DXARTS : Lessons From A Decade Of Hybrid Arts and Sciences Education

Shawn Brixey, Professor, University of Washington

In 2001 The University of Washington created arguably one of the first true, large-scale, well funded, fully autonomous, hybrid arts and sciences degree granting programs at a top ranked U.S. research-university. Designed around a revolutionary new model of creative practice, technical research, and discovery at the frontier of art, science and engineering, DXARTS supported the emergence of a new generation of pioneer practitioners by fostering the invention of new forms of expanded collaborative research that synthesize advances in the arts, humanities, computer and information sciences, physical and biological sciences, and engineering. While the primary public attention toward DXARTS initially was the creation of the new doctoral program, the largest single cultural impact to-date has been the pioneering undergraduate program. Focused on original research at the undergraduate level, the DXARTS undergraduate program synthesized study across 15 fields of arts and sciences with particular focus on new hybrid fields in visual and aural synthesis, algorithmic processes, sensing and control systems, and telematics. At its zenith the program served close to 1000 students a year, 50% (by-design) were non-majors. Between 2003 and 2009 the increase in demand for the DXARTS major grew to compete with the traditionally highest ranked campus majors of business, engineering and computer science. Yet with ever increasing demand for the major, multi-year waiting lists for its courses and stellar student performance and post-graduate placement, the university terminated the program after only 10 years (the last undergraduate majors will graduate in 2013). This whitepaper will present a brief overview of the undergraduate program, its curriculum and focus, as well as integrate SEAD-specific interview questions and online surveys of the students who graduated between 2004 and 2013 with a hybrid arts and sciences degree. The interviews will investigate the students original instincts and decisions to merge arts and sciences – as well as seek formalized university education in this emerging area, how the educational decisions evolved into a rigorous personal hybrid practice, what specific fields of expertise did they draw from and blend, what kind of collaborations did they create and were drawn into, major topological features of their post-graduate experience, what artistic and scientific disciplinary foci do they define as their specialty or career currently, what contributions and breakthroughs are they actively pursuing, and how has the hybridization of arts and sciences impacted their movement in and around creative and technical communities. Data and feedback from the largest (to-date) contiguous cohort of university-educated hybrid arts and sciences students is invaluable to the growing SEAD community. This case-study will provide critical insight and lessons that can be applied to help formulate effective recommendations supporting the growth and broader impact of SEAD. Further the network of observations can be applied to help extend the ecological boundaries and intellectual economies of current hybrid arts and sciences collaborative practice, as well illuminate just-over-the-horizon developments for educators, encourage existing and future practitioners, and influence policy makers.