The power of audience as student art project goes viral

Just listening to an interview on CBC’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi. Jian interviewed visual artist & Capilano U student Rosea Lake (aka rosea posey). Rosea’s story is a testament to the positive things that can occur when students work on the open web.

Last year, Rosea created this wonderful work as a high school project. (aside: I only wish I could embed the image here for you to see directly, but Rosea has copyrighted the image instead of releasing it under a Creative Commons license, a decision I fully understand after reading what happened below). The work sat for a year before Rosea made a decision that is likely going to change her life.

On January 5th, Rosea posted her high school art project on Tumblr. On the open web.

3 weeks later, it has gone viral.

This high school project posted on the open web has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people, sparked debates and discourse (as all good art does), and has garnered Rosea much mainsteam media coverage. There has even been a controversy around intellectual property and copyright when the lingerie company Curvy Kate created an ad that was eerily similar to Rosea’s work. Rosea credits the internet to helping her find out about this unauthorized commercial use of her work.

Now, I acknowledge that “post your final project to the web” probably wasn’t an explicitly stated learning outcome in her high school art course, but why couldn’t it be? I mean, asking students to work for an audience – a potential worldwide audience – changes the nature of the work learners do. It is real. Authentic. It creates possibilities. It matters in a way that doing work just for the eyes of their teacher does not. As Alan November (via David Truss) notes:

“Students will work harder for an authentic audience than for a grade”…”Students will do more if they leave a legacy beyond a grade.”

Which is a point that Stephen Downes (speaking specifically about blogging)  also makes:

blogging gives students a genuine and potentially worldwide audience for their work. Having such an audience can result in feedback and and greatly increase student motivation to do their best work.

Or this take on having students working on the open web as part of their learning. This quote is from UBC’s Jon Beasley-Murray who, in 2008, assigned his UBC students the mammoth task of collaborating on a Wikipedia article to get it to featured article status. Reflecting on the project (which has put his students work in front of thousands of people) Jon says:

And their final product is to be a professional piece of work that will be viewed by many thousands of people, a resource that is in most cases the first port of call for future researchers, whether students like themselves or any of the many millions from all over the world who visit Wikipedia. Most of these articles are, after all, the top hit (or very close to it) in any internet search of the topic.

By comparison, the usual essays and exams that we assign our students really are rather pointless busywork.

Pointless busywork. How many of you who have attended university or college have stacks of pointless busywork sitting in drawers and desks (or have gone to recycling & garbage bins years ago) unread by anyone except the person who passed judgement on them?

Remind me again why we set up barriers (both real and perceived) that prevent our students from succeeding like this? Why are we not encouraging our learners each and every day to participate in the open web? To engage with the world in the most real and authentic learning space available to us? Why do we ask our learners to hide their work away in places where the only person who may ever see that work is their instructor?

It takes courage to post your work onto the open web for the world to see. To comment on. Critique. Discuss. Judge. Rosea took that chance, and I suspect she will be reaping the rewards of that decision for many years to come.  We all will because Judgments is a brilliant, thought-provoking piece that is making us talk about uncomfortable things.

A high school art project has the world talking right now because Rosea Lake took the simple step of posting her work out in the open, on the web, for all of us to see and talk about.



The beginning of a great adventure

Seems like it wasn’t that long ago when I wrote a post a lot like this. 2 years, almost to the day in fact, when I accepted the position I have now as the manager of Learning Technologies at Royal Roads University. It’s a position I will only have for a few more weeks.

I have a new job. On February 12th, I will be joining BCcampus as the Manager of Applied Research & Curriculum Services.

Like most changes, there are good and bad. Bad that I am leaving a wonderful position with a great group of colleagues working on some interesting projects. I have truly enjoyed the time I have spent in CTET, and would highly recommend RRU as an employer. They have been supportive and given me opportunities to grow in ways I did not imagine when I arrived here 2 short years ago. And I got to spend the past 2 years sharing an office with a wonderful person & collague who made me laugh & look forward to coming to work each and every day.

The good? I will be rejoining one of my old CTET colleagues, Mary Burgess, who is now also at BCcampus. And I have many wonderful connections with others at BCcampus, like Sylvia Currie, David Porter, and the wider ETUG community. From 2004-06 I worked within another unit at BCcampus, and there are still people I worked with at the time who I am happily going to be working with again.

And then there are the projects, including some really cutting edge robotics projects. I am just starting to get into robotics at a hacker level, playing with Arduino and controller boards like the MaKey-MaKey. In my new position I’ll have a chance to work on larger scale robotics projects with educational applications, like remote science labs as part of NANSLO.

But the project that really pulls & resonates is the Open Textbook project. BCcampus has long been a leader in our province (and beyond) on open education and open educational resources. Much of how I feel and think about open ed has come out of the work of BCcampus, and the people who have been associated with BCcampus over the years. People like Scott Leslie and Paul Stacey, who in turn led me to people like Brian Lamb, David Wiley, Alan Levine, Jim Groom, Alec Couros and other open educators who’s work in open spaces have greatly influenced how I think about education. To have a chance to work on a project like Open Textbooks that I believe has the potential to make a deep and systematic change to post-secondary education was an opportunity I could not pass up.

So, for people I am connected with in virtual spaces, like this blog (thank you), on Twitter or in other spaces I haunt online, you can probably expect to see more posts and conversations about open education, open textbooks….and robots. Since they will one day be our overlords, I might as well strike up a good working relationship with them now :).