Friday, December 10, 2010

Teaching Experiences - Revised

I have now given evaluations for my game programming course, and also finished my part of teaching normal elementary programming. That means I have also received feedback.

As stated earlier, the course was structured to be somewhat game-like. I had prepared one large example and taken snapshots of its development phases. It started out simple, with just drawing a ball on the screen, and expanded slowly towards a complete game. On lectures we followed the progress of this example, with each new concept adding new features to our game. Much like each new ability in a game allows a player to face new kinds of challenges. Each concept was introduced using carefully selected or made lolcats and sometimes simple diagrams. Then I proceeded to explain the concept, using a whiteboard to visualize what I was talking about. Then we looked at the cool things that can be done to our game using that concept. The final step with each topic was to give the students a new feature they should implement to the game.

This was repeated with most topics. Some topics like comments, which are not very cool, I just explained and demonstrated. The pace was set so that during any given hour there would be at least some programming for the students to do. This method of teaching was appreciated in the feedback I got for the course. Feedback in general was positive. The things I should pay more attention to in the future were the order of some concepts, and overall pacing of the course. I could have also documented the example code a bit more. For some reason the students really liked my lolcat-infested lecture slides. I don't know if the slides were very useful, but if they were memorable, there's always a chance they helped in remembering the actual concepts as well.

Like games, the course gave the students their first success early - I had them make something interesting and impressive (yet simple) on the very first lecture. Similarly, the course structure was very gamey. Students were given new "abilities" and then immediately presented a chance to use them. Need to make game objects interact? Here's collision detection to help you! This way they progressively leveled up as game programmers. Course work assignment was also one long project instead of isolated homework exercises. Relatively long anyway, 100 hours was reserved for working with it. Most of the students who passed the course reported less hours though. The work was divided into phases, but I timed them a bit poorly. The first deadline was too late into the course, and the remaining two were both after lectures had finished.

If I get the chance to teach more game development courses, I think I should look for ideas to make them even more game-like. I had one quite good interactive lecture experience while teaching elementary programming. Our topic was designing programs. I chose a fairly simple problem, one that was easy to represent and understand, and then started asking the students how they would make a computer program to solve it, step by step. So instead of telling students how programs are typically designed, I went through the process with them instead. This is something I should do with a future course. Present initial conditions and then work with the students to make something of them.

Hopefully our department sees the value of game programming in teaching programming. My current evidence suggests it can be very helpful in motivating people. I also think teaching is valuable experience towards making applications that are easy and fun to learn.

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