Using Design Principals to Transform Learning
One of the ways the New Learning Institute brings 21st century skills to young people is through innovative learning programs that combine mobile technology, digital media, and pioneering teaching methods. At the Quest to Learn school in New York City, in partnership with the Institute of Play, the NLI has helped to create such a program in the form of Mobo Studio, an after-school learning center.
Quest to Learn is a public school whose curriculum is built on game design principles. The school’s curriculum, developed by the Institute of Play, emphasizes the 21st century skills used by game designers, including systems analysis, innovation, and collaboration. Mobo Studio takes those principles and applies them to wide-ranging after-school projects. In a traditional school these projects might be seen as “extra-curricula” activities, but Mobo Studio is actually a natural extension of the learning that goes on during the regular school hours at Quest to Learn. The only difference is that students stay and work on the projects after regular school hours four days a week.
Design Studio as Classroom
At Mobo Studio, each project, or “pod,” lasts one semester. Students work in small teams with the goal of creating a “deliverable,” which can be a digital media piece or a physical art work or product. For every project, the goal of the Mobo Studio staff is to help students learn basic principles of the design process, using traditional and digital media to reach their goals.
“Our pods are structured so students go through the entire design process from ideation to realization,” explains Leah Gilliam, Quest to Learn’s Director of Projects. “We try to give our students the experience of working in a studio environment. If they’re going to design a product, then first they research other products, look at images, patterns, and art, and then draw their own designs, create a prototype, all the way to the finished product.”
Mobo Studio began in the fall of 2009 with four pods. Each pod approached the elements of the design process through a different combination of creative tools and requirements, and each integrated the use of technology into its curriculum.
In the Mobile Fashion pod, students explored the latest fashion trend: wearable technology. They first learned about the ways in which high technology and fashion have come together, from clothes that change color with your body heat to solar-paneled jackets that charge your cell phone. The student teams then set out to design their own items of clothing to fit a mobile communications lifestyle.
One team created a line of accessories that each contained an integrated mobile phone. To prepare, they investigated the technical requirements of every piece, studied examples from the marketplace, and learned about fabrics, including conductive fibers that could replace bulky cables and wires. They moved from drawings to creating actual prototypes and found ways to include technical elements in the graphic design of the pieces; for example, color block designs that mimic the look of sema bar codes. The finished pieces included scarves and wristbands that allow easy use of mobile phones.
Comics, Character, and Creativity
A second pod in the fall 2009 semester was titled Comics, Character, and Creativity. Once again, the students were put in a design studio environment and given a goal of producing a “deliverable” by the end of the semester, in this case, their own comic or animated cartoon.
The first part of the course, led by a graphic novelist, focused on traditional drawing and design skills. Students studied a range of existing comics and learned about character development, plot, and comic layouts. After a few weeks, they were introduced to digital design, digital image creation, and computer animation.
In a third pod, created in partnership with Marc Ecko’s Sweat Equity Enterprises, Mobo Studio students tested, evaluated, and planned a marketing campaign for a video game. Titled "Generating Buzz," the course offered students an advance look at a new video game and the chance to communicate with and give feedback to the game’s designers. The students were then challenged to plan a marketing campaign for the game, using both traditional and digital media in the communications strategy.
The project-based approach of Mobo Studio, which mirrors the overall educational philosophy of the Quest to Learn school, has proved to be a perfect framework for encouraging a range of 21st century skills in young people. As students follow the design process toward their goals, they are introduced to and must master principles of teamwork, problem solving, innovation, and applied technology. Problems are discussed and solved in the context of systems, whether those are systems of clothing design, marketing, or digital communications. In the course of these short programs, students gain important skills that will help them to achieve success in future educational and career environments.
The New Learning Institute continues to support Mobo Studio as it develops this innovative, design-based after-school program.