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By the Numbers: Post Modern
By the Numbers: Post Modern

BCIT turns a totem post into an online student recruitment tool

By Laura Daily

Alan Etkin and Scott McAlpine/BCIT

How do you connect thoroughly wired students to an ancient art form? With technology, of course. Located within the Coast Salish Nation, the British Columbia Institute of Technology commissioned a totem-like house post for the atrium of its Gateway building. The house post is a tribute to the Coast Salish people and part of an effort to recruit more aboriginal students, who make up just 7 percent of the student body.

An etched copper QR code is attached to the post, which is a stop on campus tours. Scanning the QR code—one of only a few forms of technology that can be handmade to connect to digital space—opens a website created by Alan Etkin, the Canadian institution's senior systems analyst.

Prospective students recognize the symbolic nature of the house post but also embrace the website as a high-tech extension of tradition. It's digital storytelling for a new generation. Some key numbers:

800: Estimated age of the western red cedar log carved into the two-story post, which was installed in June 2015. The design—three faces look to the past, the present, and the future—celebrates aboriginal participation in the institution's first 50 years.

3: Number of tries it took the artist to carve a working QR code.

12: Number of tiles on the website. Clicking on tiles leads to one of seven content pages or to pictures of the final carving. "Not knowing what's on the other side of any given tile infuses the site with a game-like quality," Etkin says.

300-plus: Number of heartfelt comments in the guest book, which was on display for two months after the house post was finished. Among the best: "Born and raised in a coastal native community. Seeing this makes me feel at home." "Wonderful artwork! And smells so good!" The original paper notebook is sealed into a space atop the post.

1,400: Number of sessions logged on the house post website in the first few months since it launched. Prospective students who explore the site are 174 percent more likely to become a student than those who view only BCIT's general site, according to Etkin's analysis.

(Return to Advance Work contents page)

About the Author Laura Daily

Laura Daily is a journalist based in Denver, Colorado. She co-founded the personal finance website Living on the Cheap and publishes the site Mile High on the Cheap.




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