What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges? Part 2

This series is called “What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges?” A number of you have pointed out, on Twitter and elsewhere, that what i’m describing is what’s wrong with all colleges. But now, i want to shine the spotlight on perhaps an unexpected target, and suggest that not only are colleges flawed, but so too are their customers.

Part 2: The Students

In order to discover why Ontario colleges can’t seem to produce workplace-ready graduates for the casual games/rich media content industry, i went deep undercover as a fledgling teacher at a Toronto college that shall remain nameless: Hernando Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined.

i went to … oh, damn. i just said the name, didn’t i? Unfortunately, the backspace key on my keyboard has been rigged to issue a low-grade electrical shock every time i press it, so i have no choice but to speak to you about this frankly and honestly.

So i completed 200 one-armed push-ups on my knuckles, and then accepted a part-time position at the school. i’m teaching a second-semester Flash course. Owing to my sense of self-preservation, i won’t identify any one student. There’s enough trouble to go around for me to treat the entire student body as one collective asspain. Game Development is the type of program that attracts a certain type of person, and the blame for that is shared by both the institution and its customers.

Everyone Can Get a Job Making Games

Colleges are businesses first and foremost. They need to offer desirable products. The perception is that purchasing their product will provide you with sufficient training to seek and (hopefully) land a position in that field. This is not the stated goal of all colleges, mind you – i remember clearly that when i recommended to Purim College as a member of their advisory panel that they increase their Flash offering to improve their students’ employability, the school’s teacher rep said “oh – we’re not here to get the students jobs. We’re here to facilitate their exploration of their art, of their chosen pursuit.” Yes – that actually happened.

Get out of my education system, you fekkin’ hippies.

But Hernando Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined is a different story. They proudly proclaim in their literature that 90% of their grads get jobs within the first six months of graduating. Note that they don’t say 90% of their grads get jobs in the industry for which HVSD trained them. They just claim that the students were employed within six months. Now, really, since we all need to get a job doing something, this is actually an alarming stat: Hernando Velasquez is tacitly admitting that 6 months after graduating, 10% of their graduates are either unemployed or dead.

(i suppose a few could be idle rich, but it takes the bite out of my punchline.)

So the college is under pressure to put together an attractive offering in its course calendar. Nothing’s hotter than a job in the oft-heralded video game industry, so colleges across the province (country, world) are now purporting to train students in the video game industry.

Who Applies?

Now, let’s assemble a profile of the average teenaged male in high school to whom this offering might appeal. He’s tall. He’s gawky. He plays video games all the time. He masturbates to the underwear pages in the Sears fliers. He’s not bright enough to be a doctor, or he’d apply for in pre-med. He’s not bright enough to go to University at all, in fact. Ontario high schools are usually streamed, and it’s generally accepted that kids in the upper stream go on to University, and kids who take the lower general-level courses wind up in either college or prison. This is not by rule, but by reputation.

ima make gaymezzors when iz grow’d up!!

So this college-bound gamer has two options to him: he can enroll in the college’s programming course, or he can take their video game development program. Programming likely has grade 12 math prerequisites, and he’s not nearly smart enough for that. The video game program is an art program. So is this guy a fabulous artist? Probably not, or else he’d be taking a fine arts program somewhere. So he’s a gawky, hairy-palmed male gamer with perhaps no remarkable drawing skills and no great ambitions to use his grey matter in post-secondary education. This – THIS is the student who enrolls in the game development course at XYZ college. And THIS is the only type of kid who gets a shot at learning Flash, because we’re not teaching Flash very much in University, and we’re likely glossing over it in college-level programming.

And THIS explains why most of the Flash shops i know are trying to hire, with no luck. As i mentioned in the previous post, it’s a ten-year-old problem.

The No-Fail Generation

There’s another important thing to understand about our game dev program applicant. He hearkens from a generation of kids who, as of the late 1990’s, were unable to fail. It’s true: changes to the high school curriculum brought about by the Ministry of Education forbade teachers from flunking grade nine students. No matter how truant, lazy, or downright dumb a student was, he would sail on straight through the ninth grade. In my experience working as a part-time youth pastor at my church, i found there are even more cracks for these kids to slip through. i’ve known more than a few kids who should be failing, should be held back, but are repeatedly promoted to the next grade by an education system that doesn’t want to bruise their egos. Anecdotally, my friend who works at a major Canadian chain of retailers for young people tells me that when these kids get part-time jobs, screw up, and get fired, it’s an absolute shock to the system. They’ve never failed.

Me fail Burger King? That’s unpossible!

i was invited by colleagues of mine to lecture at a game development program at Blunder College here in Ontario. The course outcome was to complete a Flash game. The class was divided into two groups of about eight students. The students had four months to collectively complete a flip n’ match memory game in Flash. And they were struggling.

Let me just punctuate that for you: it wasn’t one game per student. It was eight students working as a team to complete one game.

They were taking the typical college-level token Flash Actionscript 3 course along side their game dev course, and were swearing a blue streak at what they called an impossible task. A game, they said? A full game in four months with only eight people?? They told me it couldn’t be done.

i told them that for an experienced solo Flash developer, a flip n’ match memory game was the work of a single afternoon. They didn’t believe me. So for the next three hours, i sat down and walked them through the process of building the game from scratch. Along the way, i pointed out all kinds of programming shortcuts they could take, dropped sparkling gems of advice that would speed up their workflow, and built a functioning flip n’ match game before their very eyes.

