University of Waterloo, Stratford Campus

What can other educators and institutions learn from the successes and failures of your experience-oriented academic program?: 

The plan for the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus began in 2006 with an initiative to support economic development in the City of Stratford. This would be a satellite liberal arts college campus, offering co-op and regular programs specific to Digital Media, broadly speaking. In 2009, the initiative reached a major milestone in becoming a founding hub of the Canadian Digital Media Network with a $5.35 million grant from the national Centre of Excellence in Commercialization and Research. The result was a campus designed to hold undergraduate and graduate programs, to foster business-centred research activities, and to provide commercialization support for students, professors and industry. All research and commercialization activities are aligned with the current curriculum for the academic programs, which are grounded in digital media, digital arts and global business disciplines. Digital media across a range of sectors has emerged as one of the fertile places where there is unprecedented opportunity for creativity and growth. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts an increase in global Entertainment and Media spending to rise from $1.6 trillion in 2012 to $2.2 trillion by 2017. This is a sector that creates value by blending content and technology in an approach that fulfills a consumer or business need. At the same time, the technology world is fast coming to an important inflexion point. Up to now, the focus for development and growth has been about the technology itself (how fast, how big, how complex). We are now beginning to pay increased attention to questions of design, aesthetics, user experience and human behaviour in the creation and use of technology. The user is at the centre of the content, the design, promotion and marketing strategies, and the interaction with technology. Industry leaders agree that there is a gap in the skill sets of current graduates from technology programs such as engineering and computer sciences. These students typically excel in technological expertise but have little or no competency in the so-called soft skills, such as critical thinking and analysis, communication, problem solving, broad thinking and creativity. The current model of post-secondary education offers students knowledge in a discipline-based curriculum where cross- or trans-disciplinary studies are generally limited. This kind of model often leads to skill gaps where students excel in one discipline but have little or no exposure to broader skill sets and knowledge. Students have to decide whether they want to be a technologist or a creator, a computer scientist or a designer. New entries into the job market therefore frequently lack a perspective in creativity, design and humanistic knowledge to lead innovation. Industry leaders agree that Canada needs well- rounded leaders who can effectively drive innovation and manage systems change from a broader and deeper understanding of the world. They are looking for graduates with a keen understanding of how to harness digital technology while able to communicate and be creative and critical thinkers. In other words, the digital media industry is looking for problem solvers with creative business and technology acumen. This understanding of the current and future changes in global industry needs has become the basis for the development of our academic programs and the vision and plan for the new Stratford campus. The academic programs at our campus have been developed based on a viable model of knowledge integration, bringing together creativity, technology and business in the framework of digital media and design thinking, broadly speaking.

What is the structure and content of your program?: 

We have undertaken to develop a new and forward-looking approach to the development of the knowledge professional for the Digital Age. We seek a student passionate about creativity and humanistic inquiry. In both programs, we encourage a deep and broad study in the Arts to enable a high level of critical thinking, communication, visual analysis, and human understanding. We then equip the students with the technological skills demanded by the Digital Age, making them fully conversant in web-based social media and visual literacy and comfortable with all forms of multi-media communications and applications. Further, we seek to provide them with an exposure to business skills including economics, teamwork, project management, business ethics, global business, and entrepreneurship including relevant work experience and study abroad opportunities. Both undergraduate and graduate academic programs place a strong emphasis on experiential learning through in-class, industry-led projects, as well as mandatory internships. In the two years of its existence, the UW Stratford Campus has succeeded in the creation of an ecosystem where entrepreneurial practices are encouraged and furthered within the curriculum and on an extracurricular level. An integral part of this ecosystem, is our establishment of a local Stratford Accelerator Centre, a branch of the University of Waterloo’s main campus Accelerator Centre. The Stratford AC provides support for our students and the broader community who wish to explore starting their own businesses. We currently have two academic programs: **The Bachelor of Global Business and Digital Arts (GBDA)** is a program that provides a solid foundation in key topics including _Intro to User Experience_, digital art and design, visual literacy, cross-cultural management, marketing and entrepreneurship, including team-based projects that will help our students build their professional portfolio. **The Master of Digital Experience Innovation (MDEI)** program is a professional degree geared to both graduating university students as well as working professionals hoping to expand their skill sets and position themselves for meaningful employment in the digital age. Students have the opportunity to complete a major team-based project with industry partners like Google, Desire2Learn, Open Text, Globe and Mail and CIBC. On top of courses in marketing, digital culture, project management, future technology etc, the MDEI students take a course in _User Experience, Design and Research_. Both programs operate at the intersection of Arts/Creativity, Technology and Business (see diagram). (for syllabi, please go to for GBDA and for MDEI) [images are in the Word document attached below, but here's a screenshot: ]

