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West Fargo's YouTube Teacher

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Image: a still photograph taken from one of Jescia Hopper's recent YouTube tutorials on screenprinting. Her hands are shown preparing a screenprint on her desk. The screenprint shows a triceratops with the text, "Extinction Sucks." Click to open the tutorial on YouTube.

West Fargo's YouTube Teacher 
An Interview with Jescia Hopper
Davin Wait | April 4, 2022

Prairie Public recently sat down with Jescia Hopper, a Sheyenne High School art teacher and YouTube creator to discuss art, education, and the role of video and digital media in today's classroom.

Prairie Public: You grew up in Mandan, ND, from the late 1980s through the early 2000s, and today you’re an art teacher at Sheyenne High School. You’re also an artist with an impressive portfolio of work, including dozens of exhibited pieces with the Fargo Moorhead Visual Artists and the Red River Watercolor Society, and a solo exhibition, Wonderlust, that opened at Plains Art Museum in the fall of 2017. What brought you from a childhood in Mandan to the work you do as an artist and educator today?

Jescia Hopper: I originally moved to the Red River Valley for a B.F.A. at Minnesota State University Moorhead. They were the nearest art school and their art program had good reviews. I studied drawing and graduated in 2009. I considered an M.F.A. after the program to teach at the college level and I was accepted into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, but my fiancé [now husband] had accepted a position in Bismarck, so I stayed, earned a degree in arts education and worked as an artist in residence with the North Dakota Council on the Arts. I was teaching students from kindergarten through high school and I found that it didn't really matter what age students I was teaching. I just really enjoyed teaching and sharing my love of art with young people.  

Prairie Public: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Jescia Hopper: I originally triple majored at MSUM in Spanish, music and art, but I realized pretty early on that was too much. I pared it down to music and art, and then just art. I still love Spanish and music. If I didn't have to pay for school, I'd stay in school forever because I love learning. Teaching allows me to learn all the time.

Prairie Public: Did you grow up around art?

Jescia Hopper: Yes, I was always around art and my parents were always supportive of me being creative and doing creative things. My grandmother was an artist. My aunt was a set designer. 

When I was in sports, where nobody liked me and I always injured myself, my parents asked me where do you feel supported and at home: sports or music? For me it was art and music. I felt more respected there and I was good at it. I felt like I could be me and wasn’t forced to fit into a box, so I gravitated to the arts. 

Prairie Public: Thinking about your education, either at MSUM where you earned your B.F.A. in Drawing and a B.S. in Art Education, or the Maryland Institute College of Art, where you earned your M.A. in Art Education, what type of instruction or practice do you think best helped you as an artist and student?

Jescia Hopper: I think that’s a really challenging question. I think probably the biggest impacts on my artistic practice were my teachers who pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to solve problems. When I started college, I was stuck in what I was good at. I came in thinking I knew everything and quickly learned I didn’t. 

For example, in my freshman drawing class I was working on a still life, and at that time I had a problem working with value, or high contrast. My work was really delicate and light. It looked great up close but when you stepped away from it you couldn’t see anything. Anyway, my professor came to me and smeared black ink across my piece and said, “fix it.” That moment, beyond my initial moment of absolute panic, helped me see, yeah, I don’t use enough value in my work. I need to work on that. It really helped me learn that. And I think he knew me well enough to know that I could handle it. I think teachers need to know their students to get a sense of what they can handle and how they might best respond. Is it gentle encouragement or a more abrasive “figure it out”? Or in grad school. My studio professor told me I couldn’t paint while I was there. I said, I came here to paint, and she said, yeah, you can do that at home. Do something else. Honestly, those constraints, those challenges, helped me grow as an artist.

Prairie Public: Thinking back to technology in the late 2000s now. You started college in 2004, right in the infancy of today's social media. Facebook and YouTube launch right around the time of your freshman year. Were you using internet tutorials as an undergraduate at MSUM?

Jescia Hopper: No. Honestly I wasn't even aware that they existed. I learned from people and books. I was in and out of the library. I always tell my students now that they don't realize the gifts they've been given. So much information literally at your fingertips. You can learn almost anything on YouTube today.

Prairie Public: Let's talk about your YouTube channel, Jescia Hopper, where you've gathered almost 150,000 subscribers, including a Silver Play Button YouTube award along the way, and almost 17 million total views. All produced primarily from your home and your college apartment in Fargo-Moorhead. Your oldest video was uploaded April 9, 2011: "How to Print a Linocut." Why did you start producing art tutorials on YouTube? What prompted that?

Jescia Hopper: At that point, I was doing my 60-hour practicum in the education program at MSUM during my second-to-last semester: I graduated in December. I was teaching middle school in Moorhead at Horizon. I had 36 6th graders, and we were trying to teach them printmaking. Which was insane. We didn’t have a document camera, any kind of tech to help with demonstrations. Like, just imagine 36 11- and 12-year-olds gathered around a table while you demonstrate a print. It was absolute chaos. Not going to happen. 

So I was just racking my brain, wondering how can I do this? I thought, maybe YouTube. So I created a Linotype tutorial with no sound, no voice-over, no music. Completely silent. It was hilarious, because when I played it for the class, they gave it a standing ovation and asked to see it again. They were excited, asking, "how many views, how many subscribers?!" It was literally like three or four views, but their excitement for it was just astounding to me. I didn’t expect that in the slightest. That seemed like the in that I needed, grabbing my students' attention.

A still taken from one of Jescia Hopper's recent YouTube tutorials on screenprinting (Jescia Hopper, January 7, 2022).