Or it would have been before their very eyes, if any of them had been watching. For the most part, they futzed around on their computers with other projects, chatted to their friends on Windows Messenger, or surfed the underwear pages of the online Sears catalogue.

One particularly slimy student who had been glued to Facebook for the entire lecture slithered up to me after class and held out his keydrive. Like a greasy lounge lizard trying to pick up a chick in a low-rent bar, he said “Yyyyyeah, uh … do you suppose i could just … put that finished game on my kkkeydrive?”

i had two words for him. The second word was “you”.

He was lucky to escape the room without any poo-flinging.

Playing Games vs. Making Games

This week, i arrived early to teach class. The group has another class before mine in the neighbouring room. That room was blasting with machine gun fire, swearing, and the stench of gym class. All of the students were in there playing games. i wondered where the teacher was. One of the students told me he was a no-show. So, of course, that’s how they decided to spend those three hours – playing games.

Every time there’s the briefest pause during my class when i go to help a flailing student, the monitors light up with Team Fortress 2 and Quake and online web games. So a few weeks ago, i dropped this truth-bomb on them:

Listen, everyone. i know you probably go home to Chatham or Barrie or wherever it is you’re from and brag to your dumb buddies that you play games at school all day, but that’s not why you’re here. You’re in a game development program, not a game playing program. You’re a different breed of person now. You’re behind the scenes, not in front of them. You’re a creator, not a consumer.

It’s like you’re trying to get a job in a cake factory. Cakes are fun and enjoyable and people like to eat them, but a factory job is a factory job like any other. You don’t get a cake factory job to sit around and eat cakes all day. Turn the games off. It’s time to put some blood, sweat and tears into learning how to make cakes.

The cake: with a little actual effort, it’s no lie.

Email: The Insurmountable Challenge

i had to write a mid-term exam for the students. When i asked him to show me the ropes, the guy who teaches the same course to three other classes imparted some advice: the best thing to do, if i want to make sure i get all of their finished tests, is to pass around a keydrive. Whenever a student finishes his exam, you pass him the keydrive and he puts his files on it. i asked why the students couldn’t just email their files. He said that when you ask the students to email their completed exam files to you, there are problems. They type your email address incorrectly, they send you shortcut files as attachments, and they forget to include files.

And my response? Forget it. Not on my watch.

If you can’t competently email an attachment with your name on it, you’re not only going to fail my course, but you’re going to fail life in modern Western civilization. To make sure that everyone knew the score, i told the students in no uncertain terms that i expected a zip file containing their completed exam files with their first initial and last name emailed to me at the correct address. Then i would go down the class list and start checking off names. If i didn’t receive their file, they’d flat-out fail the test.

There’s one exception:

No – i’m just yanking your chain. There are NO exceptions. No email, no mark.

So we actually took 15-20 minutes out of the class to learn how to right-click a folder, add it to a zip file, and attach it to an email. It was embarrassing. i was embarrased.

At break, one of the students piped up to tell me that in another class, their teacher had asked for the same thing – zip files with students’ names on them. He provided a sample naming convention – the teacher’s name was Gord Smith, so he wrote gsmith.zip on the whiteboard as the example.

And what do you think happened? Dear friends, his inbox filled up with multiple files called gsmith.zip.

The Chain of Irresponsibility

i don’t actually blame this all on the students. Somewhere, someone let them down. If these kids don’t know how to use email, it’s not the Colleges’ fault. That burden is squarely on the high schools. So in conclusion, the problem with Ontario Colleges is not the students, but the high schools.

Problem solved.

EXCEPT that i recently had dinner with a high school English teacher. She has to administer the grade 10 standardized testing to her class. In order for her school to score highly on the testing (and it does), she is encouraged by her department head to hand out IEPs – Individualized Education Plans – to students left, right and center. It’s a loophole. With an IEP, any student who wants an extra hour on the standardized test, gets an extra hour on the standardized test. (Make no mistake – the department head can and should be fired for this.)

So the English teacher is no longer able to teach high school English. She has to teach to the standardized test. If you’ve seen the excellent HBO series The Wire, the same shenanigans went down in that show. The burden of standardized testing put on the high schools is the Ministry’s fault.

So the problem with Ontario Colleges, conclusively, is the Ministry of Education.

Please direct all calls and emails to Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky.

BUT … what about the fact that these teachers are at the mercy of the students’ parents? Everyone in high school gets a passing grade these days, and that’s largely because if you try to give a student less than a passing grade, you find yourself on the phone having to justify your decision to the kid’s parent. i have many friends who are teachers, and the stories they tell about parental interference could curdle your milk. The CBC recently ran a documentary about these people called Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids. You can watch it on their site for free. It talks about, among other things, parents who call up their kids’ places of employment to negotiate their pay raises.

The problem is clearly soccer moms.

In … Conclusion?

i’ve traced the problem with Ontario Colleges through the institution to the students, back to the high schools, up to the Ministry of Education, and back around to the kids’ parents, who demand it be that way in the first place. These parents, to have teenaged kids, were likely born some time in the 60’s. So my penultimate conclusion is that the problem with Ontario Colleges is children of the 60’s.

