Jenna Spevack

City Tech - NYC College of Technology, CUNY

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Self Reflection: The Glorification of Busy

“It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”
– Henry D. Thoreau 1857

I’ve stayed at City Tech for the last 11 years, because I love teaching and I love the students and faculty I am honored to work with.  When I look back on those years and reflect on the amount of time I’ve spent doing administrative work, I am saddened that I couldn’t have spent more of that time working with students or working on my own scholarship. Like a few of my colleagues, I have started to keep track of the hours I spend doing administrative tasks.

I’ve been told that the College administration takes pride in the College’s low administrative overhead and that this allows the College to hire more full-time faculty. A good thing, but…

The full-time faculty at City Tech currently carry a 24 hour teaching workload (more than other Senior Colleges in the CUNY system).  The standards for scholarship that contribute to tenure and promotion have recently increased, but the time allocated for scholarship has not. Without sufficient administrative support those tasks land on the desks of an already over-burdened full-time faculty. This means less time we can devote to students and research.

The Self Refection that I am writing here is a part of a larger document the “Professional Activity Report and Self‐Evaluation”, which all faculty must compile each academic year. Working on this document has already taken up 10 hours of my time and I have yet to collect all the documentation required. It is due in three days. I certainly see the value in this document, but the unrelated Scholarship report that was due on Friday, the four faculty observations that I must complete in the next week, and numerous other administrative tasks that need to be completed for the Department or College push me to a point of feeling like I have a dangerous number of plates in the air.

At the end of most semesters the full time faculty you run into at City Tech looks as though they have just run a marathon. Response to the question “How are you?” is rarely joyful, it’s an exasperated “busy, too busy.” They are trying to juggle numerous committees and commitments for the department, the college and the university — time for students and research is increasingly pinched. Not only does this affect our ability to commit quality time to students and our own research, it also affects our families, health and emotional well-being.

Being busy is glorified, as a recent article in the Huffington Post  addressed. And in the NYT a few years ago. This blogger wrote about the subject and pointed a NYT article “The Island Where People Forget to Die,” which I had read a couple years ago. I seriously contemplated leaving NYC altogether after reading it.

Busy is not the same as productive and for most it is certainly not happy, healthy and at peace.

Many people say, “well, you’ve got the summer’s off” but the amount of “busy” that many of us must shoulder during the school year is not equaled in pay and often takes away from teaching – the very thing we came here to do.

How does this tie into a self-reflection on teaching, scholarship and service?

I’ve done a ton of amazing things this year at City Tech. I should list them and reflect on them, but I’m too tired.

I have high standards for myself and maybe I should accept the time that it takes is the time that it takes. As I get older and realize I’ve been running a marathon for 11 years, without real time for sufficient creative reflection or thought, I wonder if the way we busy is the way we distract ourselves – trying to out-busy death.

Next year I will aim for less.

SUSTAIN at Cooper Union

Breakout session – Table #3 – Sustainable Power

I was invited, as an artist, to attend a convening on February 23, 2013 at The Cooper Union- “Understanding Urban Sustainability: One Block at a Timeorganized by Fourth Arts Block (FABnyc) & the Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design (CUISD) to share progress and give input on the SUSTAIN project.

SUSTAIN presents an opportunity to create and lead innovative sustainability solutions at the block scale.

This convening was a chance to give input – along with a network of other artists, activists, architects, sustainability partners, and educators – to help shape the efforts of this project.

 At this convening the organizations:

  • Shared East 4th Street’s distinctive history
  • Presented initial research & developments in the SUSTAIN project
  • Exhibited art projects that address behavior change toward sustainability
  • Gathered input to develop guiding questions & creative approaches

FABnyc asked me to propose a public art project focused on behavior change toward sustainability and I walked away from this event with some inspiring ideas for the proposal.


Hybrid Practices Panelist : College Art Association

I will be presenting a short introduction to my work at the College Art Association Annual Conference.


Meta-Mentors: Hybrid Practices Abstract

As the lines between analog and digital practice blur with the ease of use and availability, artists merge traditional and digital techniques as tools in making work and participating in a larger and more flexible arena of artistic production. In transforming the platforms which they operate on today, artists are not easily categorized. This panel will bring artists and activists, traditional and online publishers, and other cultural producers, to discuss the shift in positions in artistic practice.

