The c/c/c studio

Note to readers: this is the project plan for my Reimagine Fellowship. If you’re just here for the short version, see the elevator pitch. Alternately, if you want to know the “big picture vision” stuff behind this project, then that’s here. Finally, you can check out the main CECS Reimagine page for more general information about the Reimagine project.

Or you could save yourself 4000+ words of reading and just watch a 2min video 😉:

Project Background and Description

Elevator pitch

I want to create the c/c/c studio1, an extension/outreach program in creative code: using code to make art, music & other cool things. Through school- & community-based workshops and a weekly on-campus studio masterclass, students will be part of an interactive learning community where they will be guided by instructors in creating their own new works of code-based art & music. At the end of each semester the c/c/c studio will host a “grad show” gallery exhibition/performance of the students’ work. This program will attract fantastic students who might otherwise not study engineering or computer science (either at ANU or elsewhere) and engage the wider community in helping them reimagine what it is to be a computer scientist or engineer in the 21st century.

Problems to be addressed

Interest in Computer Science (CS) education is exploding at all educational levels, but there’s a lack of support for students in schools2 which don’t have specialist teachers or an appropriate learning environment—especially for “fun” student-driven projects which go beyond textbook exercises. At the ANU Research School of Computer Science we’re not currently doing very much3 to engage with students at a pre-tertiary level, mostly because we’re flat-out dealing with the huge growth in students at a tertiary level. The c/c/c studio will address that.

CS still suffers from a stereotype of being “for nerdy white/Asian males”, and those groups are certainly over-represented in our undergraduate CS cohort compared to other groups. It’s important to point out that increasing the representation of under-represented groups in CS is a wicked problem which needs to be tackled from many different angles. Still, as the A in STEAM, the arts provide one angle for engaging students who might not normally consider coding and computer science.

Existing alternatives

Some ACT High Schools & Colleges already have great non-traditional/creative CS/IT programs (I plan to partner with teachers at these schools as early adopters). However, even in these cases there’s a missing link once students finish High School—where can they go to further develop their creative practice? The c/c/c studio program will give them deep links & relationships into the ANU (across both CS and the Schools of Art & Design and School of Music) and an avenue for continuing their creative work.

There are a few outreach programs advertised on the CECS website, however the listed programs are dominated by Engineering rather than CS (9 vs 4 programs) and of the 4 CS programs I’m involved with 2 of them already. There’s also the official ANU Extension scheme for Year 11 & 12 students in the ACT, however CS doesn’t yet participate in this scheme. Across campus, there’s the ANU School of Music’s Open School of Music for school students, but there’s no music technology stream.

There are several great organisations working to increase diversity in CS, including the Canberra Girls’ Programming Network, Code Like a Girl and Robogals. However, these organisations are primarily based around computer science/engineering, not interdisciplinary art & code.

In 2018 I (with Dr. Alec Hunter from the ANU School of Music) started the ANU Laptop Ensemble, which attempted to provide a similar open-ended space for creative exploration to the c/c/c studio, except specifically for live performance (livecoding; code-based DJ-ing and VJ-ing). ANU students can also take my COMP1720: Art & Interaction in New Media course as part of a major in either a CS degree or a Bachelor of Visual Arts (or indeed as a cross-campus elective in any program). COMP1720 has run successfully as a cross-disciplinary “learn to code” course for several years. The c/c/c studio will extend this opportunity to school students and other members of the ACT community.

The c/c/c studio is an opportunity to act as a force multiplier: harnessing these existing initiatives, partnering with them wherever possible, and building bridges between them to open up new possibilities.

Project Scope

Solution proposed

The c/c/c studio will be developed through three stages:

  1. In stage one (beginning 2020–mid 2020) I will engage with the project’s stakeholders to form a c/c/c studio advisory group responsible for guiding high-level strategy, pedagogy and creative direction in the c/c/c studio program. In this stage I will also (with input from stakeholders) develop the c/c/c studio curriculum with a view to having it approved for delivery as an ANU Extension program in 2021.