Because i’m a lousy researcher, the trail runs cold there. If you want to take up the torch, i welcome you to it. Here’s where we left off: what the Hell is wrong with children of the 60’s, and are THEY the reason that nobody in Toronto knows how to make games in Flash?


52 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges? Part 2

  1. Paul

    Spot on – I’m still frustrated when I have friends asking me dumbfounded questions, like how to make an icon in illustrator.

    You don’t know? That’s great. Find Out? Use Google, search for it, you can find out anything.

    Then an hour later, they come back to me without knowing how to search. They can’t figure out anything, can’t get anything working right, can’t find a good site, yada yada.

    In this day in age, this should be standard (especially in our related fields) for people to understand.

    The email thing is a joke – I’ve seen first hand students completely screw that up. It’s really quite sad when they’re supposed to be learning advanced development techniques from you – and they can’t do simple modern-day tasks.

  2. Iain

    Ha ha ha your best one yet. You certainly tell it like it is! On my multimedia degree 30% of the students should have been kicked off the course for non-attendance etc but the university needed their tuition fees, and apparantly a high flunk rate makes the uni look bad (when accademic rigour should actually be seen as a positive). Group work is always a disaster as it lets slackers hide. Modular courses also spread students attention very thin. Better to lock them in a room and not let them leave til they’ve coded a Breakout clone.

  3. Jessica

    Just to comment on Ontario Colleges… I agree, they suck. I don’t have the same background as you do, I took broadcasting at an Ontario College and it was a joke. Instructors may have been from the industry, but they didn’t do a whole lot of teaching and let the students run them. I also went to college (previous to Ontario) in New Brunswick where I worked my ASSSSSS off… and learned a hell of a lot more. Ontario Colleges are broken!

  4. Michael

    Great post! You will have to let us know whether they manage to email you an attachment.

    It’s so strange that someone would spend so much time on the computer, enter into a course where, clearly, they’re going to be spending a lot of time on the computer, and then… not know how to use a computer. Actually, what’s strange is the lack of curiosity you describe.

    So, everyone in Canada does higher education (or jail time), then?

  5. Andy Smith

    I’m a little offended by your description of the kids who go to Video Game schools. Not every kid falling into the clutches of an Ontario College is a simpleton, some kids genuinely thought that it would be a great course to learn about the industry.

    Of course, by the time some kids realized that the course was nothing like it was promised, they were already much too committed to finishing, tied to the school based on the money already spent and the promise that as long as they weren’t one of *those* kids they’d be just fine.

    I’d like to consider myself one of the 1-in-10 (20? 50?) that has been able to succeed in spite of my time spent at a Video Game course in Ontario. I did love the article however, I think you may need to say *most* of the students are too stupid to send a .zip in an email.

    As a side note, the Fine Arts programs in most Universities (well, the one I was in to be fair) are filled with the same kids with less of a drive to gain employment. Also, I’m thankful that my Ontario College no longer exists, most people seeing my resume will simply assume it was a reputable school and program.

    1. Ryan

      Andy – is long as i draw breath, i will ensure that the IADT lives on in infamy.

      i’m careful to point out through all of this that i myself am a product of the Ontario College system. i did not land a job doing what i was trained to do (3D animation and modelling), and had to “settle” for a web game design position at a broadcaster. At the time, web was the uncoolest thing going – if you failed at 3D, you got a job doing web stuff. Looking back, of course, i see myself as incredibly fortunate to have landed that job, having had no game design experience whatsoever – and in the middle of the dotcom bubble burst to boot.

      At my college, i was surrounded by the very same knuckleheads i describe in the article. i myself was an under-powered grad with an absolutely wretched demo reel. My placement in education led to two years of teaching small children how to use a mouse. i’m amazed that everything turned out so well.

  6. Snottlebocket

    Shame the trail ran cold in the sixties. You were only two decades away from being able to blame the nazi’s.

    I think it’s a growing problem everywhere though. I did an arts, media and technology programme, where the school had thought up this idea that we’d learn a little bit of everything (ie. these are the basic tools for photoshop, flash, illustrator, this is how a java function works etc.) and then we’d go straight on to become ‘discipline bridging teamleaders’ after graduating!

    Out of a class of 30 about 5 actually graduated, the rest dropped out, out of those 5 only 2 actually ended up doing the kind of job we studied for. (there were several classes working parallel to us, same story there)

    In short the only people who did graduate were the people who were already interested and active in the field as a hobby before they even started.

  7. Mark

    I found that my college program at Sheridan actually gave me the tools to transfer my Fine Arts degree into a job in web design and I had a few flash courses in there to boot. I’d chalk this up to the teacher, Gillian Chubb, and my own decision to get the most out of the courses by working my butt off.

  8. Bane Williams

    You know what? I would f^^^king KILL for the chance to be taught flash by you for weeks on end. That opportunity is something that I can look at and go ‘yes, I would like to subscribe’. I’m actually a little angry over here that you have all these students who don’t even know how to email?

