A video-game design first in Kamloops
It’s a first for Canadian schools — and it’s happening in Kamloops.
When classes resume in September, Sa-Hali secondary will become the first high school in Canada to offer video-game design classes for credit through the DigiPen Institute of Technology.
Greg Howard, the Kamloops-Thompson school district’s principal of trades and transitions, said the program will eventually be part of a district-wide Tech Academy, which will be based out of Sa-Hali.
“Kids from anywhere in our district can attend, but it will be at Sa-Hali secondary,” he said, comparing it to other district-wide academies, such as the hairdressing program at NorKam.
The SD73 Tech Academy is slated to open in the 2012-2013 school year.
The DigiPen Institute of Technology is a private four-year college in Redmond, Wash., which trains future video-game designers in computer science, computer engineering and art. In 2010, DigiPen placed second in the Princeton Review’s ranking of colleges for game design.
SD73 has been hosting DigiPen summer camps since 2007 and, in 2009, ran a pilot project offering for-credit elective courses during the school year.
But, the 2011-2012 school year will mark the beginning of a new partnership between the district and DigiPen.
“Up until now, it’s kind of been, ‘Let’s try this. Let’s do a pilot,’” said Raymond Yan, senior executive at DigiPen.
“But, it feels like now the train has left the station and let’s get it rolling.”
Sa-Hali principal Rick Klienlein said the Tech Academy will see students graduate with a significant understanding of video-game design.
“By the time they’re done, they’ve had over 400 hours of digital-game design as well as creating simulated environments,” he said, noting the academic side of the program will be intense.
“It’s not playing games, it’s creating them. So, there’s a heavy emphasis on math, a heavy emphasis on computer science.”
Yan said DigiPen offers a number of K-12 school courses in Washington state, but SD73 is the only Canadian school district to become affiliated.
After taking years to set up programs and get accreditation in the United States, Yan said it’s nice to see how quickly things have progressed north of the 49th.
“The folks over at the school district have been very open to it and it’s great to see the level of involvement the administrators have had,” he said.
“I think everyone’s doing their due diligence, but there’s a certain level of excitement that’s helping it get done faster,” Yan said.
Thompson Rivers University will also be involved in the venture, but to what extent remains unclear.
SD73 hopes to have the DigiPen courses count as dual-credit with TRU’s bachelor of fine arts, but the university won’t say for sure if that will happen.
Yan said DigiPen signed a memorandum of understanding with TRU this week for a future collaboration that could see the institutions offer a two-plus-two degree.
Michael Mehta, TRU’s dean of arts, said he just got back to Kamloops from a visit to DigiPen’s campus in Washington.
“We’re incredibly impressed by DigiPen,” he said.
“They seem to really be on the cutting edge.
“They have a very tight, well thought-out curriculum and this looks promising, especially given Canada’s interest in the digital economy.”
Mehta was part of the TRU delegation that signed the MOU with DigiPen.
“We’re in very early discussions,” he said.
“The MOU is a tool for exploring and doing due diligence.”
Mehta said TRU hopes to see a potential partnership with DigiPen involve the faculty of arts and the faculty of science — and he said it could mean good things for Kamloops in the long run.
“I think it’s very promising,” he said.
“There’s a lot of hope that Kamloops might be part of a larger digital corridor in B.C.”
Yan said DigiPen already has a campus in Singapore and a partnership with a university in South Korea, but a collaboration with TRU would be huge for the future of both institutions.
“For us to co-operate in this manner with a public institution, it’s a really great opportunity,” he said.
“We’re really excited to work with them.”
Any potential partnership with TRU is still at least a year or two down the road, but Yan said DigiPen’s deal with SD73 will offer students a first-hand look at the program in the meantime.
“It’s ultimately about a pathway,” he said.
“A lot of times, a kid takes a workshop and says, ‘Wow, that was really interesting. What can I do next?’ And there’s nothing.”
Howard said two Sa-Hali teachers are in Redmond this week receiving training from DigiPen staff to teach the programs next year.
The classes will be open to Grade 10 students in the fall and will be available to students in grades 10, 11 and 12 by the 2013-2014 school year.
They will also be available online through the district’s @Kool program.
DigiPen’s summer camps will run in Kamloops through July and August.
For more information, call the SD73 office at 250-374-0679.
For more information on DigiPen, go to digipen.edu.