Prairie Public: What equipment were you using and where were you recording?

Jescia Hopper: The first video was recorded in my Bismarck apartment where my husband Matt was living at the time. He used a handheld camcorder and edited it for me, because I had no clue. I knew nothing. But once I saw my students’ excitement for it, I realized I needed to do a bit more of this. So my early videos were recorded in my apartment on a GoPro that was clamped to a drawing board. Every time I erased something my camera would shake and squeak. Since then, I’ve invested in good lighting and a nice camera. LED panels on a PVC frame to sit around my desk. I built the PVC frame probably in 2014. I just recently got a good camera and lights within the last few years. It’s been a slow process because that stuff is expensive. I looked into grant support a little, but I couldn’t find a lot that helped pay for equipment.

Prairie Public: How does teaching with a digital art tutorial differ from your classroom instruction?

Jescia Hopper: That’s really interesting. When I make my videos, I honestly approach it just like an in-class demonstration. Usually the things I talk about in my videos are things I’m teaching my students, so I talk about the questions and problems I typically see in my students’ work in the classroom. A lot of kids have difficulty with this, questions with that…. I try to imagine, what would this be like if my students were with me in the room as I record this demonstration?

Prairie Public: Does that help you anticipate questions in class, as well?

Jescia Hopper: Definitely. You know, when it’s something you’ve never taught with students, it’s hard to know what territory you’re in. When you have some experience though, you know what to expect. You can be proactive and anticipate problems. I actually like making mistakes, either recorded or live, and talking through the process of problem solving in my videos. It helps students become meta-cognitive thinkers.

Prairie Public: Since you’ve started your channel, YouTube has become a juggernaut in digital media, including all sorts of tutorials. Do you consult tutorials today?

Jescia Hopper: Sometimes. I find it funny: I am relatively popular on YouTube, but I don’t really watch or interact with it a lot. I’ve only recently started consuming YouTube. Honestly, it’s as a homeowner and learning how to fix things. DIY stuff.

Prairie Public: Do you think your students are consulting libraries? Do you assign books?

Jescia Hopper: I keep some books in my room, but I think students today are more interested in seeing demonstrations, whether they're in-class or digital. Of course, post-pandemic, sometimes I think students don’t want to use a lot of digital media in the classroom...unless it’s social media....

Prairie Public: You entered the pandemic with about ten years of digital video tutorial experience. Did that help? Did your colleagues consult you?

Jescia Hopper: It helped so much. I feel like I came out of virtual learning relatively intact, because I’ve had this experience. And I was still making videos constantly during quarantine, but I had that library I could use. One thing I found was helpful was the online educational community that rose up during the pandemic. National groups on Facebook, especially. Teachers asking for help, sometimes desperately, for digital lessons. I think they were especially excited about my lecture videos. Videos that go over things like vocabulary. It was nice to be that resource for people I don’t know. To be helpful in such an insane time.

Prairie Public: Your master’s thesis at MICA, “Learning At My Own Pace: A Qualitative Investigation on the Impact of Tutorial Videos on Student Learning in an Eighth Grade Art Classroom,” won you the Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award at the National Art Education Association conference in 2016. What did you find in that study?

Jescia Hopper: I found a lot of things. At the time, there was pretty much no research in art education about using digital tutorials in the classroom. So my literature review was from other fields: flipped learning and hybrid learning; investigating what makes tutorials good or useful. I found when students are able to watch a demonstration video on their own, one of the most valuable tools is that they’re able to move at whatever speed works best for them. Maybe they need to slow it down, work alongside the video. Work at their own pace. 

I found it's also important to talk about how to work with videos in class. Not just, go watch it and figure it out. If you’re watching this and taking notes, should you just let it play and try to keep up? No, you should pause it, rewind it, check a different source, ask the teacher, etc. Kids aren’t automatically going to know how to learn from a video resource. You have to teach strategies and tutorials need to be short and concise. That won’t always be the case, but there are good strategies. There’s some new developments too, like PlayPosit, where you can pause a video and ask questions or add polls to see how kids are comprehending the material. I feel like the work of students got better, because they were able to sit, think and work with the content.

Prairie Public: Access with digital learning is key. How have your students gained access to those materials?

Jescia Hopper: Yes, all of this is dependent on having equitable access to the technology. My students at the time had ChromeBooks 1:1, but they had to keep them at school. So I didn’t assign a lot of things for homework, because I didn’t know if they had internet or computers at home. Today my students have iPads 1:1 and they take them home. There’s also always the questions of classroom management, keeping students on task and not on social media or games.

Prairie Public: Do you use art tutorial videos in your classroom? How frequently?

Jescia Hopper: Usually at the beginning of units, every 4-6 weeks or so. If a student needs to learn something specific and I don’t have the time for that individual learning, I’ll point them to good sources online, too. It depends on the student and what’s happening in the larger classroom. Tutorial videos work well for technique research and overview material. One thing I’ve wanted to include more of is artists talking about their work. It’s valuable to hear from creators why they do the things they do. Art21 videos are always good.

Prairie Public: Do you have any final tips on how educators can best use videos in their classrooms?

Jescia Hopper: I think the biggest question is, what can the video bring to your classroom that’s not already there? How can it enrich your classroom environment or improve engagement? Post-pandemic, those face-to-face interactions are important. Students really need that. Videos shouldn’t replace classroom instruction, but complement or supplement it. Quality personalized learning can’t be the only way information is delivered, because that leads to isolation, but there's a growing place for video tutorials and digital learning in our classrooms and we need to know how to use those tools effectively.