    Let me explain something. I knew how to e-mail correctly at the age of 13. No one taught me how to do it, I just had a need, and therefore worked on that need. Two weeks later, I knew all there was to know about how to work my msn e-mail address *ugh, msn*. I say two weeks, because on a 56k modem, that’s how long it took to load everything.

    What if one of these people went to a job in the business and after hiring them the employer finds out they don’t even know how to fricken email? omfg….

    It’s 3AM and I shouldn’t be reading this. now I will be getting no sleep, because I’ll be rocking myself wondering how come football jocks who don’t know how to even e-mail get jobs in the industry because they were in a no-fail situation, and me, who could do probably better than at least eight of them taped together *I wrote my first flip game in flash by the end of my second week of self teaching* sits here working video game journalism for peanuts.

    I’m done.

  9. Andrew

    Yeah a lot of those “game” programs are dubious at best. TriOS college offers a “video game design and development” course… for $30,000. The price of an MBA for a skillset that is ethereal at best.

    Programs that try to teach design, art, and programming all at once probably teach none. To quote a quote from Civilization IV: “If you try to catch two rabbits, you will lose them both.”

  10. Evelyn

    I applaud your desire to figure out what is wrong with today’s education system, and you have, in turn, provided a stellar “case in point” example of what the real problem might be – educators like you. Who is it that you think your blame game is helping? First off, if so many of your “students” are so clearly unengaged by your lessons and program, then perhaps you need to take a long look at your teaching practices. If students are bored and uninterested, it is generally because their instructor is boring and uninteresting. If you really wanted them to learn, then you’d find a way to reach them rather than wasting so much time writing about how they are simply stupid, lazy, and undereducated. I’m sure it’s just easier though, to blame the high schools, the Ministry of Education, bad parenting, etc. THAT’s the problem with today’s youth – too many authority figures who spend all of their time finger pointing and writing self-important blogs rather than trying to figure out how to actually HELP them be successful.

    Your fact checking is abysmal at best. Regardless of what your “teacher friends” are telling you, students can, and do, fail. They are then offered support to meet their needs and help them pass – because this is what education IS. We don’t have standardized tests in Ontario, we have standards based tests – based upon the curriculum standards, and thus, teachers who don’t “teach to the test” are failing to cover their curriculum and are therefore lax and shouldn’t be teaching anyway. Finally, students cannot be put on an IEP without having been deemed either gifted or learning disabled – and those with learning difficulties SHOULD be given extra time on big, important tests. Are there problems in our education system? Yes. Are all people academic abstract thinkers? No. Is that a bad thing? No – it takes all kinds, and no one deserves the harsh generalizations you have made about them based on choosing the stream best suited for them in high school. Plenty of students in the applied stream go on to be succesful adults. college and university graduates, trades workers, and so on. Many of them even manage to avoid incarceration. Your sweeping statements are not only trite and stereotypical, but speak to the kind of arrogant, self-righteous person you must be – and you should be deeply ashamed of your sacrcastic and thoughtless assertions.

    As an educator, I can tell you that it doesn’t really matter why the kids are the way they are – what matters is that those who have chosen to educate them, either for the love of their art, or to help them develop employable skills – actually DO IT rather than whining ad naseum about how hard it is and why it is everybody’s fault but ours. I personally wish you would stick to Flash stay the hell away from students, since you are clearly unable to distinguish between the needs of humans and the needs of machines. We are not programmable. We require empathy, understanding and humanity – three things which, despite all of your awe-inspiring computer skills – you clearly are unable to provide to those who pay for your guidance and support.

    1. Ryan

      Evilyn – At last! i wondered why it was taking so long for someone to blame ME.

      It’s a strange thing for you, an educator, to call me out for abysmal fact-checking, when a quick Google search turns up numerous articles on Ontario’s standardized testing, not least of all this page from the Ontario Ministry of Education’s own website:

      Standardized Testing
      * The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) runs assessment testing:
      o Reading, writing and math in Grades 3 and 6
      o Mathematics in Grade 9
      o Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) in Grade 10

      The EQAO wants your child to do well on these tests. They’ve got study tools and sample tests covering the Grade 3 and 6 Assessments of Reading, Writing and Mathematics, the Grade 9 Assessment of Mathematics and the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT). You can also get tips from a brochure written for teachers called Preparing Students for the OSSLT.

      Please also re-read my post carefully: this real high school teacher who works at a real high school teaching Ontario’s OSSLT to her tenth grade students is encouraged by her department head to hand out IEPs to her students left and right “like they were candy”, in her words. This is so that the school’s students will have longer to complete the standardized English test. As a result, the school scores very high in the province on the OSSLT. Obviously, what they’re doing is wrong. Not even students who are learning disabled should have longer to complete the test. That’s the whole point of a standardized test. One of the standards is time allowed for completion.

      i used this anecdote to illustrate the degree of spoon-feeding to which some educators will stoop in the name of handing out “Everybody Wins” trophies. Reliable stats be damned!

      You say:

      Are all people academic abstract thinkers? No. Is that a bad thing? No – it takes all kinds.