  2. In stage two (mid 2020–end 2020) we will design and run a series of creative code workshops (approx. one per month) with our early adopter schools and community groups. These free workshops will be marketed to specific target groups (as determined by the advisory group). Through these workshop we will develop a curriculum of different creative activities for different audiences, and also build a community (local artists, CECS academics, ANU undergraduate & postgraduate students) capable of delivering these workshops.

  3. In stage three (beginning 2021–ongoing) we will officially launch the weekly on-campus c/c/c studio & masterclass. The weekly c/c/c studio sessions won’t be lectures, or even tutorials—they will adopt a studio-based learning model, with each student working on their own code-based music or visual artwork as a semester-long creative “work”. The Studio Teaching Project (a research collaboration between UNSW, UQ, RMIT and UTas) has released some helpful material for employing this teaching model, which we will make use of in developing the c/c/c curriculum.

The purpose of stages one and two is to design and road-test the details of the c/c/c studio sessions & masterclasses, but here are some initial plans:

  • ACT High School & College students will apply to participate based on interest and aptitude

  • the weekly c/c/c studio session will be 2hrs long, held on campus at an after-school-friendly timeslot

  • the c/c/c studio curriculum will cover fundamental CS topics through both computer-based music and visual art, with students able to choose a particular creative tech medium for their end-of-year project

  • each year’s c/c/c studio program will culminate in a public “grad show” exhibition/performance (held on-campus)

  • each session will be small—max 20 students with 1 instructor (Ben) and one tutor (we will recruit tutors with the appropriate skills as required based on c/c/c studio student numbers)

  • students will be exposed to regular guest “masterclasses” (3-4 times per semester) from artists and other creative practitioners from CECS, the ANU School of Art & Design & School of Music, and the local arts community

  • initial “training” material will also be adapted from the COMP1720 lab material and tweaked as appropriate

If the c/c/c studio receives accreditation as an official ANU Extension program then graduates of the two-year c/c/c studio program will receive credit (one course worth) into our first-year CS program if they come and study at CECS. This is the same as the equivalent Discovering Engineering extension program, which gives students credit for a first-year ENGN course if they study Engineering at the ANU.

Value to organisation/Reimagine strategic alignment

The c/c/c studio aligns strongly with the goals of the Reimagine project, specifically in people, students, education and engagement.

From the Reimagine Project page:

We will inspire a new generation of high-potential, creative people to come to engineering and computing with a diverse range of interests, motivations, perspectives and career aspirations.

This “new generation” will not be won over by glossy brochures and fancy new buildings—they will come because they can see concrete ways in which their diverse range of interests can be harnessed and put to work to do amazing things. The c/c/c studio will provide a supportive community in which this new generation of people can learn, create, and share. More than that, it will unlock the latent potential in students who never knew their diverse interests (especially in the arts & music) could be used in engineering and computing.

The c/c/c studio provides a test-bed for new modes of computing education, especially the studio teaching model. The Reimagine project’s “big tent” CS education philosophy requires us to attract and nurture a broader range of students in our undergraduate and postgraduate programs. In building a community of students who are interested in using computers in the arts & music the c/c/c studio can be one part of that bigger mission.

The c/c/c studio is an outwardly-focused program. Through the workshops (stage two) and c/c/c studio (stage three) we will engage local artists (whose work includes code/digital techniques) to teach into our studio masterclasses. The end-of-semester grad shows (stage three) provide an opportunity to showcase the innovative education & creative-practice going on in the c/c/c studio (and CECS more broadly) and in doing so to make an impact in the ANU and wider Canberra community.

Finally, all the activities of the c/c/c studio function as an “object lesson” for the breadth of places that an Engineering/Computer Science skillset can be applied—a crucial part of Reimagining CECS from a problem-solving to problem-finding institution.

