2021 was a year of adaptation and evolution for Connected Camps with big ups and downs in the online learning ecosystem, following a pandemic growth year in 2020. Our programs on Outschool continued to serve families during the uncertainties of new Covid variants and ever-changing school policies. We launched new offerings in Roblox, Minecraft, and Pokémon to keep our campers engaged. We also deepened our investments in equity and inclusion. We explored new partnerships to offer our programs and support professional development with schools, libraries, and nonprofits. Internally, we kicked off an alumni network and a Values Ceremony to celebrate our team members three times a year. Looking back on a challenging year, we are proud of our team for navigating through tumultuous waters while continuing to strengthen commitments to our core values and mission.
–Mimi Ito and Katie Salen
2021 was a year of partnership!
Connected Camps teamed up with various organizations to provide more connected learning opportunities beyond our usual offerings:
Our esports team coached 60 sites each season, serving 200 teams/800 high school players.
The coaching program focused on mindfulness, stress-busting skills and relationship building.
Blending structure and spontaneity with a virtual setting, we hosted custom birthday parties for unique and engaging celebrations in a time of continued social distancing.
Through Twitch, our counselors and coaches presented a behind-the-scenes look into Connected Camps. Our streams featured eSports competitions (including a Counselors vs. Coaches game in League of Legends!), presentations on in-game mindfulness, and previews of future camps, clubs, and courses through an in-depth look at our development process.
With Roblox exploding in popularity, Introduction to Game Design in Roblox, made its hit debut, serving as a pathway for younger kids to learn coding and game design through Roblox Studio, a platform daunting to navigate alone. Other new programs like Pokémon Sword & Shield camp, Modding Club, and Paleontology launched in 2021 as well. With social distancing still in effect, a dedicated user base found a home base in learning and play at Kid Club, our free and safe Minecraft server and online community for kids ages 8-13.
My daughter absolutely LOVED this class and looked forward to it all week long! Maricruz was a great teacher – very sweet and interactive – my daughter immediately wanted to take another class with her as soon as this one was over. She learned about several different animal science and ecology concepts while getting to put them into practice using Minecraft. And she enjoyed the personal and teamwork interactions with other kids in the class.
I’ve never seen my child so excited to take a class. He just turned 10 yes old and didn’t have any previous coding experience. He was a little confused day 1, but watched the recording afterwards and completely took off with design. He spent hours creating, showed up for class excited to learn more and by the end of the week he had a complete obstacle course created. It was fun to hear him talk about what he learned each day and was proud to present it to the class.
My son enjoyed the session immensely and asked right away if he could come back. He enjoyed playing with other young people who have a passion for improving their skills in Rocket League. In addition, he just had fun laughing and chatting with people in his age group. The facilitator did a good job of making sure that everyone was engaged and included.
In March 2021, we emphasized our commitment to create safe communities by doubling down on our mission in-house. Our organizational values were introduced and celebrated through the first ever Values Ceremony, a tradition which continues today three times a year.
We approach our work with professionalism and play in mind. Remember to have fun. We strive to be the best at what we do. Be exceptional.
Lead by example. Keep it kid-friendly. We set the bar for how to work responsibly with young people. Help others grow. Share knowledge and experience.
Think of the person behind the screen. Act with empathy. Value the importance of community. Inquire more, judge less. We meet each other as we are. We’re not perfect, we’re real.
We believe that feedback moves us forward. Our goal is to do better today than yesterday. Seek to learn from others. Know you don’t always have the answer. Build, test, iterate, repeat. Use data wisely.
We work together to set each other up for success. No one person or team is more valuable than others. We care more about working toward the same goal, than we do about our own interests. Be humble. We help one another without judgment.
We aim to create an environment of safety, support, and inclusion for all community members, from teammates to learners. Value all voices and embrace differences. We strive to reflect the community which we serve. We care about equitable solutions.
