2010 Reviewed, Part I: A New Vocation

About mid-way through 2010 I slowed down on my personal blog for various reasons – one of them is who actually had access to my blogs, and the other major reason was a lot of the energy that went into my personal blog went into my other writing areas.

And no, MidnightRyder.org isn’t my personal blog.  It’s supposed to be a sort of ‘drop box’ for the stuff that doesn’t quite fit in my personal blog, doesn’t fit into my professional blog(s), and is too long for a status update on Facebook.  OK, and it’s Google fodder too.  My personal blog is held elsewhere, under a layer of protection against the rest of the world.  There’s some things that just don’t need to be shared with the entire world.

However, there are bits that I keep wanting to put up here, and just never get around to it.  Well, I figured a good way of closing out 2010 would be to finally sit down and do those entries.  I’m breaking this down into a couple of sections, and spacing the posts out over the next couple of days.  You know, just to be a pain.

One of the major changes in 2010 was vocational.  I became a teacher, but no a college or school teacher.

Skyler Lovelace is a friend I met on Twitter in, oh, 2008 I think.  She owns Pixel Time Learning Center here in Wichita, Kansas, where she teaches digital media stuff like Photoshop.  Cool place, really, and it’s in a cool location – it’s located downtown that the City Arts building, which is a pretty cool venue to work from (though, Pixel Time isn’t a part of City Arts.)

There had been some discussion about teaching game development topics at Butler Community College – somehow I ended up on the Interactive 3D degree program Advisory Board instead of actually teaching.  And for a couple of semesters now, the topic of me teaching there keeps coming back up, and something happens at their end and it never pans out (the Spring 2011 semester, however, was me having to bow out – they got their end of things together, and suddenly I’ve got a gig that over-rides the possibility of doing 16 weeks of teaching there.)

When Butler kept falling through, an idea came to mind – why not teach at Pixel Time?  So I approached Skyler with the idea, and what I wanted to teach:  Introduction to Game Development.

I’ve got a history in game development, and a very long history in software development in general – heck, there’s a whole long blog entry about it.  I hadn’t even considered someone would question my history in game development online.  Heck, no one really questions my history in anything I say I’ve done, if you ask me – usually a quick discussion about the titles I’ve worked on is enough for most people.  But this is the online world, and someone had to bring up the question.  So there was my first lesson in teaching: expect that someone, somewhere, is going to question your qualifications to teach.

A quick side note: I also assumed that someone could just Google me to find out what I’ve done in the field.  That’s poor thinking on my part, really – first off, that assumes someone would think digging for information about me.  I shouldn’t assume that, I should just make my information visible up front.  Second, at the time I write this, googling “Davis Ray Sickmon” in quotes (exact match) results in over a million hits on Google now.  Most of them are duplicate entries, but the point is it’s lot of different stuff to look through just to see what I’ve done years ago.

I created a curriculum and a teaching plan.  Classes were only a month long, one hour and a half class per week, so I was going to have to really cram a lot of information in quickly.  The goal for the class was to get someone enough information to get up and running with game development – concepts, marketing, etc.

I learned my second lesson in my very first class: if you have a plan, expect that it’s going to be trashed at some point.  Mine got trashed five minutes in.  I had split the class into two sections – lecture, then practical.  The lecture section happened for about 45 minutes, then 45 minutes of hands-on stuff (and 30 minutes of ‘buffer’ at the end for running long or questions.)  Five minutes in, three of the kids in the class had lost focus entirely.  One of them was looking at the ceiling.  Aw, heck.

I ditched the plan, and created a new one in my head in about two seconds:  I had everyone load the game engine we were using and walk around in a demo.  The new plan had us alternating every 5 minutes – 5 minutes of lecture about how something were were going to change worked and how to change it, and five minutes of us actually changing it in the game engine.

This became the model for all the classes I taught – it worked great!  Not just with kid, but with adults, too – though, I eliminated kids from the equation (for now), and concentrated on teaching those that were 16 and up.

Overall, teaching has gone well – though I don’t think anyone has ever gotten rich from teaching!  It pays, just not great pay or anything.  Sitting down and doing the math, I make more overall doing my usual contract work than teaching.  On the other hand, I like teaching, and it helps build up another Wichita small business in the process, along with helping more than one friend, and makes some connections here and there.

In 2010 I taught:  Introduction to Game Development, Rapid App Development for iPhone / iPad / Android, Websites for Artists, and a couple of “Learning to love your iPad” seminars.

in 2011 I’ll be changing the class structure a bit.  Right now I’m cramming in so much information in 8 hours or so of instruction it’s impossible for it all to stick.  They walk away with a great deal of info, but not everything I’d like to cover gets covered, and they don’t walk away with a tangible final project.  So for next years stuff I’m breaking it up into three months worth of sessions – this was suggested by the students, and I think they are right.

So instead of one month of classes, it’s now broken into an introduction course, an intermediate course, and an advanced course – no matter if it’s iPhone development, web development, or game development.  They don’t have to take all three courses, and at the end of each course section they’ll end up with something tangible to continue working with.  For instance, the web development course will involve actually purchasing a domain, a hosting environment, setting up the core software, and setting up their first entries in a CMS system.  Enough that there’s accomplishment, but not so much that they forget 1/4th of what was taught, and they get to make use of everything.  The Game Dev and the App Dev classes will end up the same way – though I haven’t finished mapping out the curriculum on them.

I’ll also probably have a few more seminars too – Skyler and I have already discussed some social media seminars, for instance.  I’ve also considered a few more class concepts, but there are some restrictions on what I can teach – for instance, I can’t teach anything that City Arts already teaches as a class (which ditches an idea I had for a intermediate level class on video editing using Final Cut Express).  And of course, if it’s over software not loaded on Skyler’s Mac’s, well, it’s probably not going to happen – my courses don’t bring in enough money for her to go off and buy more software and equipment (though, she did invest in a nice webcam / document scanner for the iPad seminars, and upgrade all the machines to OS X 10.5 for the Rapid App Development courses)

While working with Skyler has benefitted me (that’s what really matters, right? ;-), it’s also benefitted Skyler – she’s now bringing in more students (which means more cash) and the idea of having other people come in and teach classes has now panned out properly.  So in 2011 she’s bringing in at least two more people:  Kevin Keplar is now going to be teaching Mac classes – you might recognize his name from T-95 as one of the DJ’s at one point.  Oh, and he’s also director of technology at the Elliot School of Communications at Wichita State University, but the on air personality bit sound so much more interesting, right? 😉

I helped bring one more person on board too, local rock star Scott Allan Knost.  He’s been doing music for years now – not as a side job, but as a full time job.  He’s got multiple albums out there and has seen the inside of more bars in a year than I have in my entire life.  In other words, the man knows music.  Well, he’s now going to be teaching a couple of music related courses at Pixel Time – mainly focusing on editing and composition using GarageBand.  Oh, and if you’re looking to learn guitar, he’s also teaching guitar lessons on his own 🙂

Even if I don’t make a fortune from teaching at Pixel Time, it’s been a great experience – I enjoy it, I make a little extra money, I’ve made some connections, and I’ve even managed to help out some friends in the process.  From a teaching position, what else could I ask for? 🙂

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