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Thinking with Owls

In February 2023, faculty, students, and administration from the University of Waterloo (UW) and Arizona State University (ASU) collaborated with conservationists from Wild at Heart in Arizona to think through the challenges of rehoming burrowing owls at ASU. Through meetings with critical stakeholders, workshops on unmapping and value sensitive design, and burrowing owl habitat site visits, a living lab was established to investigate and rehabilitate existing (but vacant) burrowing owl habitats on the ASU Polytechnic campus.

Learn more at the project website:

Speculative Approaches to Chimney Swift Habitats

During the Fall 2022 term, students from Professor Marcel O’Gorman’s Critical Design Methods class engaged in a value-sensitive design workshop with citizen scientists and Waterloo Region Nature members to create speculative designs of chimney swift (Chaetura pelagica) habitats.

Downtown Kitchener, where the Critical Media Lab is located, is home to a small but significant population of Chimney Swifts due to a relative abundance of old masonry chimneys, the preferred habitats of chimney swifts. Yet these habitats are quickly disappearing in Kitchener and throughout the chimney swift’s range. As such, these migratory birds are listed as a threatened species in Ontario where they nest and roost in the spring and summer. Chimney swift populations have declined by nearly 90% in the last 40 years, in part due to the capping and destruction of suitable chimneys for the birds to nest.

Vertical Twister, Bella Goudie and Suzanne Carson

Taking inspiration from the historic smokestack at the old Lang Tanning building, visible from the Critical Media Lab, and drawing on previous Critical Media Lab-sponsored creative interventions into species at risk, such as Hirondelusia, students spent time in co-design sessions with guests thinking through stakeholder analyses, asking questions, and listening to local experiences and stories about chimney swifts. Later, the group reconvened for a presentation of physical and digital speculative design artifacts which worked toward the goal of rethinking the possibilities for the smokestack. The student projects highlighted the intimate connection between chimney swifts and humans, and engaged with critical design methods such as value sensitive design, dark design, and speculative design. Students used their projects to frame the often-conflicting priorities of chimney swifts and humans, while focusing attention on unique ways of demonstrating the importance of conservation actions. Projects imagined the smokestack in a range of ways, using elements of education, play, and community engagement to speculate on possible futures for the chimney site that would increase the visibility of the problem of habitat loss. Vertical Twister, pictured above, is a critical design maquette by Bella Goudie and Suzanne Carson, XDM MA Candidates in the Department of English.

CML Food for Thought

Food for Thought episodes will recap details from the latest Critical Tech Talk while our host, Alexi Orchard, and special guests share some delicious snacks.

The first episode in this new series Hot Wing Hootenanny debriefs Critical Tech Talk 2: Wendy Chun, which took place on February 10, 2022.

Special guests are Jia Rong Wu (Computer Science PhD Candidate) and Queenie Wu (Systems Design Engineering Undergraduate). This episode was produced by Alexi Orchard, Matt Borland, and Shannon Veitch. Theme music courtesy of Swade Orchard.

View teaser trailers for Hot Wing Hootenanny here:

CAFKA 21 Project

At this year’s CAFKA Art Exhibition, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Professors Marcel O’Gorman (CML Director) and Jennifer Clary-Lemon (CML Faculty Collaborator) present Hirondelusia: A Creative Turn Towards Species at Risk.

As their project website explains,

Hirondelusia is a barn swallow habitat modified from designs approved by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to mitigate habitat loss. Using a critical design approach, it explores what happens when humans and non-humans encounter structures approved for species at risk.

Through a ​collaborative, combined academic and creative approach, Hirondelusia seeks HOW and WHY specific species at risk recovery strategies are designed and built, and WHAT seeing structures like this tell humans about threatened species like the barn swallow​ (Hirundo rustica).

Hirondelusia will be displayed at CAFKA during June 2021, and later be permanently installed at rare Charitable reserve, where the artists hope that the swallows will also be persuaded to engage with Hirondelusia on their spring migrations to Ontario.

Heads-Up User Group (HUUG) Research Project

The “HUUGers”, six students from the MA English and undergraduate Systems Design Engineering programs, wore Focals by North smart glasses for three weeks while blogging about their experiences with the glasses. The participants then discussed their experiences with the glasses in a focus group.


Augmented Reality Smart Glasses (ASRG) are a recent development in consumer-level personal computing technology. Research on ARSGs has largely focused on new forms of etiquette for these personal computing devices, but little else has been examined due in part to consumer availability. The most well-known example of an ASRG is Google Glass, which was discontinued for privacy concerns. Focals by North, the device studied in this project, do not have the capacity to record video or audio, thus mitigating the risk of privacy breaches. This study examines how users of Focals employ the device, successfully or not, to facilitate daily activities such as scheduling, communication, wayfinding, and how non-users perceive the interactions of Focals users. Focals by North, a relatively low-cost ASRG, aims to make this tech mass market to “seamlessly [blend] technology into our world” (North). However, this study found participants preferred choice when receiving notifications, and greatly questioned the need for notifications to appear in their field of vision. Though most technology companies envision a future where ASRGs are ubiquitous, this study indicates that the glasses could be utilized more effectively for specific industry or personal needs, as opposed to the general consumer.

Results of this research are published as an extended abstract at CHI 2022

Principal Investigator: Marcel O’Gorman

Research Assistants: Chelsea La Vecchia (MA XDM) and Alexi Orchard (MA XDM)

This project was funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, SSHRC, and North.

Focals by North

In June 2020, North was acquired by Google and production for Focals 2.0 ceased. View North’s statement and news coverage here.