On Authenticity and Creativity in DS106

Two of my students have raised an issue in the completion of their final projects for DS106 that has given me pause. Both of them expressed concern about whether I would believe that the work they were turning in was truly THEIR work. One of them suggested in an email to me ways in which she could prove this to me. The other preemptively wrote a supplementary blog post in which he included screenshots of the process of making his final mashup video, just in case I might think this work was not his.

Both of these students have been regularly active, creative participants in the class all semester, and have blogged and shared not only their story assignments but the process by which they created these stories.

I’m taken aback by their feeling like they need to re-assure me that their work is their own!

I don’t think these students expressed this concern because they’ve necessarily been called out before on whether or not their work was their own. Robert (the student who blogged about this issue), actually said something in his post that may cast some light on these concerns:

Like I said, the main reason for [writing this post] is because Im proud of my work, I’m proud of myself for creating this and I guess I just don’t want anyone to think that I would steal because I’m insecure about creative capabilities. I’m not, this project and this class have shown me how creative I really am. [emphasis added]

In some ways I feel better about his feeling like he needs to “defend” his work (without ever being questioned about its authenticity) because he just feels so proud of what he’s created (and he should be proud!) and is almost questioning himself about whether he was capable of it.

But, really, I’m not sure I feel good about that either. The notion of creativity in DS106 has been a charged one. The class fulfills a “artistic/creative process” general education requirement at UMW, and that’s why most of my students took it. It’s been interesting to me to witness the students’ notions of what “being creative” is and what their own creative capabilities are.

For the final project, I kept saying, again and again, “it’s about process as much as product.” I told them I’m not just looking for some “precious product” that they could hand to me and say, “Look! I made art!” I wanted to witness their struggle and hear about the creative process that they used to create that final product.

I could tell for a lot of students this was just a strange concept. They’re not trained to think about their work in terms of process. They don’t expect us to value their struggle as much as their final achievement. And if they think their final product falls short in a class like this, they think they must not be “creative enough.” When, in fact, often the struggle they’ve gone through has been a quintessentially creative one.

It’s also a bit disheartening to me that at a school with an honor code, these two students would think that I would jump to the conclusion that they had misrepresented their own work. As I told the student who emailed me:

I don’t need “evidence” that this is your work. I trust you and UMW has an honor policy because your just telling me that this is your work should be all I need to hear.

In an environment that is supposedly founded on honor, what sorts of messages have these students been getting about the role that trust plays in education?

I want to be clear here (although I think this is pretty clear): I’m not criticizing my students for their concerns! I’m criticizing the institutional and educational environments that have fostered these kinds of concerns in them.

3 thoughts on “On Authenticity and Creativity in DS106”

  1. That’s the kind of stuff I’m going to try to draw out in the Faculty Academy talk. I think I can make a pretty strong case for how k12 structures help create these results. I don’t think k12 is solely responsible (and k12 usually echos cultural norms) but there’s some pretty decent paths you can follow that lead towards the kind of thing you’re describing here.

    I think it all starts with the standardized “art” project.

  2. Martha,
    This gets at a lot of important issues, but I find that the tone need not be so somber. We could focus on the hell that is institutional learning—and it certainly can be—and this post highlights the culture of mistrust that is very much part and parcel of our socirty (as Tom alludes too) and is evident in pretty much all our institutions. But in the end I say fuck that. I won;t focus on that anymore, I will focus on doing it the other way, there will be casualties, and things will get ugly and messy, but that institutional talk and the problematizing of it is like committee work—it seems like we are doing something, but in the end does it help anyone? What you have done this class this semester is a direct intervention, and that is good. That is right, and that is what matters. There is a principle to your actions, and you can back it up. Feature that art, and let the fear, loathing, and mistrust be damned.

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