Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Moving to Education - First Steps

Lately I've been working on course material, including sample code and lecture slides. I will be teaching my first course in august, and the topic is Introduction to Programming Through Game Development. It's a trial, an intensive course with the goal to teach students basics of programming and basics of game programming. We're hoping to inspire greater motivation for students to learn programming.

In my research, I'm taking part in rethinking usability. In education, I feel I should take part in rethinking teaching. I haven't fully thought out my teaching plan yet, but I will pursue active learning by having the students work on their own (simple) game projects throughout the course, instead of artificial exercise assignments. Of course, I'll have to do some lecturing since it's a basics course, and I'm specifically required to teach them the topics covered in our standard Introduction to Programming course. My initial inspiration for how I might do this comes from Ian Schreiber's blog Teaching Game Design, and for more inspiration, I think I'll revisit What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (by Paul James Gee).

I'm trying to avoid traditional lecture material. Instead of factual slides, I've made a relatively small amount, using mostly pictures that are fun and reflect the topic I'm talking about. More specifically, I'm using a lot of lolcats - we all have our personal quirks, so get over it. Slides aside, I have created an example project and taken snapshots from its source code throughout all phases of development so I can throw my students some practical examples to explore and play around with. I pretty much think that's all the material I'll need to pull this off (of course, we have a textbook as well, so students can look there if they prefer more reading).

My thoughts for this one are not exactly radical but it's a start. If the course goes well, we can probably try some more advanced courses in game programming, and then I can scrap the lecturing part altogether. Programming is fun. Game programming more so. Teaching game programming should also be fun. Looks like the course will be Introduction to Programming, Game Programming and Obscure Internet Humor. All in the name of science and creativity.

An interesting sidenote: Using pictures that are far from obvious is (sometimes) better than using ones that explain a thing really well. When I was leaning Japanese Kanji, the ones I found easiest to remember were the ones where I had to think for myself how to interpret the character. Humans are proud of achievements - if we make sense of something non-obvious, we want to remember our explanation and spread it to others. So maybe if students understand how this picture reflects doing operations to elements of arrays, the whole concept of arrays sticks better.

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