Digital Media Academy tech camps boost confidence while preparing kids for 21st-century workforce

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      By now, the digital revolution has permeated the economy.

      It’s a reality in banking, architecture, media, retail, health care, and most other occupations. And since being founded at Stanford University in 2002, summer tech camps have given more than 150,000 North American children and youths an introduction to this area to boost their understanding of digital tools and computational literacy.

      The camps, including one- and two-week sessions at UBC’s Point Grey campus, focus on six broad areas: 3-D modelling and design, coding and artificial intelligence, film and photography, game design, music production, and robotics and engineering.

      “We attract the geeks, and we’re proud to be geeks at the camps,” Marcus Duvoisin, director of curriculum and instruction, told the Straight by phone. “The kind of kids who come to the classes are usually the outsiders in the school.”

      He noted that they sometimes start the week lacking in self-confidence.

      “Then by the time Friday hits, it’s like they’ve found their tribe,” Duvoisin added. “The amount of social confidence that they get from that experience is something I get really passionate and fired up about.”

      At many locations, Digital Media Academy camps accept students from age seven to 17; at UBC, there are two age groups, nine to 12 and 12 to 17, starting on July 8. It’s project-based learning, and staff are certified in first aid and CPR.

      Sari Van Otegham, national camp operations director, told the Straight by phone that the Digital Media Academy blends the learning of technology skills with soft skills—such as collaboration and problem-solving—that young people are going to need to succeed in the 21st-century workforce.

      “We’re able to do that in a blended way that really creates a holistic experience that makes a difference for children in their lives,” Otegham said. “So it becomes not only a powerful experience but an excellent investment in their child’s future.”

      She pointed out that the college-campus experience sets the Digital Media Academy apart from many other programs, helping students experience what it’s like to be at topnotch universities.

      Duvoisin takes pride in the Digital Media Academy’s strong focus on design thinking. He explained that this is a reframing of the engineering design process to extend far beyond this discipline.

      “Who are you designing for? What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?” he asked. “Let’s come up with as many solutions to that problem as possible. Let’s prototype one of our ideas. Show the prototype to the user. Get feedback and redesign. You might go through that loop over and over again until you get the solution or creation that you’re happy with.”

      As an example, he said that students are encouraged to think of the end user of a video game. It needs to be challenging enough to retain the user’s attention but not so difficult that the person gives up and walks away.

      This approach came directly from former curriculum designer Seamus Yu Harte, a lecturer at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.

      Students are given positive encouragement and urged to follow their curiosity on projects. The goal is to turn them into “fearless” creators.

      “We try to get kids to prevent giving up, to learn from their failure, to see that it’s part of the process to persevere,” Duvoisin said.

      The first three days are focused on smaller projects with “easy wins” to build confidence. Then students tackle more ambitious projects, which will be showcased on the final day to parents in an open house in the classroom.

      “Usually, we encourage opportunities for the students to have a public-speaking experience,” he stated. “They get up in front of the room, in front of all the other parents, and present what they worked on.”

      It may be a photography project for a pretend client, game design, filmmaking, or something else. Instructors work in the fields in which they teach, according to Duvoisin, and teaching assistants, often postsecondary computer-science students, are hired to ensure that there is at least a 1:10 instructor-to-student ratio in the camps.