Professor Dawn DiPeri, MFA, teaches graphic design, visual art and computing skills to Outschool students from her home on Long Island, where she's raising three children.
DiPeri has spent much of her career in advertising and graphic design, but in 2011, she started teaching at a nearby community college, and online at the college level. Because she's taken many online classes, she said she's "pretty accustomed to the digital tools that are out there for teaching and learning."
With two kids in elementary school, DiPeri said she became active a few years ago in their school district by teaching coding, graphic design, software development and helping with after-school programs.
"I enjoyed teaching the K - 12 age group, so I decided I was going to do more because it's enjoyable and benefited my kids," she said. "I like to teach the ages that my children are so I can learn more about them developmentally."
DiPeri is pursuing a doctorate in higher education management and teaching; she's planning to write her dissertation about investigating and improving verbal communication skills through the use of digital tools for online learning.
"Face-to-face teaching has a lot of great things going for it, but there's also a lot of really fabulous digital tools we can use to make the online experience similar," said DiPeri. In-person instruction allows a teacher to look over a student's shoulder, but remote learning gives her plenty of changes to gauge a pupil's grasp of a topic.
"For example, I can share a student's screen, or they can share their screen with me," said DiPeri. "If they're working on a coding project, I can check their code; if they're working on a painting, they can hold up their work to the screen."
On Outschool, DiPeri teaches coding classes that teach basic programming skills and how to make an interactive video game, as well as several visual arts courses, including Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and Paint Nite: Fireflies. Students seeking advanced instruction can take part in several activities she offers, including biweekly classes in art and design techniques.
DiPeri said Hour of Code, a global movement that fosters children’s interest in computer science, was an early factor in her decision to begin teaching technology. In her kids’ school district, DiPeri helped lead the effort to produce Hour of Code events. “Children need to be exposed to technology when they're younger, and there's going to be so many jobs in that area and not enough American workers to fill them,” she said.
“The bigger number of kinds of who can get on board with coding, the better,” said DiPeri.
For her video game coding class, “I've had them start by animating characters and backdrops, that's always fun. Kids love to make their avatars, and the computational thinking that's involved gives them a lot of confidence.” Once students associate the code they created with the characters they’ve developed, “they gain a sense of accomplishment,” said DiPeri.
"I like the flexibility of online," said DiPeri. "I think a lot of people are going that way so they can manage their hectic lives concerning work, family and kids' activities."
DiPeri said she’d welcome the chance to lead in-person activities once there are enough Outschool parents in the Long Island area. “I’d be very interested in starting something out here if there's a need for it.”
Her teaching persona is highly animated, said DiPeri, a technique that helps students relax, particularly when facing creative tasks. “I like to use some of my acting training by doing fun ice breakers or activities to get the creative juices flowing. These exercises help students feel comfortable in front of a group and their instructor,” she observed.
“That’s one of the things that I’ve found through research -- interdisciplinary approaches to teaching that helps engage and motivate students of all ages. I incorporate several subjects into one. For example, art history, humanities and art or technology, engineering and design.” A blind focus on curricula and discipline “won’t help students be creative,” she said.
“I've had a lot of great feedback,” said DiPeri. “I'm happy to see a lot of parents have given me excellent reviews. They give a lot of formative feedback to me directly, like, 'hey, my daughter really loved this part of the class, but next time, can you incorporate more art history?'"
“That's part of the beauty of Outschool,” she said. “Parents can make suggestions for the kinds of things they want for their children, and instructors can create classes based on those needs.”