Youth Digital just moved into their new offices, tucked away in a nondescript office park in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It's a big step up from their humble beginnings, when company founder and director Justin Richards hauled a laptop to his students' houses, tutoring them on web and graphic design. Their first office was barely more than a closet, and now they have an expansive space complete with conference rooms, recording studio space, and their own 3D printer.
Teaching kids about graphic design and programming without using open source software would be prohibitively expensive. As I learned during my visit to the studio's new office, cost isn't the only reason why Richards and his team use open source tools. The freedom of creating custom application packages for their students and the opportunity to improve the software that they use means that everyone learns with the same easy-to-use technology. It doesn't matter whether they're sitting in a classroom in Chapel Hill or tuning in to Youth Digital's online courses halfway around the world.
I talked with Richards about the curriculum's open source approach, his company's humble beginnings, and how they hope to help kids all over the world learn skills that will provide better, richer opportunities as they become adults.
Let's start at the beginning. What got you into technology and design?Toy Story, pretty much. When I was a kid, Toy Story came out. When I saw that, it was so awesome. My dad was a computer programmer and I loved art and computers, and to see the potential to tell a story through 3D models was insane. I wanted to learn how to do it, and there was nowhere to learn it. All I could find were videos on YouTube about Flash animation. So I tried that, learned a little ActionScript, and did not like that. It wasn't Pixar, obviously.
So I looked at game design and couldn't find a lot of stuff. Then I went into web design and found this big book on CSS and HTML. I scoured YouTube and forums and spent hours of frustration making a website. I built it from start to finish, and that was such a great learning experience....
What called you to become a teacher?I never necessarily wanted to be a teacher, actually, but I love teaching web design. In St. Louis, we were given these massive, poorly written binders, and I was supposed to teach thirty 8 year-olds web design with them. So we put those away, and instead, I wrote a website really quick, and changed the curriculum so that by the end of the first day, the kids had their homepage, and by the last day of the class, they published it. Every one of our courses since then has been built around that idea: do something tangible on the first day, and on the last day, publish it. Just to give that sense of a real world project.
What sort of tools do the kids use in your courses?We want something that will give the kids that authentic, professional skillset, but also something that doesn't cost them a thousand dollars or is too intense for them. We've gravitated toward open source tools that mirror professional standards. We use Gimp, Inkscape, Eclipse, and Blender. We use Blender because other tools are $3,500. Some offer educational discounts, but a lot of our kids don't have the correct credentials to get the free version of, say, Autodesk. And we love Blender, because not only can we customize it for those young kids, but we can also make it so that it mirrors anything else they'd use in the industry. If you learn the pen tool in Inkscape, that's the same pen tool in Illustrator or any other vector program you'd use.
Overall, we're more focused on teaching kids the fundamentals of design and development as opposed to how to use a certain type of software. Depending on where you work and who you work for, the software's going to be different, or the language will be different..."
Read the full article at its source: http://opensource.com/education/14/9/teaching-digital-creativity