All Hands on Tech: Craft, Pedagogy & the Digital Challenge

Research Wednesdays: Presentation from Dorie Millerson and Lynne Heller from the Material Art & Design Program

All Hands on Tech: Craft, Pedagogy & The Digital Challenge

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - 1:00pm to 2:00pm

Research Wednesdays

All Hands on Tech: Craft, Pedagogy & the Digital Challenge

What does “handmade” mean in the digital age? OCAD U faculty Lynne Heller and Dorie Millerson (MAAD chair) will consider the place of digital craft at OCAD University from the perspectives of faculty, staff and technicians. Developed organically out of the everyday experiences of practitioners at OCAD U in Material Art & Design (MAAD), a department rooted in craft processes and materiality, the presentation will question how digital craft methods are changing teaching and learning in the studio and speculate how to understand objects that are produced by digital tools instead of through embodied making methods.

Venue & Address: 
The Learning Zone 113 McCaul Street Main Floor

Weavers Art launches student-designed rug collection

Weavers Art launch
Monday, October 2, 2017 - 3:45pm

A collection of ten beautiful hand-knotted rugs designed by OCAD U students has been launched at the Weavers Art showroom, Designers Walk, 162 Bedford Rd. in Toronto. The rugs were developed in collaboration between the Material Art & Design (MAAD) program and Weavers Art led by Assistant Professor Lynne Heller. Designed by students (now alumni) Rachel Babineau, Mariam Ben Belfadhel, Allie Gregory, Mudassir Mohammed, Domenic Sgamelluri and Hatley Walker, the rugs were hand-knotted in Nepal and India.

At the launch, designers from across the city remarked on the creativity of the rug designs. In developing designs, the students worked with Weavers Art owner Michael Pourvakil and designer Wan Ki An (MAAD, 2002) to develop a palette of colours and consider the placement of wool and silk fibres. Each designer approached his or her rug design in a different way. Allie Gregory (MAAD, 2017), considered “the juxtaposition of nature within the urban context of the city of Toronto” as seen in Petals, which was inspired by a trip to High Park during cherry blossom season. Hatley Walker’s (MAAD, 2017) Rock Formations began as a photo she took of the “aged walls” of Katra Mosque in Murshidabad, West Bengal, India that she then digitally manipulated into an abstracted design.

The designs were sent to mills in Kathmandu, Nepal and Bhadohi, India where the process of translating the image to a workable pattern begins. “Once we send them the designs, their artist hand paints them on graph papers. Each square on the graph represents one knot in the carpet,” said Pourvakil. “The average knot count for each 8’ x 10’ rug is around 800,000 individually tied knots.”

Several weavers work together at the loom simultaneously. While the students are taught weaving and surface design in the MAAD program, their focus is often on small-scale production. With this incredible project, they are able to see how they can work in the commercial market. In addition to collaborating with the students to develop this collection, Weavers Art also generously donated a student-designed rug to Project 31, OCAD U’s fundraising auction in March 2017.



Fem-LED Digital Enterprise


OCAD University’s DMRII is committed to inspiring and championing women to be equipped, consider and embrace leadership in digital media enterprises in order to fully participate in the growing opportunities of the sector. To realize this future, we are focused in applied research that will catalyze change, create new programs to support and expand cultural media enterprises, contribute to the growth of new employment opportunities and support innovation by fostering new models of digital media.

The main Goals of the Fem-LED research project are as follows:

  1. Bringing together researchers and digital practitioners across a range of different disciplinary boundaries to share expertise and to work towards the development of new knowledge, new understanding of the gender divide in ICT to form a coherent plan of action to make change possible.
  2. Building a network of academics and industry that develops outputs that can be disseminated to those in a position to implement the changes needed.
  3. Exploring new forms of participatory workshop research to focus on barriers to engage in enterprise and leadership.


The Information and Communications Technology Council of Canada has released its Quarterly Monitor of Canada’s Digital Economy, spring 2014 edition of Strengthening Canada’s Digital Advantage (SCDA), explores broad economic trends with respect to the digital economy labour market, technology developments and adoption. The report states that the ICT employment in 2014 by indicates a huge difference between the genders (this is a trend for a number of years). In Ontario 299,000 men to 88,000 women or 23% are employed in the sector.

