E14 - The Digital Media Pathway with Omar Ali

Episode Music Credits:  Old Love Instrumental by Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers, 100% Clearance through Musicbed 

On this episode of Blending In, I chatted with Omar Ali, the Career and Technical Education teacher from Tahquitz High School.  Omar shared how his education and career background in film, radio, and journalistic photography led him back into a classroom to teach digital media to high school students!  In our conversation, Omar shares how he “blends in” project-based learning, student voice, and leadership skills all while guiding students down a two-year pathway in his Digital Media class!

While most teachers take a traditional pathway into teaching, Omar took a very different career pathway to end up in the classroom with his high school students.  At the start of the episode, he gives a glimpse into how he transitioned from film, radio, and photography to becoming a Digital Media CTE teacher for high school students. He went on to explain that in his Digital Media class, students are on a two-year, standards-based pathway where they first learn about basics, like how cameras operate, through project-based learning activities which gives them a foundation for the second year of the program in which they really dive into more autonomous, creative projects.  Omar’s Digital Media students also collaborate to produce the school’s TV show, Titan TV, and content for their Instagram account.  Additionally, they partner with the yearbook students to help capture memorable moments for the yearly publication. 

I asked Omar specifically about challenges that he runs into when working with a variety of hardware and software to facilitate learning activities, and he gave a much-deserved shout-out to our IT department in Hemet Unified (some of whom are pictured here), who truly deserve all the awards and accolades that exist!  I’ve never been a part of a public school district with such a dedicated, high functioning IT team who is led by an outstanding, student-focused CTO, Ben Markely (center holding his 2022 Technology Leader of the Year award from CA IT in Education)!  Omar mentioned that whenever he runs into issues that he can’t fix, he knows a couple of guys (Lance Kim & Matthew Forys, 3rd & 4th from left) in the IT department who he can reach out to for timely technical support, and they are always able to resolve the issue at hand.  We know that we are privileged to have such a phenomenal IT department here in HUSD, and we don’t take that for granted!  

Omar spoke about how having one foot in the industry and being connected with his CTE advisory board helps him stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest tools and platforms in his field that supports the teaching of the CTE standards.  He also discussed partnerships that have been established with organizations like Lake Elsinore Storm and House of Portraits that support the work of his Digital Media students. I asked specifically about how he’s able to bring student voice into the classroom in the decision making process around tools and platforms they may be interested in using, and he spoke about how he guides student towards choosing things that are appropriate for school, and he also mentioned how he’s able to bring the voice of parents and other family members into the classroom as well by inviting them to share their career expertise that may bring value to the learning for all in his classroom.

Towards the end of our conversation, Omar beamed with pride over his newest project, the Digital Media Academy, which is a cohort of students that cross-collaborate with two other teachers on projects that spread across all the classes!  He’s also very proud of the Career & Technical Student Organization which is gaining steam this year and that will cultivate leadership among students at the school.

With the rise of artificial intelligence and ever-evolving algorithms, Omar’s final words of advice are that technology has infiltrated our society, it’s not going away, and our kids are going to need to have digital skills.   We have to be ready to prepare our kids for life outside of the classroom with technology, so his advice - take a digital media class! 

Do you know an innovative educator who should be a guest on the Blending In podcast? Nominate them HERE.

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