      The trouble here is that i’m teaching a course in programming – AKA abstract thinking. There are teaching tools and techniques to help non-abstract thinkers wrap their grey matter around programming. i started out as an artist/animator, and i found programming very difficult. But doodling diagrams, cooking up analogies, replacing eggheady programming terms with more familiar ones (a variable is a bucket, a class is a blueprint) are all ways in which i try to help the mostly visual learners who are taking my class.

      i’m doing my best to help these students develop employable skills, but you have to walk before you can run. My students need to be able to follow a simple instruction and successfully email a file, before they can use the OOP concept of inheritance to derive subclasses. They need to know which image file formats support transparency, before they can use program bitmap classes to discern the colour values of pixels in an image.

      These first, simple concepts are things that i expected them to know. They’ve already spent a 4-month semester in a computer design program. If you feel my expectations are too high and my teaching strategies are poor, then i will devote the rest of my life to developing some sort of airship to escape this planet Earth on its rapid voyage to Hell in a very large handbasket. Enjoy your trip.

      – Ryan

  11. tfernando

    You’re teaching first year students, right?

    The community college I went to probably has less than 90% getting jobs within 6 months of graduation, but that would be because they had a number of programs which were designed as feeders into the state university system. So, if you graduated from the 2yr Biology program, it would count as the first two years of the biology program at U. of Big State… I have no idea what the follow-on success rate was (I took a job in a totally unrelated field after graduation rather than continuing on), BUT…

    The students in general subjects and first year electives were much as you describe. The students in second year courses within the major were mostly older– folks who had been laid off and were retraining, guys like me who had gotten out of the army and needed to train in something applicable to civilian life, and the handful of kids who had actually developed discipline and study skills (Lord knows how) during high school. This made the second year classes have a much different tone and character than the first year ones– the instructors had to do less work at controlling students and could spend a lot more time teaching.

    I wonder if had your course been been a second year elective you’d be much less frustrated with your students than you are now?


    As an aside-
    The only difficulty I think I’d have with that flip’n’match game described as a final project for another course is figuring out how to make it a four-man project stretching 4 months :) … and I’m not formally trained in flash or CS at all. If I were taking that course, I think I’d be bored out of my skull by the end– which is not what you want to have happen to people interested in the subject.

    1. Ryan

      tfernando – i’ve heard tell of wild tales from the second-year and post-grad instructors that the students focus, pay attention, read the study notes, and are generally enthused about the course material. Of course, i think it’s just a legend, but they say that on a cool, still night when the moon’s out full and the coyotes are a-howlin’, you can hear a lone post-grad student actually thinking.

      In reply to your aside, let me be clear that it was EIGHT people on a flip n’ match game for four months, and i didn’t prescribe that assignment. i was guest-lecturing for some friends of mine. In my class, my students have 14 weeks to complete a flip n’ match game flying solo. And they have to do it in SPANISH, with PUNCH CARDS.

      – Ryan

  12. tfernando

    Err.. sorry to double post, but you can remove this and my previous comment if you like. Evelyn’s comment and your response weren’t there when I hit submit! :)

  13. Bwakathaboom

    Sadly the teaching field seems to be steadily overtaken by the touchy-feely “everybody wins” sentiment; that a teacher’s job is to entertain the class Dead Poet’s Society style. If the student isn’t engaged, it’s the teachers fault. Maybe next time you should do hip-hop dance routine to explain Listener Events.

    It’s okay for children to fail. That’s how you learn. It’s okay to hold them back and make sure they understand the material before they can move ahead. Coddling kids through the education system does nothing but set them up for an epic burn once they hit the real world.

    Off topic – I understand lots of people in Toronto are having trouble hiring competent Flash devs but another part of the problem could be paying what the position is worth.

    I was looking to relocate to Toronto (giving up freelance for a steady cheque) but I can’t do that for under $60,000 a year! The going rate seems to be in that $50,000 – $60,000 range even for intermediate and “team lead” positions. A team leader for under $100k?! Something’s wonky in that job market.

  14. Evelyn

    Oh golly – here we go with the semantics.
    First of all, the people who write the Ministry documents are often morons who have never stepped foot in a clasroom or administered an EQAO test.
    Standardized tests are identical from student to student, and from year to year, and are marked identically in all circumstances. This is not the case of the EQAO test. It is different from year to year, there are various versions of the test every year so that not every grade 10 student in the province is writing the same test within that given year, and it is marked based on exemplars and rubrics that are constantly being revised and updated. The only thing it does consistently is test the curriculum expectations and standards – but it does so in varied ways – thus it is “standards based” and not “standardized” – regardless of what some goombah wrote in a government document.

    And yes, according to the Ministry of Education, and the instructions on the test – students with diagnosed learning disabilities, who have had “extra time” as a documented schooling accomodation, certainly does have the right to be given extra time. Testing should be about equity – not equality.

    I am sure that working with students that are unable to meet the demands of your program despite all of the support you are providing them is very frustrating. Perhaps the problem lays then in the academic “home” of the program. If it is indeed rooted in abstraction, as you say, then it should be housed soley in universities or have academic stream math and English prerequisites or just have higher overall standards for admission? I just wonder, if THAT many students are struggling, and your teaching practices are, as you say, sound and effective, then there must be an inconsistency between required prior knowledge and abilities and what the students will be expected to do to be successful – which is useless and unfair to all involved – appearingly lazy and disengaged students included.

