Miami University’s AIMS: A convergence of technology, innovation, design, and, well, almost any other program

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

At Miami University, interactive media can play a role in any student’s college experience, whether they’re studying anthropology, English, or biomedical engineering.


Founded in 1993, Miami’s Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) is the first digital media studies program in the country that crosses schools of business, engineering/computer science, arts, education, and liberal arts.


The Economist, in a recent study[1] about preparing students for the future, noted that “Digital literacy, creativity, and the latter’s close relative, entrepreneurship, are often cited as essential skills for those who will be operating in the network-filled world of the future.” In AIMS, students and faculty from across Miami in undergraduate and graduate programs explore how digital technology and design are disrupting traditional areas of inquiry. Students are encouraged to experiment, innovate, and collaborate.


The AIMS program, in partnership with Miami’s entrepreneurship program, was identified by Entrepreneur magazine as a Top 5 program in technology entrepreneurship, and the 2017 Princeton Review places the AIMS game design/development program among the top 25 in the world.


In the AIMS curriculum (minor, major, and graduate certificate), students develop a broad understanding of digital context along with a deep understanding of digital specialty. All students learn the fundamentals of programming, user experience, entrepreneurship, digital marketing, design, digital writing, games, and web development. They then specialize in digital marketing/entrepreneurship, web/app development, game design/development, digital communication, usability/user experience, or 3D/virtual reality.


All of this is set in the context of constant project and client work. Majors complete a required internship, senior thesis, and work on a capstone project for a client. Select students also participate in a semester-long immersive apprenticeship with a digital startup in either Cincinnati or San Francisco.


Among digital and virtual environments, Miami’s Smale Interactive Visualization Center houses an immersive 3D CAVE environment and several virtual reality systems. The Center for Research in User Experience has sophisticated tools to track people’s irises as well their facial gestures, EEG, and other response measures. The Games & Learning Lab offers game-based and VR-based development tools for the creation of learning objects. AIMS is unique in that all undergraduate students have the opportunity to access such equipment. Spaces are spread across campus, encouraging students to interact with other students outside of AIMS in order to gain their perspectives.


In AIMS, student teams work from the client charge to develop a “live” digital solution to the client’s problem. AIMS faculty members coach, but students lead, using Agile project management methodologies. A condition of the course is that the solution actually will be used. Past projects include:

  • Touchscreen kiosks for Target stores
  • Handheld application for Cintas
  • Online training and certification for P&G
  • Web presence and e-commerce for the Taft Museum of Art
  • Phone and web-based apps for Coca-Cola
  • Virtual reality mandala and digital books strategy for His Holiness, The Dalai Llama
  • Gamifying a call-center for Home Depot


Other clients have included the U.S. Department of State, dunnhumby, Cablevision, HP, Cardinal Health, Bank of America, and Hulu. AIMS students also helped Cincinnati Children’s Hospital build a virtual reality simulation to help nurses improve evacuation of neonatal facilities. They built custom game controllers for children with autism.

Since 2012, students have “studied away” at AIMS’ Digital Innovation Center in San Francisco’s “startup alley.” Students spend four days per week interning with a startup company and one day per week in intense lectures, tours, and personal interactions with top innovative thinkers on the West Coast. In 2014, AIMS received a significant grant from the State of Ohio to launch a similar center in Cincinnati, a worldwide Top 5 Consumer Marketing Region, and home to 10 Fortune 500 headquarters. The Cincinnati Digital Innovation Center began placing students in spring of 2015.


AIMS has offered international workshops in England, Ireland, and China.


In the past three years alone, AIMS graduates have been nominated for an Emmy award, have won a Clio award, have led and launched interactive development offices, have won Techcrunch hackathons, have launched new companies, have interned at NASA and have begun working at Google, EA, LinkedIn, and Facebook, among others.


Miami University’s AIMS program represents a model for the future of higher education, blending a broad liberal arts perspective with deep technical understanding of programming, business, and design. Such convergence helps Ohio’s workforce remain competitive and attractive to new economy employers.


[1] Driving the Skills Agenda: Preparing students for the future. (2015) Economist Intelligence Unit