eventually land but the process is largely non-linear, meandering. I want my supervisor to be the cool, calm, GPS navigation to my journey…and instead of explicit mandates, we bounce around the Cynefin framework–simple to chaos, complex to complicated, complicated to simple. Winds are unpredictable in the crossing. Even as I’m enjoying a sea-like-glass, I have learned to be ever-watchful, eager for the perfect wind to carry me yet also bracing for potential gale force gusts.

And so every day mostly finds me engaged in the repetition of decidedly unsexy routine tasks: Read. Write. Think. Share. Repeat.

The crossing is teaching me to find insight through process rather than only seek out flashes of brilliance. And increasingly, the crossing is teaching me to be patient and to be part of the complexity rather than try to be master of it. The only way I will eventually land is if I trust the water and the wind–work with them in harmony.

So…back to work for another day: check the maps, adjust the sails, broadcast my own position, check the horizon…and even as I long to arrive, be dazzled that I get to be part of this story, part of this crossing.

day 1: on mixing tools, mixing paint, and coming to terms w/the algorithm

February 8, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

Three days ago news broke of a potential change in Twitter, moving from a sequential to an algorithmically curated timeline.

Coincidentally, I heard this news after just listening to a HybridPod episode where Bonnie Stewart and Chris Friend discussed Bonnie’s dissertation research into networks/academic Twitter. In the interview, Bonnie mentioned that whilst engaged in research she witnessed firsthand a watershed moment within academic twitter regarding hashtag activism where prominent voices began to use their influence to weigh in on public issues that often impacted negatively those with less influence.

Watching the speculative algorithm ripples begin to take over my timeline I wonder if we are again at a watershed moments where things are (or soon will be) shifting in big ways?

Though I am not an expert in algorithms, it seems that the proposed changes will be a bit like Facebook, where the information presented is curated for each user. Voices that aren’t as algorithmically engaging will slide away while those most popular will be further amplified. In theory, it sounds like an efficient move but, because I see Twitter more as bookstore browse than Amazon direct buy…the change feels threatening.

In addition, as someone who has a relatively tiny pool of followers and tends to Tweet almost exclusively about somewhat mass-market obscure things, I know I am not very algorithmically sexy. I have a feeling that my voice is one that will begin to slide to the margins and there’s a good chance mine will most likely be the Tweets that go missing.

Though it’s convenient to give into dystopian techno determinism, get bitter, and never share again because clearly I’m not going to be trending anytime soon…I think there’s a better mindset to adopt…and it’s called being a creative human who remembers that these things are tools created by companies. Just tools. Only tools.

Though algorithms may change the volume on this particular tool, the only way I’ll be truly silenced is if I stop sharing and being open…if I stop reaching out through a variety of computer mediated/face to face interactions and if I stop being intentional about authentically engaging with others.

In the same way, the voices all around me will never be silenced (no matter how quiet) if I am intentional about listening and being present to others and letting them know they matter. Though I’ve been guilty of fan-girling people like Jesse Stommel and Bonnie Stewart and George Siemens and Catherine Cronin because I love their ideas, I think what I love even more is that they actively use their highly visible positions not to garner fans but to amplify voices of those who are less known and remind people on the margins they are seen. They remind us how rich and diverse the world is, and this reminding is good work that we can all do.

As I tell my design students…the tools we use as artists are powerful and our skills matter. That said, as humans we may not be smarter than our tools but we are infinitely more creative. Our ability to combine and create something new far surpasses anything a pre-made tool could cobble together.

In painting we never use pre-made black…we mix your own and the work comes alive with personal touch. I think that holds true here too. Though I am not downplaying issues of structure, voice, agency, and power as mediated through tools…I think we must remember that our most valuable asset is that we are creative and if we take steps to be authentic, we have the ability to connect with those around us no matter the circumstances. Tools used are a means of distribution, but we should not confuse a tool with a connection and even more we should not become so reliant on a single tool that we lose the ability to mix our own paint, imprint our own personal touch, and learn from others as they do the same.

day 4: research focusing

February 4, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

This was originally an email, and then en route to morphing it into another email to send to someone who’d ask the magic question “so…what’s the research about?” I thought…why all this email business? Why not be slightly more open? It feels a little hypocritical to cheer for open sharing + collaboration as presented by Alan Stearns in “Becoming Responsible for CSS” (such a great video…and though I don’t understand the jargon, the ethos is excellent) and then not be open with my own process. 