Moreover as part of the overall Digital Economy, there is an increased concern worldwide over the lack of diversity in the digital games sector. Recent statistics reveal that although up to half of game players are women that, according to the Skillset 2009 U.K. census, women represent 4% of the games workforce, this consists of a 8% drop since the previous census in 2006.

The European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe, 2020 Initiative, indicates that only 30% of the ICT global workforce is women and they are underrepresented at all levels of the ICT sector, especially in decision-making positions. The Commission estimates that by 2020 there will be a lack of 900,000 skilled ICT workers and is alarmed that only 4% of all female graduates are enrolled in ICT–related degrees. Commencing in March 2014, the European Commission initiated a campaign to find and celebrate digital role models and plans to expand the program to include women network programming.

In Canada, the Royal Bank of Canada Report on Women ENTREPRENEURS outlines that women entrepreneurs are one of the fastest growing segments of the Canadian economy and represent a growing economic force, between 1991 and 2001, women's self-employment expanded by 43%. It is evident from the latest Census that women are driving the growth of self-employment sector. However there is a gap of accurate data and understanding what percentage of women entrepreneurs are in decision-making roles within the gaming and user-built digital environments sector. The understanding of the gap is significant in light of the necessity of understanding why gender matters in entrepreneurship, in specifically in digital media enterprises. 


Come participate in our project: “Focus On Fem-Led” led by OCAD University!

This research explores the enablers and barriers for female leadership in Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), this includes: Game Design, Systems Integration, Platform development, etc.

We are looking for participation from female entrepreneurs, intra-preneurs (change makers inside organizations), researchers, practitioners, and key community group leaders to participate in our research.

There are three ways to get involved:

  1. Be a part of our questionnaire on enablers and barriers for women in ICTs (click here)
  2. Get on our mail list to receive reports and be alerted to Fem-led talks and future activities
  3. Come for a Body Storm - August 21, 2015 in Central Toronto (click here)

We look forward to your participation!



Please take our Questionnaire conducted on behalf of the Fem-led research group at OCAD University. This questionnaire is for women working in Interactive and Digital Media or the broader ICT industry:

Link to Questionnaire:].

Consent Information below.


You are invited to participate in a study that involves research with human participants. The purpose of this study is to understand potential enablers and barriers to female leadership in Information Communication Technology sectors, and Interactive and Digital Media in Particular. It has been funded by the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) and is being conducted by Researchers at OCAD University.

As a participant, you are being asked to participate in an online questionnaire about your experiences and opinions on the issues relating to women, leadership and technology.

Possible benefits of participation include deepening an understanding on the status of women in digital media and other technologies, and a contribution to findings and proposals for change. Personally, you may benefit from this exercise of reflection on your journey and achievements.

Possible risks for the participants of this study include potential psychological and social risks that may be greater than those encountered in everyday life. The nature of the research is to explore your opinions and to learn about your experiences in your professional life. You may find this psychologically uncomfortable or fear that you may reveal something that could impact on your career negatively if it becomes communicated broadly. To mitigate risk, this questionnaire is confidential. You may also decline to answer any questions or to withdraw from the questionnaire completely.

The information participants provide will be kept confidential, i.e. participant names or other identifiers will not appear in any report resulting from this study.

Data collected for this questionnaire is anonymous and during this study will be collected online and then stored on a secure, pass-word protected hard drive and locked in cabinet. Data will be kept for up to one year after the completion of this study: January 16, 2017, after which time your data will be destroyed. Access to this data will be restricted to principal investigator and researchers named above.

Participation in this study is voluntary. If you wish, you may decline to answer any questions or participate in any component of the study.  As the questionnaire is anonymous, we cannot extract your data at a future date once you have submitted the questionnaire.

Results of this study will be presented in a report to the OMDC, it will also be published online, in presentations to conferences and colloquia. In any publication, questionnaire data will be presented in aggregate forms and with confidentiality.

If you have any questions about this study or require further information, please contact the Principal Investigator Prof. Suzanne Stein ( This study has been reviewed and received ethics clearance through the Research Ethics Board at OCAD University [100347]. If you have any comments or concerns, please contact the Research Ethics Office through

Date: May 3, 2015    
Project Title: Focus on Fem-Led

Principal Investigator:
Professor Suzanne Stein
Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences
OCAD University
(416) 315-1896

Collaborating Faculty:
Professors Emma Westecott, Paula Gardner and Lynne Heller.
Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences
OCAD University
(416) 977-6000
Collaborating Researchers: Jill Sharrock , Prateeksha Singh and Mithula Naik.