After a learner in our Kid Club server requested a way to add pronouns to their avatar, our team searched for a suitable Minecraft plugin with no luck. As advocates for belonging, our counselors jumped to work on creating a solution, with our learners involved in the design process. The Pronoun Patio has since been adopted into our programs across Outschool and our Experience Camps partnerships.
Open to all former and current Connected Camps team members, the alumni network keeps our team of generous collaborators connected via a Discord and Minecraft server, LinkedIn group, an opportunity board, and quarterly newsletters – where we can continue to help one another.
Introduced in 2021, the Lead Counselor II position—an advanced role for counselors who serve as models and mentors to their peers—provided a new opportunity for career development and even more support for our counselors.
Redefining the traditional part-time job experience, our Counselor model allows for young people in their early college years to translate their passion for gaming into the field of online learning and mentorship. As they continue through our Counselor Program, they grow as young educators, have opportunities for promotion, and eventually graduate with an abundance of job experience and a community of support behind them.
My time at Connected Camps has opened my eyes to so many new and exciting things. Working and coordinating with children to set goals and structure to new or pre-existing clubs, pushing my imagination beyond its limits, or even awakening the inner child in me by becoming friends with some of these amazing kids. The role I have allows me to teach kids wonderful things and techniques, but the best part of it all, is that I have the opportunity to learn from them as well!
As a counselor at Connected Camps, I’ve had the opportunity to help so many kids explore their passions for coding, designing, and creating. They get to learn real skills through a medium they love. I give my students experiences I would have loved when I was their age, and I feel so lucky that I have the chance to do so.
Lead Counselor II
During my time here, I’ve joined my first community of gamers, led professional development workshops, worked on four program development cycles, spoke at a conference, and touched the lives of countless children. It’s been incredible to witness gamers of all ages promote interdisciplinary learning and foster friendships around the world in spite of a pandemic. I have never been prouder to be a part of an organization that makes an active effort to fulfill its mission statement and live true to its values.
Customer Support Specialist
Since I am in a customer-facing role, I think it’s important to represent Connected Camps as best as possible by helping learners and parents in any way I can and always being compassionate to the other person behind the screen. My favorite part of my job is seeing heartwarming messages from parents expressing how much their child loves Connected Camps classes and how Connected Camps has had such a meaningful and positive impact on their child’s life.
Design & Marketing Specialist
Connected Camps has played an integral role in my success as a self-taught visual designer. What I love about our team is that we encourage individual creativity and proficiency by leading with a collaborative, flexible, and growth-oriented approach. Since my start in 2018, I have gained so much more insight and confidence through my work and I look forward to continue growing side-by-side with Connected Camps.
Currently, I create and schedule all of our Outschool facing programs, as well as manage counselor staffing around those programs. I love knowing the work I do has a meaningful impact on our organization. Because of this, I am constantly striving to improve the work I do and ensure that counselors’ experiences here are the best they can be.
Assistant System Administrator
Connected Camps means a lot to me because I wish I was able to combine both learning and gaming when I was a kid. My role has allowed me to expand my technical skills greatly, and while a lot of the work I do goes on in the background to keep things running smoothly, I know that I’ve positively impacted many people.
We believe all young people deserve to have experiences of “connected learning” where they are pursuing an interest and learning with mentors and peers who are fellow enthusiasts.
Networked gaming and creation platforms offer new opportunities for connected learning. We broaden access by tapping the power of diverse young tech experts, our college counselors, who design programs, teach and inspire with the technology of the times.
At the center of all our programs is near-peer mentorship, centered on shared interests. The research is clear—
Our college counselors and high school volunteers are authentic experts and cultural ambassadors for the best that the online world has to offer for children.
We recruit college students from computer science, engineering, education, and design programs around the country and train them in inclusive project-based online pedagogy. We also empower them to develop innovative programs that grow from their own excitement and enthusiasm for all things gaming and technology-related.
We offer our programs directly to families to sign up online, as well as through schools and community based organizations.
Our work is grounded in decades of research and innovation by our co-founders who are professors at the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine, as well as the broader Connected Learning Alliance.