So…in the spirit of open, here’s my thinking this past week along with the updated big question and one subquestion (there will be more…but, for now just one). Thoughts welcome!

Basically the more I’ve been connecting with people the more it seems that–though there aren’t many art + design programs delivered fully online–there are lots of instructors integrating online elements in their courses to encourage community, conduct assessment, and build cross-disciplinary collaboration. 

Because the art + design discipline as a whole is historically very place-centric, I think it would be beneficial to document what is being done to extend the studio from a bounded group to a somewhat more porous digitally networked space. I think my dissertation could help encourage that dialogue as I give voice to educators who are currently doing innovative things that are blurring the lines and creating coalescent spaces

I’ve not been able to find any “official” research documenting what’s happening or how these learning networks are emerging and even more it seems instructors doing these things often feel that they’re all alone as they often are the only ones in their departments/institutions who are exploring these ideas. 

I also think that (probably post-dissertation/further research…because it might extend my scope too far) it would be excellent to build an open repository tool of networked curriculum resources so that art + design educators would have a peer reviewed pool of resources from which to draw and even more…an interactive community. It’s great to do your own thing but I think like design itself…without connection it’s easy to keep reinventing the wheel and forget you’re part of a much larger story. 

Big Question:
How are graphic design undergraduate instructors using the means of the internet and computer-mediated communication to augment, expand, and extend studio learning spaces?

Sub Question:
How do instructors view the integration of internet resources into traditional studio courses as being a link to the larger professional world of design?

day 1: intentions + lists + photos to assuage guilt

February 1, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

And here we are back to Monday. Apparently if I were going all quantified self, between this Monday and last there’s been shockingly little data recorded via blog. Last Monday I waxed poetic about landing planes and pounding down posts and then disappeared completely into an abyss.

This past week illustrates why defining yourself and your learning by only one output is tricky business. Though I don’t have the pixels to back me up, in reality last week was a flurry of productivity as I met my supervisor face-to-face for the first time + had some very profitable time with him, wrote an obscene number of potential research questions via analog methods (and may have fallen a tiny bit in love with them all), had a tough-love chat with a fellow design educator who is deeply enmeshed in these ideas, rethought everything, and am now back to circling with another landing strip in sight.

Last week I learned a bunch but it was definitely of a highly rambling, meandering, not-easily-quantified-nature. I have do doubt it will manifest itself sooner than later and yet for right now I very honestly have nothing to distill into words.

This week, once more, my intention is to land my research questions and continue to be uncomfortably transparent with my process and highly intentional about inviting others (who legitimately have experience/investment) into my process. Basically, if I want my dissertation to be an open dialogue there’s no better time to begin building that practice than to be less hoard-y and more open even in its conception…which is deeply scary because I’ve only just begun to feel modestly legit in an academic sphere.

Will this week land my questions for real, for real? Probably not but…I think it can be for real, for now. Maybe.

A few things I do know is that my dissertation will:
1. Focus primarily on instructors
2. Focus primarily on graphic design
3. Focus on experience exploration/baseline discovery
4. Be a connection point/dialogue builder amongst all design educators as opposed to an exotic gaze into a far off world (i.e. present online integration within the context of studio learning continuum not isolate online as a world onto itself)

And now for images of the past week to assuage my own latent guilt at being silent in one venue even as I’ve been quite active in others. And bonus: at some point when all this is over I’ll be able to smile as I remember the hyper reality that marks these days of living in the dissertation tension that is both the now and the not-yet of being a doctoral student.

CZsbwNvW0AAJ616Photo 1: Meeting the supervisor for the first time. Turns out he’s pretty cool. 

Photo 2: Artfully composed post-it notes after meeting the supervisor for the first time…because he told me in pretty definitive terms that research questions weren’t likely to come via sky writing.


Photo 3: Slightly less artfully composed questions + ideas after two days of occasional writing + iteration.


Photo 4: Even less artfully composed questions and ideas after two days of writing + iteration following a meeting where one question amongst many was “So…help me understand. Why are you choosing to ask questions that seem to fetishize online art + design learning? Do you want your dissertation to further separate online + face to face studios?” Oops. 

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