Thank you for your assistance in this project.  

Bodystorm Workshop

On August 21st 2015, The Mission Business Inc. (TMB) - a Toronto-based foresight, design, and innovation consultancy - delivered a workshop intended to surface, circulate, and capture stories from female tech, internet, and digital media entrepreneurs in Ontario. This was one phase of a project, called fem-LED, run by the Super Ordinary Lab inside the Ontario College of Art and Design, and was enabled by support from the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Purpose of the workshop was to:

  1. Explore the causes of low female participation in information communications technology (ICT) and interactive and digital media (I&DM) leadership with a community of female entrepreneurs and leaders.
  2. Diffusing and contextualizing research from other phases of the Fem-LED project.
  3. Exploring new iterations of The Mission Business (TMB) professional services that deliver value to organizations focused on innovation in the realm of human resources (HR), rather than product development and thought leadership marketing.

At a high level, the purpose of the workshop shared by TMB and OCAD-U researchers was to create a sense of community within a network of female entrepreneurs working in the ICT / I&DM industries in Ontario, and to explore with that group the causes of women dropping out of leadership positions in Ontario companies.

The group of participants who attended the workshop were brought together in the context of a speculative narrative designed by TMB, in order to give all of the women in attendance permission to share stories during the course of the workshop’s proceedings. This narrative introduction was delivered by Dorothy “Dot” Drummond, the CEO of a fictional company called 4Corp created by TMB for workshops and online education programs. 4Corp’s products and services set the company in a futuristic context, but it faces the same challenges that ICT / I&DM companies in Ontario have today, as highlighted in other phases of the Fem-LED research project.

Women and Games

Game studies is the relatively new and multi- and inter-disciplinary academic field of studying games, game design, game players and their role in society and culture more broadly.

To date the themes addressed by feminist game studies can be sketched as work on gendered activity in digital games and feminine preference in play style and game characteristics. Other key studies look to gender equity in game making and to the wider context of access to games. From Brenda Laurel's work in the early 90s (Yates & Littleton, 1999) onwards (long pre-dating any such thing as games studies); critics, commentators and the academy have offered theories and observations on the difference in play habits, styles and consumption of digital gaming exhibited by women and girls. Yet much of the work that has been carried out, seemingly in isolation in the U.K., U.S. and Europe, has cycled through repeating debates on representation, equity and access. For example, some research points to specific gender preference in play style whereas Jenson’s and de Castell’s (2008) work shows that these differences can be more about novice players than about gender. Jenson and de Castell (2008) urged researchers to "rethink the assumptions and presumptions of work on gender and gameplay.." in a call to acknowledge the always situated context of gameplay and game research in order to frame a solid foundation for future work, whether theoretical or practical.

Contact Us

Suzanne Stein
230 Richmond Street West, Room (8)310, Level 3  Toronto, ON M5V 2CS
Phone: 416.977.6000 Ext. 4584

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Our Partners & Collaborators

Mission Business
femTech Net
Institute on Research for Digital Learning

Funding for this project is provided by Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)

Body storm Workshop
Ontario Media Development Corporation Logo
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 - 6:45pm
Lab Member: 
Suzanne Stein
Lynne Heller
Paula Gardner
Mithula Naik


Avatar Daughters: Envisioning a Spectrum between the Material/Virtual through Feminist Theory

The hypothesis of this research is that a mother daughter relationship is a metonymy for a human to avatar affinity. This idea is explored through feminist analysis, a lyric essay and the practice of visual arts, specifically a series of comic books featuring an avatar created in Second Life, an online, user-built virtual world. Through a human connection to an avatar, the boundaries of the material and the virtual are blurred and become a seamless spectrum—a space of suspension—which can be infinitely mined but never parsed. The thesis employs both practice-based (visual art) as well as theoretical (art historical and feminist) frameworks, to explore the spectrum of the material/virtual. The corresponding relation- ship, artist/avatar is also a spectrum between self and not self— subject and object at the same time.

