Kodu and how to mess up a good thing

I finally started working through the built in Kodu tutorials to get an idea of how well they would work in a middle school independent study environment.  The obvious place to find the tutorial lessons would be under the “Lessons” button at the top.  I have looked at a lot of programming tutorial systems over the years and some were very useful.  They were well written with the level of the user in mind, the progression was well thought out, the goals for each step were clear and there was no confusion as to what the particular step was trying to do.  Not so with the Kodu tutorials in the “Lessons”.  The first five are progressive; an intro, programming the Kodu, adding and painting terrain, scores, walls, fairly simple how-tos.  Then I hit Kodu & the Golden Apple.  It took me a while to realize the lessons were not in order!  The first Golden Apple is actually number 4 of 5.  Confusion reigned.  Once I looked a little closer at the name of the lesson and got that sorted out I started on Apple I.  The task for Apple lesson 1 appears in a balloon and is very simple.  But once inside Apple I code there is a whole bunch of stuff (hard to call tiles code) already there.  Where am I supposed to do what the lesson is targeting and what are all these strange tiles doing here?  Back to confusion.  So I start digging around and look in the “All” button.  Here are more tutorials!  But numbered weird:  “Tutorial 01 v03”, “Tutorial 01 v06”.  “Houston, we have a problem.”  Time to hit the internet.  Googling “Kodu tutorials” is much more successful.  Crackedrabbitgaming.com has some good stuff (http://crackedrabbitgaming.com/2009/08/19/kodu-game-lab-full-game-video-tutorial-with-narration-generic-wars/).  Channel 9 has some good introductory on how to run the IDE also.  (http://channel9.msdn.com/Blogs/LarryLarsen/Kodu-Tutorials-Available)
It really bothers me when a product like Kodu is put out for kids and is too difficult for an adult to figure out the built in tutorials.  It just shows a lack of attention to detail.  It would be much better to remove the built-in tutorials, which are pretty much there to frustrate beginners, and refer to well organized material on the internet or else rebuild the tutorials into “Lessons” in a progressive, designed for kids (or their teachers) manner.  The people that are going to use Kodu are going to be beginners.  Get a beginner frustrated and most of the time they are gone for good with a lasting impression of the product and programming.  Kodu has been out there for a while, long enough to write a simple update to fix this glitch.  Kodu is free and we often get what we pay for but still, do not put it out there unless it is done right.

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2 Responses to “Kodu and how to mess up a good thing”

  1. Simon Graham Says:

    Quite agree, after feeling somewhat stumped when loading the first displayed apple tutorial and feeling that the designers must have messed this one up, I hit Google and read your blog and surprise – I am in the same situation as you were. I am also looking for a nice free software tool to use with Y8 kids, something that’s nice and graphical with a good, easy to understand programming interface. Kodu seems to hit the spot nicely. I like it so far.

  2. Stephen Howell (@saorog) Says:

    Although I agree that things could be organised a little better, I think there are some other factors to consider as well.

    To put my comment in context, please consider the following:
    Firstly, Kodu is (last I checked) only available on PC to me here in Ireland, it wasn’t released as a purchasable product outside of the states at that time. It does seem to work better on XBox, or so I hear. Also, without a powerful PC, I find it frustrating to use, as my students tend to add so many actors and actions that the whole system slows down rapidly.

    Secondly, once I switched from the frustrating keyboard and mouse controls, I found the XBox controller far more intuitive and easy to use, but that may be because of my years of dedicated gaming on the xbox.

    I think the programming interface is inspired, and I took to it very quickly when I saw it demoed (before initial release) at a gaming conference. The project manager at the time spoke about design decisions and it was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into making it easy for kids to use. Therein lies the problem, adults like me who learned to program in assembly and BASIC as kids perhaps don’t naturally take to the tile based programming that tools like Scratch and Kodu provide.

    Finally, and this is only judging from the webpage and the blog, but for a long time (years) the frequency of updates and the amount of personnel working on the project would indicate that this was a low priority project, making tutorials and updating of samples unlikely. They seemed to have abandoned the project to the community, hoping they would provide the samples etc. This was a pity, as so far the product quality had been very good, there just needed to be a pedagogical focus to improve the chances of uptake in the classroom.

    It’s great to see that this has changed, for instance http://fuse.microsoft.com/page/kodu now has a ‘Kodu Classroom Kit for Educators’ and this is the type of resource that will keep teachers coming back for more.

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