Handouts vs Video
Comparing the efficacy of written handouts vs. movies.
The ability of Vimeo to allow timecode jumping in the description of their videos increases the efficiency of video allowing it to be, in effect, searchable. If the author is thoughtful about where he/she adds timecodes, he or she can virtually eliminate the difficulty of searching for specific information within the linear video medium.
In my animation classes, I demonstrate very specific techniques that I expect my students to use in their projects. Seeing, hearing then producing forms the pedagogical basis for assessment in my classes. Just as in industry practice, which is what the vast majority of my students want to enter, an individual is judged on what they can do rather than what they know.
So the question is: what is the best method of getting information into student’s heads so that it sticks and can be referred back to when applying the knowledge to complete projects? Textbooks? No text exists, even the ones that I have contributed to, that contains the right information that matches exactly enough to justify having the students buy it. This leaves me in the position of having to create my own material. The forms these take form the title of this blog entry; discussion of the relative merits of each form the subject.
Paper handouts (and their digital pdf and web page relatives) are proven technology that has a number of great qualities:
They are easily distributed, and may be referred to easily and quickly. The student simply flips to the correct page and can review the appropriate material almost instantly.
They offer the student the ability to work at his or her own pace without having to start and stop a movie or audio file.
They may be illustrated to whatever appropriate degree the particular lesson requires.
Most students, even in this particular short attention span age can read at an adequate level of skill to follow and understand them. More importantly, they can return to them whenever they need them and can find salient details easily.
But producing them takes an infernally long time!
Take, for example, this short tutorial: FacingRatioRampTutorial.pdf
It is a short, three page tutorial on how to use the Facing Ratio attribute of the samplerInfo node to vary the reflectivity of a Maya material. Much of the text is adapted from part of Chapter 12 of Mastering Maya 7. Writing the tutorial from scratch would take even longer because not only do I have to write it, but I also have to go back through it and make sure it works. Even though the text was already written, laying out the tutorial took over an hour. The actual tutorial will only take 5-10 minutes to actually complete.
So basically an hour’s worth of work goes into something that will take only 10 minutes for the students to do. This asymmetry makes creating handouts problematic in teaching animation. Not impossible, but there should be a better way.
Video seems like an ideal delivery medium. With a headset microphone, screen capture software and Quicktime Pro making them is rather quick and easy. The problem is that they must be large enough in pixel dimensions so that students can see the settings of all the various dialogues and menus. This increases the disk space needed to store the file. But the primary advantage is that the movie is simply the teacher going through the demonstrations. The medium also allows the instructor to give some expository “why to” information to accompany the basic tutorial.
We can compare the movie below:
Specs: 640 x 480 pixels 8 min. 58 sec. H.264 codec 450 k/sec sound 11.025 khz 17.1 mb. I record larger (1024 x 786 or larger) and compress down to the target size (Generally 800 x 600).
Interestingly, it covers the same type of information as the handout above: connecting a samplerInfo node to the VCoord of a ramp which connects the Out Alpha to the Ambient attribute of a Lambert. It also contains some test rendering info as well as Hypershade strategies as well. Production time consisted of two takes which meant that the total time to produce the video was less than 20 minutes. There are considerable advantages to providing this information to students, but there are also problems:
It is fairly difficult to find information within the movie.
Correcting mistakes means redoing the movie.
Students can only assimilate information at the rate of the movie.
Students have to take the time to watch the movie.
Despite these drawbacks, I believe including the movies have improved student achievement in my Character Design and Animation and 3D Modeling classes. I recorded about 15 hours of review movies. Our class sizes are too small to make a general statement about their efficacy, but I believe they were effective for the small group that took my classes.