When students complete your program, what credentials, experience, and portfolio materials have they accumulated, and how do they support their career success?: 

Global Business and Digital Arts: Students build an e-portfolio in their second, third and fourth year project courses where they work on industry projects with one of our industry partners. Students complete an internship either locally or globally for one term on which they then write a reflective as part of their portfolio. Digital Experience Innovation: About 80% of assignments in each course are project- and team-based work. During their final term, students work with one of our industry partners on a challenge that was pitched to them (such as creating a marketing strategy, conducting background research, creating a business plan, UX research and design). They present their work in teams at a final presentation event where all industry partners are asked to submit feedback to the overseeing professor and the students. In addition to the final industry project, the students have a chance to work with an industry partner during the 12-week UX course. This allows them to gain hands-on experience implementing a UX strategy within a corporate structure. The current class is working with the electronics retailer, The Source (thesource.ca) to provide solutions for a better user experience for customers and develop strategies for an E-Commerce platform of the future.

Who are your program’s key instructors and what qualifications and experience do they bring?: 

**Hira Javed** (teaches UX in the undergrad program)_ Jr. Information Architect and Usability Specialist, CBC Hira works in the Digital Operations department at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), as a Jr. Information Architect and Usability Specialist.

**Karin Schmidlin** (teaches UX in the undergrad and grad programs) Manager, Virtual Incubation Program, CONRAD Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technology Centre, University of Waterloo) Karin brings her passion of teaching, design and UX to the classroom. Aside from teaching UX and Applied Leadership, she is currently building a virtual incubator program for entrepreneurs.

**Christine McWebb** Director, Academic Programs, Associate Professor Christine McWebb holds a PhD in French from the University of Western Ontario, and is an Associate Professor in the Department of French Studies at the University of Waterloo, as well as the Director, Academic Programs at the Waterloo Stratford Campus.

**Stephenie Koerne** Digital Media Lab Instructor/Multimedia Technician Stephenie Koerne is the Digital Media Lab Instructor/Multimedia Technician for the Master of Digital Experience Innovation (MDEI) program at the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus. Additionally, Stephenie is the instructor for GBDA 228: Digital Imaging.

**Jessica Thompson** Assistant Professor, Stratford/Fine Arts Jessica Thompson is an Assistant Professor in Hybrid Practice in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo. Her practice investigates spatial and social conditions within urban environments through interactive art-works situated at the intersection of sound, performance and mobile technologies.

**Jane Tingley** Assistant Professor, Stratford/Fine Arts Jane Tingley is a recipient of the Kenneth Finkelstein Prize in Sculpture and holds a BFA honours from the University of Manitoba, as well as an MFA from Concordia University. She is an Assistant Professor in Hybrid Media in the Department of Fine Arts and teaches classes at the University of Waterloo on the main campus and the Stratford Campus.

**Gerald Voorhees**Assistant Professor, Stratford/Drama and Speech Communications Gerald Voorhees (Ph.D., The University of Iowa, 2008) is Assistant Professor of Digital Culture and Communication in the Department of Drama and Speech Communication.

How do you ensure your program’s content is and remains in synch with modern practices and the needs of employers?: 

We have brought together leaders and thinkers in the field of digital media from all across Canada to form the University of Waterloo Stratford Advisory Board. They represent academia, industry and government and they are ready to lead Canada into the digital media age. Through regular consultative meetings with our Advisory Board and industry partners, we gain valuable feedback on the industry and on keeping our programming current and innovative.

Please share any objective and anecdotal evidence that demonstrates the your program’s ability to equip students for “real-world” value and successfulness.: 

The multi-disciplinary nature of the program and the hands-on, project-based learning, combined with industry collaboration, equips our students with relevant skills that are in high demand at the moment.

Here are some of the careers of our most recent MDEI graduates: I

nformation Architect, Arad Communications, Toronto UX Designer, Tucows, Toronto Product Designer, Desire2Learn, Waterloo, ON UX and Information Architect, Kbs+, Toronto Project Coordinator, Samsung, Vancouver, BC