Here at DMA, we pride ourselves on the high-quality educational experiences we provide students. Our instructors are the best, the curriculum is developed and refined year after year, and we look for the latest trends in education and technology to keep us informed on tools and skills our students will need for their future careers. Until now, we’ve kept our secret sauce just that: a secret. No longer! Today, we’ll be talking about what our approach is to developing curriculum, what makes great learning experiences, and the goals we keep in mind to give our students the BEST skills and tools to succeed.

The Digital Media Academy pedagogy is constructed with three tenets that are integrated into every course we offer: Project-Based Learning, Design Thinking, and Authentic Learning. Our learning model allows students to feel in control of their learning experiences and confident in their abilities to succeed. In order to tell you about all this awesome stuff, I’ve asked our Assistant Director of Curriculum, Shane White, to help clarify what these are. Shane White is an incredible educator with years of experience teaching programming, game design, and more to high school students.

PALMER: Hi Shane, thanks for joining me today and helping provide some clarity on how DMA creates the best learning experiences possible.

SHANE: No problem. I love talking about education and how great DMA is.

PALMER: Well let’s get into it. The DMA learning approach is built up of three ideas: Project-Based Learning, Design Thinking, and Authentic Learning. Let’s start with Project-Based Learning. What does that mean?

SHANE: Sure thing. Once you break it down, it’s actually quite simple. Project-based learning is the idea that students will do better and are more engaged when they get to develop their own approach to solving problems. Success is defined by the student and their project is a culmination of the skills they’ve learned during the course. By having projects as the focus of the week, students are able to connect to the real world. They can immediately connect the skills they are learning with how they can be used. Working on a project can encourage students to collaborate, work together to solve similar problems, and create solutions just like we do in real world. These are just a few of the ways that projects create a more valuable learning experience.

PALMER: That’s super cool. I might have to sit in on one of your classes this summer. Okay, moving on. Design Thinking. What the heck is that?

SHANE: Design Thinking was brought to us by former DMA Instructor Seamus Harte who worked with us through the Stanford D. School to integrate the methodology into our courses. He worked for a long time developing this method of problem-solving that speaks to how solutions are created and how to challenge those to continually improve. It takes humanity into account as we innovate and learn. It’s the idea that when you are designing something, it isn’t about you or your experience, it’s about everyone else and how they will use it. This is traditionally broken down into a cycle of sorts: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. This type of process works very well with Project-Based Learning and manifests in courses that are more interactive. Students get to collaborate in meaningful ways, share and give feedback in positive ways, and improve on their ideas through iteration.

PALMER: Okay. So instead of telling the students what to do on a project, you let them figure out the how and why?

SHANE: That’s part of it, yeah. When curriculum is being developed, we encourage our instructors to ask ‘What do my students consider important?’, ‘How might they want to engage with this specific content?’, and ‘How might they choose to demonstrate their learning?’. This is us implementing that design thinking into our own curriculum development process; empathizing with our students helps us figure out what is important to their learning experience. Defining, Ideating, Prototyping, and Testing is the cycle of curriculum design we’ve been repeating for over 15 years.

PALMER: Yeah no kidding. It’s really fascinating for me to learn about the thought process behind the DMA Learning approach. So what about Authentic Learning? How does that tie in with Project-Based Learning and Design Thinking?

SHANE: Authentic Learning is the natural result of everything we’ve talked about. We find that students want to solve authentic problems, not complete worksheets. Our students work with industry tools, learning industry skills, it only makes sense that they also should be using them to explore contextual problems. For example, your school is trying to decide on a new mascot. Can you write an app that allows people to vote for the different options? Can you create a commercial for one mascot you want to see win? What does the mascot’s costume look like? On the other hand, sometimes students just want to be able to tell stories through art, games, or music. DMA is all about empowering students to become better creators, and sometimes all you need is a reason to create.

PALMER: That’s incredible that you are able to do that. I’m not just saying that because I work with you either. How does that even happen?

SHANE: Our curriculum developers are incredible. It also helps that we’ve worked to refine this for years and years. We’ve been in education since 2002, working with top industry professionals and alongside educators. You tend to pick things up when that happens.

PALMER: Makes sense to me! Thanks for stopping by and offering your incredible insight into the DMA Learning Approach.

I hope that was as insightful for all of you reading as it was for me. I’ve been through a number of summers and our instructors have all seemed like magicians to be able to teach their students all these incredible skills. I’ve spoken to Shane a number of times about how they’re able to create such unique and inspiring experiences in classrooms across the country each summer and this is just the beginning of our posts on what makes DMA the best STEM summer camp in the world.

Palmer Mitchell

Palmer Mitchell has worked for DMA since 2012 producing awesome content with instructors and students. He's worked on the front lines as a Tech Director at Stanford and now works with instructors and DMA Staff to make each summer better than the last. In his free time, he watches the Golden State Warriors while raiding dungeons in Destiny 2 and World of Warcraft.

Shane White

Shane White is the Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Digital Media Academy. He is responsible for the development of courses in the realms of Programming and Game Design, as well as defining and implementing DMA’s learning models of Project-Based Learning, Design Thinking, and Authentic Creation. He’s above average at Ultimate Frisbee and is very below average at completing jumping puzzles in Minecraft..

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