Industry professionals bring Interactive Media course to life

A barrage of lectures from the same professor can push students to tune out of class.

Knowing this, HU Interactive Media Professor Charles Palmer took a different approach in designing his fall Managing Creative Teams course.

Palmer structured the class around a slate of guest speakers from industries students enrolled in the senior course hope to land in after they graduate.

A few years in the making, the idea took shape after Palmer invited a few guest speakers to participate in various past classes.

When he saw how students responded, he decided to push forward with the class model, which technology has made affordable and less time-consuming.

Palmer also was encouraged by the success of Lisa Brown, HU’s former Game Designer in Residence, who organized a few panel talks last year with her extensive network of developers using Google Hangouts – a communication platform she harnessed via the large Mircrosoft Surface hubs installed on campus.

Before HU set up the Microsoft Surface hubs, the university had to pay travel and lodging expenses for guest speakers, who generally visit from the West Coast. Not to mention, with travel time factored in, industry professionals had to block off at least two days from their busy schedules to meet with students in Harrisburg.

Palmer could not have lined up most of the 12 speakers, including production designers, creative directors and producers, without the ability to Skype them into class.

Two industry professionals already shared stories with students about their companies, their roles and production processes. And based on the insightful questions students asked and feedback they gave, Palmer said he knows the model is a success.

“Our students have been studying these skills for their entire academic career. These lectures provide an opportunity for the students to ‘picture’ themselves in the shoes of our guests,” he said. “I had no doubts about (introducing the model). Remember when you were a kid and your parents gave you advice that you ignored, but when someone else mentioned the same thing, it sounded like a revelation. This is a similar situation. Now, when they hear our lessons from someone doing it day in and day out, it means more.”

Palmer scheduled the guests. However, each student will act as a host for a speaker. This teaches students responsibility, and it connects them to industry professionals who one day could hire them, Palmer said.

As a host, a student reaches out to their assigned speaker to ensure that the technology the guests will use during their interactive discussion will sync up with HU’s, and to take care of any other needs the individual might have.

The first guest was Lenny Larsen III, Entertainment Executive and Creative Director at NextGeneration Creative Group. Larsen discussed the themed entertainment world with the class, sharing both his journey and lessons about engaging with clients.

Last week, Shannon Harvey, Director of Technology and Production Park Course Leader at the Backstage Academy, Skyped in to introduce the technical and design sides of the world of live events. Many of the students were amazed to learn from Harvey that their skills in 3d modeling and visualization could be used well beyond the game development world, Palmer said.

Thursday, Jake Rheinfrank, a User Experience and Interaction Designer for the PlayStation Network, will discuss his work in the world of user experience design.

Other guest speakers include:

  • John Williamson, Virtual Reality/AR Producer/Designer SAIC
  • Jason VandenBerghe, Design Director at ArenaNet LLC
  • Eduardo Azevedo, Diretor de TI at Multirio – IT Media Director – Empresa Municipal de Multimeios
  • Paul Benninghove, Founder, Phalanx Digital
  • James Portnow, CEO Divide by Zero Games
  • Christina Hagopian, President, Creative Director, Hagopian Ink.
  • Anuja Parikh, Producer, Facebook
  • Amanda Lange, Technical Evangelist, Microsoft
  • Melanie Lam, Educational Games Designer, SeaShells Education

Brandon Carl, a senior Interactive Media major, has enjoyed the first two speakers. But he also sees the need for traditional classroom lectures.

“It’s a good addition, but it’s not a replacement,” Carl said of the slate of guest speakers. “Repetition drills subject matter into your head. But the guest speakers keep us up to date on modern advances in the industry.”

Luckily for Carl there will be a balance of traditional classroom lectures and discussions with industry professionals in the class.

Managing Creative Teams meets twice a week for 14 weeks, and with 12 speakers on tap, nearly half of the classes will be led by Palmer as student complete pre-production on various group and solo projects.

Scott Miller, another senior Interactive Media major, said appreciates the class model because of the networking opportunities it presents.

For Christina Diffenderfer, also a senior majoring in Interactive Media, the discussions with professionals really drives home the lessons taught in class.

“It provides context for things we are learning,” Diffenderfer said. “We get to look at the information from a professional’s perspective and learn from what they did, and learn to avoid their mistakes.”

Palmer plans to continue with this class model, and said he likely will introduce it to sophomores in the future.

“I already know it’s a success. And While I am happy with how it’s playing out, I wish I had introduced it earlier to second year students.  I need to figure out how to get it to students earlier,” he said. “Students are eager to hear from the outside, and a lot of times professionals are out there saying, ‘I have a lot to share.’ And I wish when I was a student I would have heard this message.”