A Q&A With Game Developer and Curriculum Designer, Lang Schwartzwald
What do video game development, virtual education, and social-emotional learning all have in common? Virtual Tech Camps at Digital Media Academy.
Lang Schwartzwald specializes in technology education, teaching subjects that include robotics, 3D game design, TV production and coding to learners aged 9 to 12. Alongside this, Lang is a curriculum developer and instructor for several courses at Digital Media Academy, including Game Development with Unity and Game Development with Roblox – two of the most popular courses on offer. These courses provide a starting point for young learners who dream of making their own video games, but they also do so much more.
We spoke with Lang about the benefits of attending a virtual summer Tech Camp at Digital Media Academy – benefits that extend beyond skill development
For readers who might not know: what is Roblox? How do you use it to teach game design?
A good way to describe Roblox is that it’s an online game platform that allows you to build your own 3D world in a game environment.
Our students love it because the graphics aren’t very realistic – they’re fun, with more of an 8-bit feel to them. And kids can very easily create inside of Roblox without having to know a lot about coding or 3D modeling or anything like that.
They can put together their own stuff and then they can play with each other on a server; once you create a game, you can open it up so that other people can go into your game and run around and talk to each other. They can also make their way through the game itself.
We use Roblox to teach game design because it gives us a quick, easy platform to teach students how to put in models, how to program them and how to make them interactive. And then we talk about building a story out from there.
Games aren’t just open environments where people do whatever they want. (Although some games are going in that direction). We want the kids to sort of storytell their way through the game building process – to think of a narrative arc like an epic or some sort of hero’s journey, which is a common thing we do in video game development. There’s a beginning and there’s some sort of adversity that the player has to get through in order to solve the game.
Is it a big leap from having fun playing video games to having fun designing them?
With other platforms it’s much more difficult because the learning curve is greater, but Roblox is so simple. You can drag and drop things, and there are starter templates that allow you to start with an environment that you can build on, so you don’t have to feel like you’re starting from scratch.
We try to get students to be innovative by teasing ideas out of them to spark that imagination so that they can go off and run with those ideas on their own.
Game Development With Roblox is one of several virtual Tech Camps that Digital Media Academy is offering this summer. What are some of the benefits of attending a virtual camp?
The biggest benefit I’ve seen is that the kids get to interact with people who are on the other side of the globe.
Some of my robotics classes had kids in China interacting with kids from Canada interacting with kids from France, so they get this expanding network of friends that they can play with online. They build these games and then they’re playing them with these people that they’ve never met, who are on the other side of the planet, so that’s really cool for them.
Often kids are only around the other kids who are in their neighborhood. So the virtual camp gives them that chance to expand beyond borders.
Also, in these virtual classes, you can sit and relax and feel good about being there and not feel pressured to get a certain grade or to perform a certain way.
The environment is really good for young learners in terms of being themselves and being free to explore what they’re capable of.
As an educator, how would you say young learners benefit from having that kind of diversity of friendships?
It gives them a different perspective. People approach games with different mentalities, and getting to know other ways of thinking expands your creativity. If a student is within a certain cultural context, they think of games or stories in certain ways while students from other cultures think about them in different ways. Getting to know students from different cultures allows our learners to move beyond their typical way of thinking about things.
We’re not just here to shove code in someone’s brain. We’re here to help them understand how to work as a team and be better people.
What are some of the ways that you keep learners engaged when you’re teaching them online?
I taught through the pandemic and it can be difficult to keep students engaged. A lot of it has to do with content – the kind of stuff that you’re actually engaging with makes a big difference.
One approach I take is to foster group interaction – getting the kids to respond not only to the teacher but to each other as well, and making them feel like they are a part of a team.
A major point of emphasis in game development is that it takes more than one person to build a game. You can’t build an awesome game all by yourself; you need other people to work with you. You need to figure out how to develop that team environment and to feel like you belong to the group.
So that’s one of the big ways I keep students engaged – we are all in this together, we’re all learning. We’ve all started at one spot and we’re here to help each other grow and become a better community because of it. And that helps keep them with me in a virtual learning environment.
In your experience, how is Digital Media Academy’s approach to technology education different from other options that are out there?
Digital Media Academy does a really good job of keeping the offerings very diverse and new and fresh. You’ll see them retiring courses that become outdated. They’re always trying to keep things on the leading edge.
For people who want to learn on their own, for example, on YouTube, you don’t get that one-on-one, hands-on help in case you get stuck. If a problem arises technology-wise or a system has certain settings that you aren’t familiar with, when you’re learning, you need someone to guide you through those issues.
In a Tech Camp, you can ask the instructor to help you. And if you conceptualize an idea in a different way than what’s being presented, the instructor is there to help you understand it in a way you can relate to, versus a YouTube video where the presenter doesn’t know anything about you.
Is there anything you’d say to a young learner who is interested in video game development and considering taking a course or attending a Tech Camp?
Just don’t be afraid; be willing to go out there and try. You can’t succeed unless you take those first steps and you can’t climb that mountain unless you take many of those steps. So as long as you keep pursuing what you want to do, you’ll make it.