Target users

ACT High School students, as well as students from the wider Canberra region (since we could do a travelling version of the workshop). Through the c/c/c advisory group, we also plan (in stage one) to identify and target specific communities under-represented in our undergraduate CS programs.

Also, teachers from these schools will be encouraged to partner with us in both supporting their students to participate in the c/c/c studio, and also to incorporate creative arts & code activities in their classrooms in general (e.g. using the c/c/c studio curriculum, which will be made freely available).

Early adopters

In stage one I will build on my (and others) existing relationships in identifying early adopters. In schools, I will work with teachers from Dickson College, Radford College, Lyneham High, Canberra (Boys) Grammar and Canberra Girls Grammar. I will also work with relevant community & arts “special interest” organisations, such as Robogals, Canberra Girls’ Programming Network and SCI ART CBR. These groups, with their networks and existing groups of students interested in creative code, can host workshops (stage two) and serve as “seed” populations for the first semester of c/c/c studio sessions in stage three.

Deliverables

This project will deliver:

  • a curriculum (including instructor notes) for the weekly c/c/c studio sessions, which will be freely released to the public under a creative commons licence (CC BY-NC-SA)

  • an annual c/c/c studio grad show gallery exhibition and music performance (recorded and released on YouTube/Spotify) held on campus (perhaps in the new cultural centre) as the capstone for each year’s student work in the c/c/c studio

  • RSCS’s first ANU Extension program (see above)

  • stories for CECS/Reimagine marketing, and c/c/c studio “graduates” will be ideal student ambassadors for the new horizons that creative code opens up

There’ll be lots of other stuff, too: building a community of practice, deepening ANU CS/CECS’s relationships with ACT High Schools, strengthening cross-campus partnerships in research and teaching, giving our undergraduate students a chance to mentor these high school students, etc. But that’s intangible stuff, so I’m not sure if they count as a deliverables.

Project Sponsor and Stakeholders

Success Metrics

We will judge the success of this program using the following metrics, both in absolute terms and also trends over time.

  • Participation: how many students participate in the workshops (stage two) and c/c/c studio (stage three)?

  • Creative outputs: we’ll have an end-of-semester concert and gallery show—are the things the students are making any good?

  • Curriculum uptake: is the curriculum developed for the c/c/c studio sessions used by HS teachers to run similar groups in their schools?

Attaching numbers to this sort of thing is fraught, but here are some indicative targets:

stage activity target
two workshops run one workshop per month, with at least 10 students each time
three c/c/c studio 10 c/c/c studio (ANUExt) enrolments 2021, of which 75% graduate at end 2022
three+ CECS enrolments 2 c/c/c studio graduates (in year 12 in 2022) enrolling in CS at the ANU

Business Readiness

Physical space

The c/c/c studio (stage three) will require a room for one 2-3 hour session every week in an after-school friendly timeslot (perhaps 4pm-6pm). This room needs to have one computer per student (either a lab machine or personal laptop) which can run a modern web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari). One of our computer labs in Building #145 should do the job.

Personnel

The c/c/c studio’s open-ended studio teaching model does require a range of expert instructors with a mix of creative and technical skills. In addition to my own expertise in this area, Dr. Charles Martin (another creative code researcher) has recently been employed as a Lecturer by the RSCS, and will be an asset to the c/c/c studio program. There are also several academic creative practitioners across campus at the ANU Schools of Art & Design and Schools of Music. it will be necessary be opportunities/needs to buy out small amounts of their time to contribute to the c/c/c studio masterclasses (stage three).

Admin

We will require public liability insurance for any students who come onto campus for the c/c/c studio sessions.

