Ecology and Fine Arts student collaborative project receives research award

Surprising things can happen when science and art education collide

Watercolor by KPU student Krista Warzel. Lee Beavington, Interdisciplinary Instructor and Learning Strategist. Amy Huestis, Fine Arts Instructor. (submitted)

Students in ecology, fine arts, and education courses collaborated across the different disciplines to make different kinds of projects to gain a deeper appreciation of their subjects during the process.

While working remotely this year, Lee Beavington, Interdisciplinary Instructor and Learning Strategist, Carson Keever, Instructor of Ecology, and Amy Huestis, Instructor of Fine Arts, decided to collaborate in the subjects they teach.

After a presentation by Beavington in the KPU Arts Speaker Series titled “When Art and Science collide: Creative by Nature,” the three instructors were able to connect and plan out the interdisciplinary approach to their ecology and fine arts class projects.

Their idea came to fruition as an artistic representation of the periodic table of elements created in partnership between chemistry and fine arts students, and they decided to speak to Huestis on a new possible collaboration.

This resulted in Beavington and Keever’s ecology students and Huestis’s colour theory students working together on a project called “Ecology and Colour in 1m2,” where students would separately go to a small part of the woods in their local area and choose one spot to repeatedly visit in order to make ecological observations about interesting things in that space.

“It got them outside, and it also got them to be very contemplative and connected to their local environment,” says Beavington.

Indigenous knowledge and education was also taken into account and incorporated throughout the project and collaborative approach. This knowledge was taken from numerous Indigenous scholars, writers, and thinkers, such as Robin Wall Kimmerer, who wrote Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. 

“Ecology and Colour in 1m2” received a  $6,000 research award from Simon Fraser University to further explore possibilities for interdisciplinary projects.

Huestis says that “One of the aims of this project was to get a deep sense of place, and … reciprocity to the land, and our sensitive ecosystems, and respect for other living things.”

Students were also encouraged to research Indigenous cultural practices and uses of photosynthetic organisms.

One challenging part of running the course was making sure that the students understood the course’s expectations, and were aware of the tasks that had to be done for the week.

“There was a good deal of work to get it all together to make sure it was clear what we’re doing with students and that every week, they knew exactly what they were going to do,” says Beavington.

“When we have things that are open-structured like this, and more inquiry-based, students sometimes play a little bit because they don’t have a recipe or a very specific script to follow.”

He adds that consistent communication helped students understand the expectations and aspects of the project, and an online celebratory event was held for the students which gave them a chance to share their work and ask other students questions at the end of the project.

“It would have been so great to actually meet outside somewhere with all of these students,” he says.

“I can see a vision of that happening in the future. That would be so awesome.”

The project received positive feedback from students, and the instructors say that more interdisciplinary projects may be created in future semesters, potentially starting in summer 2021.