Session Chairs

  • Vesna Pavlovic, Vanderbilt University Department of Art
  • Niku Kashef, California State University, Northridge

Session Panelists

  • Yvette Brackman, Independent Artist
  • Samantha Fields, California State University, Northridge
  • Hope Ginsburg, Virginia Commonwealth University, School of the Arts
  • Max Schumann, Printed Matter, Inc,
  • Jenna Spevack, New York City College of Technology, City University of New York



Workshop: Designing Digital Projects for ADV1100

On Wed. January, 23rd I will be facilitating a workshop for all faculty teaching ADV1100: Graphic Design Principles 1.

After teaching Web Design for my first six years at City Tech and observing that only a minority of students appeared to have grasped basic design principles and concepts by the time they reached their concentration classes, I asked the Department Chair if I could teach the foundation class Graphic Design Principles 1 (formally known as Design and Color).

My aim was to explore how this course was taught and try to find ways for our students to successfully translate the basic design principles learned in ADV1100 in upper-level courses. It was a mystery to me how some students could produce strong hand work in their first semester and weak digital work in subsequent years.

What was causing this disconnect?

  • insufficient exposure to digital tools in their foundation courses?
  • a focus on a “fine art” rather than “design” approach in foundations?
  • lack of consistency across the course curriculum? ie: each faculty was teaching a different set of principles?
  • the principles were not being reinforced in upper-level courses, beyond foundation year?

These are things I have been trying to explore for about two years. My attempts to actively collaborate and collectively explore this challenging issue have been slowed by OpenLab directorship duties, a year-long sabbatical, and the challenges of coordinating adjunct ADV1100 faculty meetings during a busy semester. I set up the ADV1100 Instructional Resource project on OpenLab to encourage faculty to contribute, but with only a few digitally-confident faculty, I haven’t been able to jump start a dialog.

At the start of this workshop ADV1100 faculty will discuss the course goals and learning outcomes, foundation principles and skills, and pedagogical practices that they are currently using and compare those with the department’s master syllabus. Together I would like to propose a set of learning outcomes based on our current curriculum, student needs, and lack of computer access and work together over the semester to improve the master syllabus.

Next I will present some small digital tasks that faculty can introduce into their class assignments throughout the semester. Rather than ask students, many of whom are not yet skilled in digital tools, to complete an entire assignment in Photshop, Illutrator or InDesign faculty can introduce the basic use of these tools as part of a larger project. Other faculty members are encouraged to post their example tasks to the ADV1100 Instructional Resource.

Examples might include using Photoshop or Illustrator to:

  • create proportional color inventory
  • recreate a simple paper collage project
  • scan and trace a sketch
  • create Simultaneous Contrast pairings

Lastly, we will work together to propose pedogogical solutions that still allow basic design principles to be explored through experimentation and traditional  skills, but also find ways of creating a “bridge” to real-world design projects. I would like the group to come up with two digital bridge assignments that will act as stepping stones into the next course: ADV1200 Graphic Design Princples 2.

These projects should address the following principles:

  • Structural Thinking (ie: Organizational Frameworks, Planning Systems, Visual Filling Cabinet, The Grid)
  • Visual & Information Hierarchy (ie: Classification, Data Chunking, Visual and Conceptual Order)
  • Proportional Color (ie: Schemes, Palettes, Inventories)

EXAMPLE: Ask students to deconstruct a magazine layout, web page, game interface, etc. and reduce the structure down to a grid framework and limited color palette. Essentially a page of hierarchically ordered colored boxes. Ask students to identify the information hierarchies and explain how they are supported by the visual design choices (color, proximity, scale, balance etc.). Ask students to create a proportional color inventory of this deconstructed framework and show how the palette is used to reinforce information hierarchy and create a unified composition.

I strongly believe that students NEED a course that gives them the freedom experiment and fail- to think creatively and challenge their beliefs about what is possible. This is hugely important for the majority of our students, many of whom come to us from the public school system and have never been asked to “invent” a solution to a problem and partake in a collaborative design process. ADV1100 is only class that allows that freedom to experiment and fail.  I hope we can allow this exploration, but also find ways of translating the basic concepts of design to the real-world practice.



