New School Year – What is important to keep in mind? Meaningful Projects!

With the new school year upon us, we will focus on meaningful projects: what different types of projects can look like, how they are developed over time, and how they feel to a learner. Project based learning is at the heart of the work here at my graduate department at Carnegie Mellon University. We all look forward with eager anticipation to the announcement of the new term’s projects. With the revealing of projects, students and faculty jockey to form the best teams possible for the presented challenges. The great thing about this process is that it can be replicated and scaled to match every level of learner. From graduate level student to tiny tinkerer, true learning fundamentally enjoyable.  

Some projects that may run for Carnegie Mellon’s Fall Semester include redesigning a traditional learning space into a hub for collaborative & playful experiences using my favorite building-elements* as a base platform (anyone at Digital Dragon can reveal which building element that might be). Another potential project aims to create engaging experiences for people who are currently aided through technological assistance, whether in mobility or cognition, etc… A student pitched project is hoping to create an interactive exhibit that speaks to guests to ensure they feel as though “this is a place for me.”    

One important thing to note is that these projects are not bound to exclusive technologies or platforms, but rather, are open to the students to figure out the best way to create for themselves. While some guidelines are provided, they are left vague as to not stifle creativity. Does this make the process more challenging for educators and students? Absolutely – and also more rewarding.  

Over the development cycle, students will experience difficulty, being uncomfortable, and failure. With the right support of the learning community, these are great opportunities to bolster confidence and perseverance. A terrifying trend I see in some learning environments I visit is the constant request for a checklist. With the best interests of our learners in mind, we must encourage the freedom of self expression. Only then are we instilling meaningful practices.  

Green screen spfx editing in digital production class and camp

After the creative process is wrapped up, the students, and educators should feel changed.  They have explored and built empathy for difficult realities than their own to create a solution. Whether the solution is a good one or not, best practices are documented and recorded to help others curious about the same topic. A project has purpose. As a result, the process is fulfilling. Learning has happened and will spur further exploration.  

TLDR;  The return to the academic setting can be exciting. Old friends, new friends, old subjects, new subjects, and more projects. If these projects have too rigid of a checklist, what can be done to make them unique? Ask yourselves or your learners why this? Reflect on your experience and document new thoughts throughout the process. If and when you run into a challenge, who did you turn to? Afterwards could you now help someone else through a similar tough spot? These are the important moments that define us as learners. Seek them out! 

Digital Dragon’s new fall classes are now open for registration, which will feature lots of new projects to undertake!


John Balash was instrumental in Digital Dragon’s launch in 2013 as its first Curriculum Director and is now back in the fold as a consultant on all the latest and greatest in tech education.This is John’s latest contribution to a monthly blog series we’ve launched, Tech News from the Frontier. John is the Director of Educational Engagement at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. John has worked on educationally focused initiatives with clients ranging from D.A.R.P.A. to Disney. Working from both sides of the desk, you can find John in classrooms and conferences around the world exploring new uses for technologies in learning environments.

*Pssst…those building-elements John mentions above are LEGO Bricks! John was a coveted finalist competing for a Master Builder title at LEGOLAND!

John Balash LEGO finalist master builder