An avatar is envisioned by an individual creator but is also the result of a necessary collaboration with the developers of the virtual world where the avatar is digitally materialised, so thus another spectrum between the individual and the collective is delineated. By acknowledging the agency that we often confer on images, and the nature of complex identities, the avatar, though ostensibly insentient, is positioned as an animated, mercurial image that encourages a psychologically complex reaction from humans. In linking the feminist analysis of French philosopher-artist, Luce Irigaray, to an affective reaction towards an animated avatar, an argument for a new perspective on a stubbornly enduring mind/body dichotomy is offered. These ideas are poetically echoed in the included artwork and theorised in the interwoven supporting academic analysis. Art making methods, such as collage/found object, playfulness, and unstable authorship, collectively named in this writing as a methodology of poïesis, are interjected into academic discourse, and literary strategies, and employed in the creative practice to con- struct a holistic approach to art and knowledge production. De- fining the material as the physically present and the virtual as a collective imagining supported by digital materiality, tools and technology, the resulting gamut becomes an inherently fluid, un- stable and contested expanse for which binaries of subject and object, material and virtual, are wholly inadequate. It is a vast, oceanic unknown that supports different ways to dream, from the mundane to the beautiful to the sublime.

Photograph of a pink hardcover edition of Lynne Heller's PhD Thesis
Image of Lynne Heller's avatar, Nar Duell
Image of a spread from Lynne Heller's PHD thesis, including a graphic of her avatar Nar Duell
A grid of of pages from Lynne Heller's PHD thesis which include graphics of her avatar, Nar Duell
Friday, February 5, 2016 - 9:15pm
Lab Member: 
Lynne Heller

MAAD Faculty Lynne Heller defends her doctoral

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 6:15pm

Please join me in congratulating Assistant Professor Lynne Heller who recently defended her doctoral dissertation titled AVATAR DAUGHTERS: Envisioning a Spectrum between the Material/Virtual through Feminist Theory. Lynne conducted her doctoral studies within the Graduate Research and Education Programme in Gender, Culture and Identity in the UCD Humanities Institute, College of Arts and Humanities at University College Dublin, Ireland.

Lynne holds a joint appointment with the Faculty of Design and the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Science. Lynne joins a growing complement of research and practice-engaged doctorate faculty at OCAD University. I commend her and all these faculty members for the hard work and dedication required to earn this highest academic degree and wish them well in translating their efforts into successful research agendas.

Congratulations Lynne! 

Dr. Gayle Nicoll, Dean, Faculty of Design

Research Rendezvous: Lynne Heller, Judith Doyle, and research team

Research Rendezvous Logo. Abstract line drawing of two faces coming together to form a lightbulb.
Monday, January 18, 2016 - 5:00pm to 6:00pm

The team of Lynne Heller, Judith Doyle, Nina Czegledy, Robin Len, Anna Lew, Martin Shook, Lynn Hughes, and Gina Haraszti will be presenting Dobble Debate- a research project which creatively uses humor and imagination to look at people’s differing abilities.

Venue & Address: 
Room 701K, 205 Richmond St. W
Research Rendezvous poster with event info

After Dubai: Electronic Arts in the 21st Century Roundtable

Image of a desert
Friday, January 30, 2015 - 8:00pm to 10:00pm

After Dubai: Electronic Arts in the 21st Century
A Roundtable Discussion

Moderated by Caroline Langill and featuring presentations by Judith Doyle, Lynne Heller, Martha Ladly, Nina Leo and Dot Tuer.

In November 2014, the 20th International Symposium on Electronic Art was hosted by Zayed University in Dubai. One of the most important events for new media art, the symposium included over 200 interdisciplinary discussions and presentations of creative practices applying new technologies in electronic media.
Please join us on January 30 for special presentations by OCAD University faculty and ISEA 2014 participants Judith Doyle, Lynne Heller, Martha Ladly, Nina Leo and Dot Tuer. The presentations will be followed by a roundtable discussion moderated by Caroline Langill on the future of electronic arts at OCAD U and beyond.

For more information, contact Farrah Aslam,

Image caption: Lynne Heller and Jackie Calderwood, Engines of Difference, 2014

Venue & Address: 
Lambert Lounge, OCAD University Room 187, 100 McCaul Street