Navigating the Sea of Instructional Technology

By visulogik

On behalf of the OpenLab I will be attending City College’s CUNY-wide participatory forum, presented by The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, for those involved with training, implementing and planning instructional technology.

Via a series of discussions, problem-solving group work, breakout sessions and presentations, participants will engage in open dialogue with their colleagues. More here: (PDF)

Teaching Portfolios on the OpenLab

Credit: Mark Crossfield

During the winter break I worked with Julia Jordan and Paul King to improve the Teaching Portfolio section of the template I had previously created for faculty Portfolios on the OpenLab.

The goal of the Teaching Portfolio section of the template is to simplify the creation process for new faculty and those who are looking to translate their paper teaching portfolios into a digital format. It will also be the first time City Tech has recommended that its faculty use a web-based teaching portfolio for promotion/tenure– a logical and long awaited step for a College of Technology.

Huffington Post : Pulse Miami Press

PULSE Art Fair : The Director Tour

12/06/2012 —  Another project that we were pointed to was Jenna Spevack’s PULSE Project entitled “Seeding the City.”

DeWitt notes, “Jenna’s work is about getting into the local community. She was finding ways to redo this project in Miami, and…

>> more

— Carmen Zella


ArtInfo : Pulse Miami Press

From Invader Tiles to Living Room Installations
Highlights From PULSE Miami 2012

December 5, 2012, 12:59 pm — This year’s edition of PULSE Miami may not open to the public until tomorrow, but ARTINFO got an early look at the sprawling satellite fair last night… See our favorites… >> more

— Ben Davis, Benjamin Sutton

Fostering Friendships with Collaborative Projects

One of the greatest joys I get from teaching is seeing friendships develop in the classroom.

I always ask my students on the first day of class to look around the room and introduce themselves to the person sitting next to them, because “these strangers will someday be your colleagues, partners, bosses, clients.” They always laugh, but the people they meet in college and graduate school often become the colleagues they will turn to when they need a job or collaborator.

Recently, I ran into a former student from my Graphic Design Principles 1 course from several years ago. I joked with him that he seemed all grown up now. He acknowledged that there is a big difference between age 18 and 22. I was happy to hear that he had stayed friends with several of the other students in that class.

That was the year that I began to incorporate a number of group/collaborative projects in my classes. The increase in the classroom camaraderie was dramatic. Students worked together to solve design problems, offered help to students that were struggling, and contributed to a much happier classroom environment.

Another thing that improved was the verbal project critiques. Students went from painful, sullen, teenage silence to confident, mature vocal interactions. One of my primary goals when teaching freshman is giving them a chance to speak freely. I repeatedly encourage them to use the course vocabulary, but when they are at a loss I ask them to share their impressions about what they see in whatever words or associations work for them. This relaxed approach gives me a much better gauge of how well students are comprehending and connecting the vocabulary with design principles and helps me to make corrections and repeat concepts as needed. This relaxed critique environment paired with a feeling of comfort among their peers often allows them to take risks and express themselves without fear.

Recently, through the use of OpenLab messaging and discussion forum, I have observed students requesting feedback from their peers if they miss a class or are stuck in their design process. Holding critiques or collaborations in this medium also supports those students who feel self-conscious in person, but less inhibited online.

Creating a classroom environment that fosters friendships though multiple modes of collaboration gives students a safe place to learn (and fail) and prepares them for their future collaborations beyond the classroom.

MTA Field Trip

Field Trip (taken by a kind police officer)

I often bring my ADV1100 Graphic Design Principles classes down the street to the A Station at Jay Street-Borough Hall where artist Ben Snead has a permanent glass mosaic and ceramic tile artwork called Departures and Arrivals.

While all students benefit from research in the field, I find that it gives Freshman/foundation students a chance to connect the course concepts with real world experiences and challenges their process, which after 20+ classes starts to get a bit stale. Much of the work produced from this Saturation Studies Free-Study was technically weak, but many students pushed beyond their safe, formal work process and produced some interesting conceptually-compelling compositions.

And we got a nice photo out of too!


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