Key Activities

What? Who? By when?
assemble c/c/c studio advisory group Ben, others stage one (early 2020)
develop relationships with stakeholders advisory group ongoing
run in-HS workshops Ben + tutor(s) stage two (mid 2020)
c/c/c studio ANU Extension program Ben + guests stage three (beginning 2021)
c/c/c studio grad show students stage three (end 2021)

Cost/Time Commitments

Ben: 2 days/week (40% FTE) for 3 years (beginning 2020-end 2022). This includes:

  1. managing the c/c/c studio advisory group
  2. building relationships with High Schools and recruiting students (from stage one)
  3. developing the curriculum (from stage one)
  4. running workshops (~monthly from stage two)
  5. delivering the weekly c/c/c studio session(s) (weekly from stage three)

The 0.4fte buyout associated with this fellowship will be used to cover 100% of my service component (currently 0.2fte) and half of my teaching component (currently 0.4fte). For 2020, this means:

  • giving up my role as student experience convenor (service)

  • handing COMP2300 over to Charles Martin

  • moving from being the only lecturer to leading a two-lecturer teaching team for COMP1720 and .

Tutors: depending on how many students attend, we will need to employ one (or more) of our undergraduate students to help deliver the workshops (stage two) and support the students in the c/c/c studio (stage three). Exact hourly rate depends on qualifications & experience.

Artist honoraria: some of the guest artists who give masterclasses in the studio won’t have institutional affiliation, and paying them for their time is a way of respecting their contribution & expertise. Exact hourly rate depends on qualifications & experience.

Equipment: computational art & music supplies, including:

  • portable music PA for running music workshops in schools
  • high-resolution monitors for display of digital artworks
  • software licences
  • studio supplies

Grad show budget: (stage three) for venue/catering/equipment (e.g. fancy projectors, etc.)

Risk, Challenges and Dependencies

Risk/challenge Who's accountable? Mitigation steps When?
some viewpoints (e.g. diversity-wise) aren't represented in the design of the c/c/c studio program everyone create an advisory group with several different perspectives end 2019
ANU art/design/music folks feel like we're treading on their turf Ben give ANU SoM and SoAD a voice in the advisory group end 2019
high-school students don't attend the on-campus c/c/c studio sessions Ben, CECS Marketing, school/community partners get buy-in from early adopter schools, get them to support/encourage their students to attend end 2020
c/c/c studio doesn't meet the requirements for official ANU Extension accreditation Ben, CECS education committee talk to Discovering Engineering people, and if it doesn't work it's no big deal 2020
too many students want to participate everyone raise the bar for the portfolio-based admissions procedure, get more ANU students to share the teaching/tutoring load 2020+
students have wide range of different abilities/familiarity with the material Ben, tutors keep class sizes small so we can tailor material to each student, encourage peer-assisted learning at the different stages 2021
project relies too much on Ben's particular mix of skills and interests Ben, others get artists from the Canberra community to deliver studio masterclass material, train up other CECS people (e.g. tutors) to share the workload 2021

Notes for readers

  • Some of the nomenclature is still TBC, e.g. code vs technology, art vs music vs creativity, etc. Part of the initial phase of the project will be workshopping these terms to see which ones best resonate with the potential audiences, and also which best capture what actually goes on.

  • If things go well, I intend to continue (and grow!) the program past the end of 2022—in fact I see it as an ongoing part of our teaching, research and outreach here in CECS.

  • I know that this document is a website; it’s not using the official MS Word template. Mostly that’s because this way I can easily share it with potential partners (e.g. when I’m meeting with teachers to talk about how they and their students can get involved), make it readable on mobile, make it accessible (e.g. to screen readers for people with vision impairment), embed videos, make sure everyone’s always reading the latest version, etc. But if you really need it as a .docx then I can convert it when it’s finished 😊

Footnotes

  1. named after the code/creativity/culture (c/c/c) research group that I lead, which already has some name recognition around the place and will be useful for “branding” this activity 

  2. In this project I’m mainly thinking of later high-school and college students (i.e. years 9–12), although there is certainly the possibility of tweaking the content to engage younger (even primary school) students as well. 

  3. I don’t mean to throw shade on our existing efforts here—there are some great things happening in this area, but there’s more to be done for sure.