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Industry grade learning: Why Media Design School is changing the game

New Zealand’s Media Design School is consistently one step ahead when it comes to offering their students the best programmes and industry experience possible. With an abundance of unique programmes and state of the art technology, it isn’t surprising that the institution is ranked as the number one digital design school in Australasia. Here we talk to Media Design School’s country director, Ruth Cooper about the school’s offerings as well as their strategy for the rest of 2020 and beyond. 

Boasting a range of industry-endorsed courses like AI, game programming, 3D animation, motion design and so on, the Media Design School has opportunities for everyone. Cooper says the institution also pride themselves on their employability rate, with around 93 percent of students landing a job within six months of graduating.

“We meet regularly with companies in the industry to keep our curriculum, closely aligned with what employers are looking for.

“We maintain strong industry partnerships so that students have networking opportunities and the chance to work live briefs throughout their study. Each programme culminates in an industry showcase, where students interact with employers and show their capstone projects and final portfolios.”

Cooper says students are given a presence at large industry events throughout the year such as Armageddon, Chromacon, and PAX, where they can showcase their work and are often offered jobs. Media Design School also provides international connections, with graduates working for Disney, Dreamworks, Weta, Warner Bros, and others.

“We run a business incubation programme called Media Design School Studios. At the end of their course, games and design students pitch to a panel of industry and faculty, to win the chance to turn their capstone project or final game into a commercial venture.  They’re gifted studio space for the summer, as well as funding, and are mentored through the process of incorporating their company, marketing their product, and more.”

Unique to other institutions in New Zealand, Media Design School offers an industry-based learning environment. The swanky classrooms are run as though they are game, animation, advertising and design studios which gives students the technical and soft skills they’ll use when they enter the industry.

Ruth Cooper

“Employers often favour MDS grads because they know they will have the hard skills and will be able to adapt really quickly to studio life.”

With the arrival of Covid-19, Cooper says the School was faced with challenges, however quickly arose to them with innovative strategies. As the teaching style at MDS is particularly hands-on and practical, students and staff found the switch to learning from home tough. Cooper says it was the robust support system they provide that kept the school community close and allowed students to carry on with their studies.

“We very quickly moved off campus and transitioned to a remote learning environment. The silver lining was that we had the chance to move to education software like Blackboard for online classes and lecturers utilised platforms that would be used in studios like Trello for design sprint planning and Discord for game development.”

Like many other schools, MDS also made the most of Zoom meetings and even had virtual staff drinks and weekly ‘good news’ newsletters. They also worked alongside the Tertiary Education Commission to provide hardship funds to those who may have lost their jobs or been otherwise impacted by Lockdown.

Cooper highlights that accomplishments were also made during Lockdown with MDS AdSchool students snapping up a D&AD Pencil for their penguin shelfies idea. Penguin shelfies is a virtual shelf that allows users to display their collection of penguin books, reflecting on the novels that have helped from the person they have become.

Due to Covid-19 causing the postponement of career expos across the country, Media Design School soon came to the rescue with their virtual careers expo idea. Rounding up 41 institutions and transforming the entire event to online, the expo was very successful. Cooper says the team was very pleased with how it turned out, drawing 5600 registrations and 3563 participants.

“The feedback from both exhibitors and attendees was great and we will definitely look at making this an annual event.  Even if all events are continuing as normal, it opens up the experience for people in more rural areas, or regions without major expos.”

Looking forward, Media Design School have some very exciting plans in place. At the beginning of next year, the campus will be relocating to Auckland’s thriving Wynyard Quarter with a state-of-the-art, 5-star green rated, custom-built property. Cooper says the move marks an exciting new era for MDS and will open the door to many exciting collaborations with the surrounding tech community.

The school will also be offering a Master of Digital Transformation and micro-credentials in Data Science. The micro-credentials offer bite-size study which can be completed online through two 6 week long courses. 

“We’re expanding more and more into the tech space and are aiming to introduce a lot more programmes that centre around these highly future-proof areas.”

MDS will also continue to allow their students who cannot relocate to Auckland following Lockdown to learn remotely, making education in digital design or creative tech more accessible.

“We think our teaching style, and the amazing outcomes it generates for our students should be accessible on a wider scale.  Our team is working hard to keep growing the school, expanding our programmes, and deepening our connections with the NZ community, with a view to becoming NZ’s next university.”

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