Students Teach Themselves? That’s Crazy!

Or is it? One of my favorite movies is called Accepted, starring an ensemble cast including Justin Long and Jonah Hill. Bartleby, played by Justin, has been rejected by every college he’s applied to (even his safety school), much to his parent’s dismay. So he implements an elaborate plan to make one up. Congratulations, he’s been accepted to South Harmon Institute of Technology! Only problem is, several hundred other kids were accidentally accepted to South Harmon too. Ooops! For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, STOP and watch the trailer below, the rest of this article depends on it (not really, but it would be nice if you did).


What does Bartleby do in the face of this academic dilemma? He visits an actual college and decides that South Harmon should be nothing like a traditional institution. He asks his students, “What do you want to learn?” He lets them set their schedules and decide the curriculum. They become the teachers and they figure out what projects they would like to spend their time on. Yes, it’s a smart and funny work of fiction, but what if I told you there’s a real place where these ideals exist.

Welcome to Hyper Island, a place where the students teach themselves. Hyper Island is an English-based program created in 1995, by 3 media professionals who were concerned about the quality of knowledge that recent graduates possessed when entering the workplace. They believed the problem was a result of traditional mainstream education in which students had little influence over what they are taught and their learning experience was controlled by a teacher. At Hyper Island there are no tests and no homework. Students work on real life projects with actual clients, solving real industry needs. Their methodology is that you “Learn by Doing.”  To quote their website Hyper Island is about:

– Active participation, driven by passion
– Learning by experiencing, doing and reflecting
– Being open to the idea of failure; it is often our most powerful learning tool
– Working and developing as part of a team, both as a leader and a player
– Using interactive media as a tool for implementing growth and change
– Developing the capacity of people to be self aware
– Understanding group dynamics
– Real clients, real needs and real lifelong learning

Hyper Island currently offers the following programs: Learning Designer & Facilitator, Digital Media, Mobile Applications, Interactive Art Director, Ecommerce Business, Motion Graphics, and Interactive Media Design & Management. They have locations in Sweden, but they encourage applicants from all around the world. Here is Hyper Island in A Nutshell


Don’t feel like this type of methodology has merit? Here are some Hyper Island Statistics:


Everytime I watch Accepted I find myself cheering for South Harmon Institute of Technology. Granted it was originally created for all the wrong reasons, but the end result was people who were excited about learning and had the passion to increase their knowledge and skills  in subjects that were important to them, hands-on. In parallel, I cheer for Hyper Island. Their unorthodox (yet sensible) methods may not be for everyone, but it’s nice to know you have the option.



I’m failing (and why that isn’t so bad)

When I graduated from college in 2009, I had a dream. I was going to live in Chicago, get a job at an Architectural firm, and work toward my license. Then after 3 years (license acquired), I was going to move to Italy, Rome perhaps. Probably rent a nice little villa or apartment. Here’s what actually happened: the economy tanked, I couldn’t find an architectural position, and I moved to Florida. In terms of achieving “my dream” I failed, BIG TIME!  I received this article in my inbox titled 9 Reasons Why Failure is Not Fatal and the 9th example was a commencement speech given J.K Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series). Here’s an excerpt:

“…failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged. I was set free…”

Had I successfully made it to Rome with an architectural license in tow, here’s what I might never have done, at least not in the near future. I might not have made the decision to switch to graphic design. It just wouldn’t seem practical, after all that work towards becoming an architect. Granted, some people still think I’m crazy, I did complete 5 years in my college’s architectural program,  but this switch isn’t so strange. I’ve ALWAYS loved art. It was the class I lived for in high school. I excelled in my other classes because: 1. I don’t like to fail (oh the irony) 2. Great grades = great college + scholarships 3. If you don’t like the class,  why blow it off only to have to repeat it;  the list goes on…

So why become an architect, since I love art so much? Don’t get me wrong, I do love architecture as well and again it seemed practical. The impression I was given growing up was that to be an artist, you had to be struggling or starving (very cliché). Little did I know of graphic design. I do know though that if I had continued with architecture that I would have tried to put myself in the positions where I could work on the graphics (building renderings/illustrations) and interactive installations.

If I had a chance to do it all over again, would I do it differently? Probably not. I’m not saying life’s been a bed of roses since I made the switch. There’s a lot I need to teach myself and I’m still looking for more stable employment (anyone know of a paid graphic design internship please let me know or if you need some work done, let’s talk ). However, success extends beyond what you do. The relationships I’ve made at college are priceless. Some friends are more like family and my future children already have weekends booked at their future homes. I wouldn’t have met them if I had gone somewhere else and that would’ve been tragic. Also the people I’ve meet since moving to Florida have made a huge impact on my life and I’ve grown so much closer to my actual family here. You just can’t make the same connection in Italy through Skype.

So this is failure. I’m dealing with it, learning from it, and hopefully becoming a better person because of it.

Please check out 9 Reasons Why Failure is Not Fatal and here is J.K Rowling’s full speech.

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