The KMDI Pivots to Online in Response to COVID-19: A Message from KMDI Director Sara Grimes

As we start the new semester and new school year, I wanted to take this opportunity to say welcome, as well as acknowledge that this year we are coming “back to school” during an incredibly challenging, uncertain, and deeply troubling climate. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic. We are protesting and reckoning with anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism. We are grappling with monumental changes in our work lives, home lives, classrooms and communities. These are not normal times, and there’s no need to pretend they are.

I would like to update you on what’s been happening at the KMDI over the past six months. It is needless to say that the sudden move to online in March – brought about by the widespread closures and stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 – took the KMDI by surprise. We moved early and swiftly in our response, cancelling all of our remaining Spring events, closing our labs and in-person workspaces, and shifting the vast majority of our research projects to “remote” mode. Our first concern was of course the health and well-being of our members, staff, students, and the broader community. An additional priority was our commitment to ensuring that our summer research assistants and work-study student positions could proceed in an uncertain and depressed job market. We also rallied to help coordinate and provide technological support to enable our researchers to continue on with their work from home…to whatever extent they were able, given the incredibly difficult circumstances. 

In the first few months of the pandemic, the KMDI contributed to the early planning stages of Professor Matt Ratto’s Toronto Emergency Device Accelerator (TEDA) initiative. We also lent out equipment from the makerspace to community partners and helped connect manufacturers and health professionals to the TEDA research team. That initiative went on to become a key resource in the production and coordination of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline medical workers in hospitals across Toronto, at a time when local supplies were dangerously low.

Over the summer, our attention shifted to preparing for the new school year, by moving core spaces and activities into the virtual realm. This led to the creation of some exciting and engaging new resources for the KMDI community. First, I am happy to announce the launch of our Virtual Makerspace, where you will find a range of activities, instructional videos, and opportunities to connect with fellow and aspiring makers/crafters/doers. Tied to this, we’re also contributing to the Faculty of Information virtual iSkills series, with an impressive roster of workshops on everything from Online Circuits to Visual Communication techniques. Second, this year’s KMDI Speaker Series has been transformed into a podcast called Critical Technology. In each episode, I interview a leading scholar in the area of digital technology and society about their research and how it’s been impacted by COVID-19. The launch date is still TBA as we complete recording, but you can expect the first episodes later this semester. Third, the KMDI has teamed up with an Ottawa-based company called Videoship on a pilot project aimed at vastly improving the quality and speed of those online lectures and talks we’re all watching so many of these days. In August, we built a pop-up video recording studio in Bissell to run preliminary tests. As soon as it’s safe to do so, we’ll be opening this studio up to other faculty, instructors, and doctoral students as a bookable resource. My profound thanks and gratitude to the amazing KMDI team for their diligence, creativity, and hard work in making all of this happen.

I hope these initiatives will help sustain and build our vibrant, cross-disciplinary KMDI community as we connect remotely in these strange times.

Wishing you all a safe and sound Fall semester,

Dr. Sara M. Grimes

Director of the KMDI and Semaphore Labs