Game Jams are great; I'm a huge fan of them. (Roughly defined, a Game Jam is an event where individuals or small teams work together to develop a complete game or working prototype from scratch in a short period of time, typically one or two days.) You get about as much insight into the game development process in a weekend as you'd normally get in a three-year AAA development cycle. You get to experiment with new tools, processes, or designs in a risk-free setting (after all, even if you fall flat on your face, all you've lost is a weekend... and think of the wisdom gained that would normally cost millions of publisher dollars). You get to meet and work with new people you haven't met before. For students, it's about the best practical experience you can get outside of class. For educators, it gives the kind of insight that's hard to get when you're not working in the industry full-time. For working professionals, it offers the opportunity to grow professionally and hone your skills in a way that's normally not possible when you're in the middle of a development grind.
For those of you in or near Columbus, Ohio, the second Ohio Game Jam is scheduled for the weekend of September 20-21 (starting at 2pm on Saturday and going until roughly 4pm Sunday). Since there's limited space, I'm trying to get a head count ahead of time, so I'll send the location to people who RSVP by email to ai864 at yahoo dot com. Feel free to pass on this info to anyone else you know in the area. The event is free, and open to all ages and skill levels.
For those of you not in Columbus but still somewhere on Planet Earth, there's also the Global Game Jam, a 48-hour event starting at 5pm Friday, January 30, 2009 (in your local time zone). This event is many Game Jams happening concurrently at a number of sites around the globe. More info will be added to the website in the coming months, once the list of host venues is finalized. Contact info is on the Global Game Jam website.