Posted by: Roger King
animation, computer science education, hands-on computing skills, Multimedia
This blog is dedicated to emerging technology for Web 2.3/3.0, the Semantic Web, and multimedia management. In the previous posting, we looked at the dilemma of trying to teach general concepts to students interested in advanced media, in particular in the domain of 3D animation.
The conflict between abstract and hands-on training.
I teach an introductory animation class at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The problem I face is that the applications (such as the industry standard, Maya) that professionals use to build 3D animated projects are extraordinarily complex, and users need to be taught how to use them. Thus, if you want to give students both a solid, broad-based education, and at the same time, give them the satisfaction of building something real and the hands-on skills they will need in the real world, there simply aren’t enough hours in an academic semester to convey all of this.
So, which is better?
Today, we consider a widely-discussed issue: What is the best thing for students? Learning to use popular tools in wide use today? Or learning abstract concepts that that presumably will give a student a solid foundation for understanding, using, and developing media applications for many years to come?
Academics will always say the second thing is their job, that they do not run trade schools.
Professors who themselves need to be trained.
Often, though, this is simply an excuse for the fact that they themselves have very little hands-on knowledge of modern software. They are too busy writing research grant proposals and pumping out papers – the things that are demanded by their employers – to stop and learn how to use the software their students will be expected to have mastered. This is true for more than just video, animation, imaging, graphics, and audio software. Believe it or not, university faculty members who teach computer science often have absolutely no experience with software development technology for building large systems, database systems, web applications, etc., etc.
The abstract training is often not happening, anyway.
There’s more. That long term training, that in-depth, subtle mastering of general concepts, often doesn’t happen, anyway. When faculty members do not know how to use media applications, they tend to not have any idea how they work internally and how they got to be the way they are. They also are generally unaware of the softs of technology media professionals of the future will need.
Indeed, there is a growing gap between the knowledge that computer science graduates need and the stuff that is actually taught at the university level. Yes, basic, core, abstract knowledge of object-oriented programming, algorithm construction, encryption, and the like, are absolute necessities, but universities could be a doing a lot more to flesh out the basic skills that, from a pragmatic perspective, cannot be ignored.
Companies cannot fill in the gap.
There’s one more thing. Corporations can no longer afford to invest a lot of money in untrained college graduates. The world has become more global, and more competitive. Nobody seems to be stepping forward to fill in the gulf between abstract university training and the mastering of hands-on skills demanded by employers.