When instructors combined computer science and music into one digital media class, the results were surprisingly engaging

How one school’s digital media course synthesizes online creative community

When instructors combined computer science and music into one digital media class, the results were surprisingly engaging

Twenty-year-old Mersha Wambua, of Willow Grove, enrolled in the course because she heard it would be fun and creative, and she needed to fulfill a requirement for her major in theater arts.

“I knew that it had to do with making music, but I was not sure to what extent,” she said. “Most of the class wasn’t what I was expecting.”

Wambua said she didn’t know she was taking a brand-new course, given Martin and Mitlas’ chemistry teaching together.

“I was convinced the teachers had been doing this class for years,” she said.

For Mitlas and Martin, the class initially was not conceived as being held in a virtual format, but rather in a classroom on campus. The class was taught asynchronously, but met online Thursday nights live each week, too, for further discussion. Students responded to having two instructors in the course.

“There’s something different about having two teachers in a class. I’ve never done it in the 20 years I’ve been at Montco,” said Martin. “It’s really powerful for students to see a team interacting with each other. They see colleagues excited about intellectual ideas together. It’s a different feeling for a class.”

Students enjoyed learning about the new tools they were using and working together. Stoudt said her favorite part of the class was learning about Abelton. She also appreciated interacting with her classmates online.

“I really liked doing the discussion board,” she said. “I didn’t see anyone this semester, so it made it fun. We talked about the class and other things. It made the class feel personal in an impersonal setting.”

Elisabeth Deschene, 19, a Liberal Studies major from Upper Dublin Township, said the class gave her the confidence to express herself.

“Normally I’m a very reserved person,” she said. “I don’t like to talk a whole lot. I get worried I will overstay my welcome, but I never got that feeling there. It was a welcoming, supportive environment.”

For Martin and Mitlas, the focus was on creating a safe space where students felt they could share their work without judgment.

“In the beginning, students had the lights off with their camera on and they were sitting in the dark,” said Martin. “In the end, some of them were going back to projects they’d created in high school they had put aside because they were afraid of being judged. They went back and built these creative, expressive pieces of work. It was a fascinating thing that they were able to share something that intimate with the class.”

“Everyone came out of their shells,” said Mitlas.

For their final projects, each student submitted wildly different assignments that incorporated the tools they learned during the semester.

Blatty Diasilau, 36, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and who currently lives in Lansdale, used his computer science background to create a fireworks visual effect using Arduino.

Wambua recreated a song from one of her favorite albums, “The Need to Know” by The Royal Concept.

“I was proud of the final product. I didn’t think I would be as proud as I was,” she said. “It took such a long time, but it was a lot of fun as I was doing it. It turned out really well.”

Stoudt, meanwhile, took her love of “The Lord of the Rings” original soundtrack and used the Abelton software to recreate the track “Concerning Hobbits” that incorporated birds chirping and other unique sound effects.

“I wanted to express how I feel when I listen to the song,” she said. “It was a lot of fun putting that together.”

For Martin and Mitlas, the course’s success was a tribute to the power of the tools students were given to use at home and the trust students formed with each other.

“It changed the way people saw themselves,” said Martin. “It provided a safe enough space that changed the way they were able to see each other. We had a great time.”

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