Buzz’s Blog: On Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web

May 19 2010   6:07PM GMT

The challenge of learning – and teaching – modern media management

Roger King Roger King Profile: Roger King

Media applications, a key technology for today’s professionals.

We’ve looked at modern media applications in previous postings of this blog.  They represent a critical core of the new world of end-user software.

The management of advanced media technology, something that a wide class of technical and nontechnical professionals must master, presents a difficult dilemma for both students and instructors.  Professionals need to be able to create, edit, store, search, and reuse photographic images, video, music, voice and sound effects tracks, 2D and 3D models, web pages, diagrams, mathematical information, and formatted documents with embedded media.  They need to use advanced media applications to get the job done – but they also need abstract knowledge about media management, so that they can continue to stay current, know how to find the right application for a given task, and know the limits of the software they use.

Animation presents a great example of this dilemma.

I’m a computer science prof and teach an introductory 3D animation course.  Building an animation project is a complicated process and the applications that animators use are almost unbelievably complex.  They have vast interfaces that take years to master.  It is difficult to perform even simple tasks without being taught keystroke by keystroke how to get the job done.

It is also hard to apply skills learned in one application to a similar application.  Two 3D animation applications, even if they are considered to be close cousins in terms of their functionality and with respect to how they should be used, typically present their own unique learning challenges.

Most instructors don’t want to deliver courses that leave students empty handed, feeling like their heads are full of fancy ideas but they have nothing tangible to show for their trouble.  Indeed, it is very hard to teach concepts independently of teaching students how to use a specific animation application, to teach general principles and not have a class degenerate into a here’s-how-to-use-application-X session.

This explains why professional books on animation (as well as other books about media mega-apps) are so painfully prescriptive and why they are rarely used as primary university and college textbooks.

One way of getting the teaching/learning job done.

What I find myself doing is teaching from the bottom-up.  First, I get the students intrigued by suggesting something that would be fun or useful to build, like a  snowman.  Second, we do it with Maya, the animation application which is very much an industry standard and what I use as a teaching tool.  This second step, especially later in the class as we do more difficult and detailed things, can be very tedious.  (Sometimes I do it wrong the first time or two!)  Then third, we step back and address the general concept that underlies this fun or useful thing.  In the case of our snowman, it’s the basics of creating solids, such as spheres, out of flat polygon shapes.  This “geodesic dome” approach is a key component of most modeling and animation applications.

More on this later…

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