    1. Ryan

      Evelyn – one of the problems is that this is a programming course plunked smack-dab in the middle of a program filled with art courses. Pushing pixels around Adobe Illustrator or modeling a castle in Maya requires a different cognitive skillset than programming. i think the biggest difference is that programming requires a lot of imagination – you have to work hard to create mental images of what’s going on in code, because what you see on the screen is not always what’s going on in code.

      But that’s where i started with all of this anyway. i’d like to see Ontario make changes to improve the quality of rich media/casual gaming grads coming out of their schools. i think one of the biggest issues is that they’re teaching the 1) right thing in 2) insufficient doses to the 3) wrong students.

  15. Janet

    Is it just me, or has Evelyn proved your point that the problem is with the government?? If “goombah”s are writing government documents, then who is coming up with the “standards based” testing? Are they perhaps morons confusing things and coming up with “standardized” tests by mistake? THEN what do the students do?

    I would also like to apply to my employer for an IEP on my next project. They need the report by next week, but my IEP says I need more time, so how about next month?

    I went through enough school to know that a good teacher doesn’t pander to kids not willing to learn. And if that means a hefty amount of them have to fail to learn a lesson (not necessarily the class lesson, but a life lesson), then so be it. How are they ever going to deal with a boss if they’re constantly coddled in school?

  16. Alistair

    I’m actually in the Durham game development program. I know what I’m getting into, (hell I already learned all this bullshit with UOIT’s Game Development program) and I don’t expect the profs to hand feed me info. I rather learn by going to polycount, gamedev, google etc. Teachers are there to give you the tools and if a student fails to go beyond the tools well that shows lack of initiative. In my class, I would say we have about 7-10 people who actually pass along info that each other finds to better each other.

    So maybe it does come down to parenting. I have traditional parents that would punish the shit out of me if I was fucking around with my education. It was hard enough to convince them that 3d modeling was an actual job as I have the education and grades to be doctor, lawyer and all the other jobs but 3d was something that called to me.

  17. Jenn

    I think that the way your talking about your students is ridiculous
    Not everyone is perfect and people make mistakes because they’re human.
    I think that you should HELP your students learn better instead of complaining.
    Obviously shows your not a good teacher if you complain on a public website about kids.
    Teach them, help them learn, don’t talk to them in class. give them a test then complain.
    Grow up. =)

    1. Ryan

      Jenn – between “teach them”, “help them learn”, “don’t talk to them in class”, and “give them a test then complain”, i’m not sure which of these things you’re prescribing for me.

  18. matthew

    Some student’s actually need that extra time for test to say “that a teacher should be fired for that is ridicules”. Me and three of my friends needed extra time, due to the fact that we don’t work well on tests but in practice we can produce more than fine things 2 of which are in kinesiology in York and UofT. I on the other hand could have gone to become one of them just as easily with my average of 98% in biology, chemistry and computer science enriched classes all of them. I know after college I can get into a school or a job, even if I took the gaming course at Hernando Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined. A saying from my grandfather “Do something you love over something you have to do”.

    1. Ryan

      Matthew – (thank goodness one of your post-secondary options wasn’t English studies)

      Are you a student of mine? i only teach one class, and it’s not Photoshop.

      – Ryan

  19. matthew

    Did you own your own company at the age of 18?
    Where you marketing a product while going to school full time maybe, even go on dragons den?
    Well I do, I have and I am.
    I’m the loud guy disturbing your classes in Photoshop maybe we can meet talk amongst each other you know produce some positive aspects of having a class, I can teach you how to teach these guys and gal. I may not be the best programmer but by god I sure as hell know how to teach and I’m only a first year, I hope you told this to your class? You know to improve them.

  20. matthew

    I know ESL students usually stray from that lmfao, I like your humor don’t think I do the extra time thing feel’s like you think that English is an easy language to speak let alone have proper grammar, spelling I will give to you We are in the century of correction’s and stupidity kind of funny isn’t it?

  21. Arthur

    What you say here is true for the most part, but making a 2 page blog report on Ontario game developers, in particular the Hernando Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined game development program is really cowardly and rude for the students here. To find the general results on a public blog is just absurd. You couldn’t just send an email to the entire class, or to the program director to demonstrate your feelings about this program.

    I do agree that most of the students in my classes are obnoxious idiots who don’t listen to anything. I can name 4 already. This whole program has changed my thoughts of the video game industry and the culture itself. Depicting the rest who have done nothing wrong and are taking this course seriously have been devastated.

    This report feels completely biased in my opinion. I don’t care what happens with your future of HVSDI. You know flash very well and have made a success out of it. You have lost a lot of respect and faith from me having done this. Keep in mind this wont change my motive to do well in your class. I don’t care either if there are any flaws in my post.

