Mount Diablo High School Discovers Success With the Digital Safari Multimedia Academy


In 1995, the Mount Diablo Unified School District in Concord, Calif., received one of nine Integration Grants from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant was for a demonstration project aimed at integrating vocational and academic education. Through a competitive process within the district, Mount Diablo High School was selected as the site for the project. Mount Diablo High is an underperforming, minority-majority school - not necessarily the most likely spot for a successful high-tech/academic program. Six years later, the Digital Safari Multi-media Academy is now a nationally recognized, highly successful model for the integration of new vocational curriculum and core academics. As one of the teachers who worked on the project, I have come to realize that it's not just the advanced equipment and software, but the small learning community environment that is the real key to our success.

We envisioned a learning environment where students and teachers could work together to form a supportive learning community in which individuals were nurtured while being encouraged to explore, and to take the intellectual and creative risks that lead to self-discovery. We wanted to provide students with the academic and intellectual skills they would need to succeed in college or other pursuits. We also wanted to teach students the team-building skills they would need in a real business environment. This meant providing students with experience in using professional multimedia design tools.

A School Within a School

The Digital Safari Multimedia Academy is a two-year sequence of courses for 11th- and 12th-graders. Juniors in the Academy take U.S. history, English, earth science and multimedia. Seniors take U.S. government, economics, English and two multimedia courses. A fourth skills-based multimedia elective, called digital safari design, is run just like a small multimedia development company in which students work with outside clients in a realistic business environment.

The Academy's four teachers and 100-115 students create a small community atmosphere that fosters a very different relationship between teachers and students, as well as among the students themselves. It's a collegial feeling in which everyone helps and encourages everyone else. This nurturing environment causes students, who were once uninterested in school, to develop a renewed commitment to education and success. These students develop a sense of ownership in the program, paving the way to much greater success for all involved.

The focal point of the Academy is the lab: a 30'x 60' room filled with 35 advanced Apple computers. We have 20 iMac DV Special Editions, 10 G4 towers, two G3 PowerBooks, three iBooks and an LCD projector. This technology-rich environment also includes digital scanners; a large format black-and-white laser printer and a color laser printer; four Sony Mavica digital still cameras; and two Canon ZR-20 digital video cameras. The lab consists of 20 computers on one side and 10 on the perimeter of the other side, along with "the pit" in the middle - a group of eight comfortable chairs around a low 4' x 6' worktable that is instrumental for storyboarding and collaboration.

I believe the way we teach multimedia is one of the things that makes us different. We use integrated projects from our academic classes to teach high-quality multimedia skills utilizing professional standard tools. These tools include most of the Macromedia suite of products, such as Director 8.5, Dreamweaver 4, Flash 5, Fireworks 4, FreeHand 10 and SoundEdit 16.

All of our courses are taught using board of education-approved curriculum and California's state academic standards. We cannot change the standard curriculum, but we can change the way it is delivered. Our students work in development teams of four on integrated projects. Teachers collaboratively plan the student projects so elements of each project are accomplished in academic classes as well as in the multimedia lab. Students receive a project packet that contains the outline and expectations for the project, as well as the rubrics for each subject involved. Both the academic and multimedia teachers assess the projects when they are completed. The multimedia teacher evaluates the multimedia, while the academic teacher grades the content rubric for each academic subject. Some projects have a culminating performance piece that may be evaluated by all of the teachers. Peer evaluations are also used with some projects.

At the end of last year, students worked on a combined history and multimedia project about Native Americans in history. We designed a project that involved a researched and cited essay with note cards on Native American tribes. After the essays were finished, the student-work teams developed Web sites about the researched tribes and the issues they faced. The project resulted in 14 sites put together with a main index page, which is located at www.ccc' These sites were designed using Macromedia Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash, FreeHand, along with Bryce 4 and Adobe Photoshop. The site demonstrates the diversity of design and the educational talents of our students. We try to allow for the maximum amount of creativity in interface design and use of the tools. In a realistic design environment, different designers will use the same tools in different ways.

Student Success Equals Academy Success

We've come a long way since we started in 1996 with a group of 70 intrepid juniors who had no idea what was in store, and three teachers who had a concept and some seemingly wild ideas. Our students have won 13 awards in the California Student Media and Multimedia Festival over the past four years. Last year Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, nominated the Digital Safari Multimedia Academy for the Computerworld Smithsonian Honors Program. The Academy was selected to have a case study placed in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Information Technology archives. In addition, the teachers involved in the program, including myself, have accepted numerous other awards.

Last spring, 32 of our students and four teachers worked 14 hours a day during the week of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, Calif., to chronicle the event on the Web. The effort included several thousand pictures and more than 500 HTML pages. But the biggest thrill is having reached the point where nearly 90 percent of our students go onto college or into a postsecondary training program, which is unfortunately not our school's norm.

The small learning community model has clearly worked for the students in our program. We have been able to repair the spirit and self-esteem of many young people. They now approach the world with a renewed value of lifelong learning, and technological skills that will help them pursue a career in the technology field or any field they wish to enter.

Ted Maddock, Director
Randy Depew, Multimedia Teacher
Digital Safari Multimedia Academy

Contact Information
Macromedia Inc.
San Francisco, CA
(800) 888-9335

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.