    Thanks Arthur

    1. Ryan

      Arthur – rude? Maybe. Cowardly? No. What’s cowardly is to chant the mantra that Ontario is filled with great institutions that regularly churn out formidable graduates, just because there are representatives from academia in the room. It remains my concern that parents have failed their children, that high schools have indulged those children’s worst tendencies, and that Ontario colleges have enticed the children to programs that sound like a lot of fun, but that do them no good. The colleges do not expect enough of their students to produce adequate graduates in gaming and digital media. And with the amount of coddling the students received through elementary school and high school, how could colleges expect much of them?

      i would not say for a second that most of the students in your class are obnoxious idiots. i could probably conjure up the same 4 students you’re thinking of (no names, please!). This post was not a diatribe targeting students at the Hernando Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined. In my experience at four Ontario colleges, the problem is the same: most of the students, in your class and at every other college, are tuned-out and disinterested. They want to do well, but they don’t want to work hard to do well. They watch Olympic luge events during class. They fire up Team Fortress 2 the moment there’s a lull in the lecture and i take 30 seconds to help someone who’s struggling. They don’t bother saving their class notes week to week. At another school, as i mentioned, they goof around on Facebook for three hours while a guest lecturer steps them slowly through their entire year-end project. When i was a student, my classmates would get liquored up at Charlie T’s, the titty bar across the street, before their afternoon classes.

      It’s not solely a Hernando Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined problem! It’s a college problem. And it’s not solely a college problem – it’s an educational problem, caused by both parents AND teachers. At the end of the day, it’s a generational problem, the roots of which run deeper than any one group of students in any one class at any one college. i’m sorry if i gave you the impression that i was singling your class out.

      For the record, i did actually contact the program head before writing these blogs. He committed to including a few crucial teaching points in a first-semester course (lossy vs non-lossy image formats, and image formats that support transparency). For my part, i’m committed to trying to reverse whatever damage was done in high school, or whatever crucial learning skills were left un-taught, in the remaining seven weeks we have together. And just for your info, i have it on good authority that the other four Flash classes i don’t teach didn’t fare very well on their mid-term either.

      – Ryan

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  23. RussianChatRoulette

    This Is better than 4chan!

    It’s how the industry chooses it’s own.
    One student is expected to eat the other 40.

    Keep it up! everyone is doing a great job at
    getting personally offended at a Provncial problem.

  24. Madelaine

    This isn’t just contrary for just Gaming Design and Gaming Development, its for all courses. I went to durham college and the professors didn’t give a shit. I was actually really upset that I was paying thousands of dollars to watch someone change the powerpoint slides. ( Later on when googling for a project we found the same information word for word from a New Zealand school.) As part of my program I also took psychology, 3 hours a week, one class. For the most part, minus test days, I actually heard the students talking about their grandmother going to the store or people’s dreams as opposed to hearing the professor talk. Examples are good, but I’m paying to learn from the professor who has credentials and not the first year student who had 70s in highschool. I’m now enrolled at Mcgill for a Bacholor of Education, majoring in science and minoring in english, and I’m much happier with the way things flow, and how teachers actually teach! (Who would’ve thought?)

    But back to gaming, from what I know Durham College’s game design course is ‘first choice’ for people applying to colleges for the same program. ( This is according to a few websites for game design, and according to Durham College.. ) I went to a highschool, where I learnt all the basics of Flash, Fireworks, Photoshop, Indesign, ectect. Our teacher just happen to be an ex college professor for Graphic Design courses at Seneca(?) so we learnt ALOT of stuff no other school is use to, but during a tour of durham college, talking to students within the courses of Animation, Graphic Design and Game Design, all within their second year, atleast. ANYWAYS, I was in grade 11, and I was doing the same thing these students were doing, if not more detailed. A student actually got mad at our teacher because she outright called out the class at how we were doing the same thing at our south end oshawa highschool. It’s kind of sad, and it’s actually what made me go into teaching, as opposed to going into a field within the design industry.

  25. Hooman

    As a developer who went through Computer Science at university, I think the problem is schools are made to train you to memorize and regurgitate, not think. That’s great if your job is to just do as your told, but not so great for areas where you have to come up with your own solutions to new problems (i.e. programming). Memorizing and regurgitating is also not very fun, so it’s no big surprise that most students get bored with their classes.

    When you write a test in school, you are expected to copy an example you just read and memorized in a textbook. If you’re taking Math, your test will have a question about a math problem in the last chapter you read. If it wasn’t that way (e.g. if there was a problem you haven’t seen before) people would say it’s unfair because the teacher tested you on a problem you were never thought.

    When you are programming in the real world, you are faced with new problems every day and new programming languages every year, which doesn’t work very well for people who were just trained to quickly memorize and regurgitate what they just read in the last chapter before the time limit on their test runs out. If you really want to be good at something, I think you’ll learn it better if you do it outside the education system. That way you’ll be thinking about what’s the best way to solve a particular problem, rather than the quickest path to a passing grade. You also might enjoy it too.

  26. Chris Harshman

    Not sure were to being…

    I must say, finding this site today is great, I really thought that at times, at least in my school and around few people if any talked about the issues.

    Lets start with most of what I have to say Ryan has already said, but the only thing is it is still happening and more often that anyone thinks, because unless people speak out about it, it is really hard to judge, but pretty much his experiences teaching and guess lecturing basically matches my experiences from the student’s point of view, mind you I am one of the few that refuses to live by what is taught.

    One important thing, not all situations apply to all cases, there are many causes.

    @Madelaine , which south end Oshawa school was that? I went to one, OCCI. Can’t remember any former Seneca Teachers, but its been 5 years.

    Regarding Standardized Tested Ontario has them, but they refer to things like the Grade 3 and 6 Math and English Assessments and Grade 9 and 10 Math and Literacy tests, Normal class tests are not Standardizes, which doesn’t make them better.

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  28. Sim

    Is there a school/program in Ontario that focuses on Flash/Actionscript the way you like and that you’d recommend?

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Sim – i don’t know of any. Perhaps Rich Media Institute? i haven’t tried them for Flash, so i can’t vouch for them. i feel there’s no good substitution for learning on the job and trial by fire. For Flash, if you’re a complete novice, i recommend buddying up with someone who can commit to answering your questions over the long haul.

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  30. Abdul

    I was born in Toronto, grew up in Ontario, in the states, and overseas, having observed and witnessed those in charge of propagating funds, admissions, doctors, colleges, osap, second career etc, i notice it mostly serves their people even if they are migrants, females of all ages and immigrants, exactly how is the Canadian system not bias? They don’t care if all Canadians are educated, have a career or permanent employment while subjected to mostly UNIONS but who else will ride their trucks and pick up their trash? This country sucks, I am dis-hatred and sick of trying for years, 34 year old trying to get back into formal education, it is a nasty, humiliating experience. Refuse to do what they expect from me as a citizen breaking my back in some factory because they keep Canadians back then turn around years later and only to show their teeth and say we are proud to be Canadians, all while glamorization and exploitation of some poster child fob, some migrant or some female who has sucked the system dry by receiving money, and acceptance from our supported yet BS government and these so called educators, “They savor the technology”, we are not a democracy as you can see our Govt dept is referred to as “ministry” for you 1s generation Canadians with no conscious, just look it up in a dictionary and fight for change in Canada.

  31. Chico Rico

    I noticed only Ryerson and Humber seem to be the only public institutions that can provide media programs that are up to par with education in many states although they seem to host international students rather then Ontario residents, and are scumbags, it’s all about the money and i agree with the posts on this blog about Media related programs being very limited and not up to industry standard it is because we have European education. educators, media standards provided in Canada and are taught basic level technology so when you go to America to work you have to enroll into these programs once again.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton Post author

      i don’t have much knowledge of education standards in the US. i know that the two schools here in Ontario with the best reputation are Sheridan (for their Classical Animation program) and University of Waterloo (for their Computer Science program). Sheridan’s rep has apparently outlasted its quality; when the school made the change to a degree-granting program, i hear they fired much of their teaching staff so they could hire degree-holding profs. As you can expect, a degree does not a fantastic animation teacher make.

      The school i attended took a lot of foreign students, and i found it enormously disruptive because they didn’t know the language and would drain teachers’ time and resources. Fluency in English should be a requirement for foreign students. Colleges do give them an English test, but with foreign tuition so high, it’s in the school’s best interest to say “damned fine English, Glokbarr.”

      As these colleges become more and more profit-focused, the quality of education plummets.

  32. Pie

    I don’t agree with colleges accepting anyone now a days. As long as you have the money for the course they don’t seem to care. Even if you’re not interested and only a distraction to the other students who just dished out 20 grand to learn nothing because of some dumb dumb in the class. My issue is I know enough action script 3.0 and c++ to write a game. Is it worth taking a course to possibly relearn everything just to have something saying I have a ‘degree’ in it.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton Post author

      i’d say “no”. i think your best course of action is to make a complete game – a small one – and then self-publish it. Then learn a new thing about programming or game design, make another small game to demonstrate your new-found knowledge, and self-publish it. Rinse and repeat until you rule the world.

  33. R3D

    I studied Robotics Engineering at a Canadian university and did a small internship at a AAA video game developing company as an Engine software engineer. I had been an active gamer like many and found this opportunity to be a dream job that was fun and rewarding, but the learning curve was extremely steep (and its still very steep as I think I am still a novice). My time here was short and I went back to finish school and recently started working at a different job.

    Now game development has become a passion of mine and I want to pursue it further by starting to develop my own mini game. However, my new job is more geared towards hardware programming (mostly simple procedural programming) and I feel like my passion for high level application programming is getting overlooked. Thus, I try to learn game development in my spare time and find the process to be extremely slow and god help me if I get stuck on a problem, it sometimes takes weeks to overcome due to very little spare time I can put into it and little online help on a minor issue.

    So I figured that maybe a proper after work schooling is what I need and so I was doing a google search on “how good are game development programs in institutions” in my locale and I found this page. After reading your experiences as an all-rounder, I am starting to question if institutions are worth the effort and money. Maybe, frustration is how everyone learns it, hopefully not. I believe a mentor is what I need or a different job that has peers that are better than I am. What do you think is the best route for a guy like me, should I continue to look for evening classes or learn via good old blood sweat and tears which implies bugging people on forums. Any guidance is appreciated.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton Post author

      One piece of advice i hear a lot is “surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.” That bore out in my first job, where i had someone i could quiz all the time about programming. Some of the novices here in Toronto are getting together at a shared workspace to learn. There’s a group here called Skillswap, where people just teach other people what they know. And the budding game developers are really hot on game jams and work days, where they can work next to each other and learn from one another. Game jams are great because they add a deadline/time pressure to the mix. i think deadlines are crucial if you hope to actually accomplish anything.

      Best of luck!

      – Ryan

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