Archive for June, 2012

Videos, ebooks, paper and thoughts

June 19, 2012

In my last post I mentioned the difficulty with using the video tutorials with the KinectQuickStart learning program.  I have started working through the XNA Game Dev Course Sem 1 .  There are video tutorials in this learning program also but the quality is much better.  The pace is much slower and the presentation is much clearer.  But it is still a video tutorial.  Perhaps I am missing something here but I find video tutorials much more inconvenient than a printed book.  The video tutorial is just a lecture in which you cannot ask questions and unless I am actively participating (asking questions) lectures are my cure for daytime insomnia.  Some guy talking in a fairly monotone voice is guaranteed to put a sugar-high five year-old down and out.  Video tutorials also require dual monitors if you are going to try and follow along.  The flipping back and forth thing on one monitor just does not get it.  With a book some table space is needed but that is usually more available and cheaper than that second monitor.  How many dual monitor high school labs have you seen?  I have one 5 computer dual lab in my school.  I built it just for teaching with on-line courses like this.  The kids love it of course.  There is the problem of killing a forest by printing all those books, and there is portability and the ease of access issues with a paper book.

Technology should provide an improvement over older methods.  As they are presently used video tutorials do not provide that improvement.  They are not much more than reading the book in front of the camera with a demo in the foreground.

Defining a problem then not proposing a possible solution lacks class.  So I solutionize.  They may not be the mind bending solutions needed to lead the way to Nirvana but they are all I got at the moment.

I will pick on the easy one first – the need for dual monitors when teaching a subject that requires reading/watching while executing something on the screen at the same time.  One solution I have used is having the kids work in pairs on two computers, one has the tutorial, and one has the software.  This does not require added desk space (usually at a premium in a school lab) or cost for a second monitor (really at a premium for a school).  A simple solution.  Given the funding it would be nice to have the space and a second monitor but I do not see it happening.

Paper or plastic (sort of)?  A paper textbook is not a viable direction with courses presented on the internet.  Running a few reams of paper through the copier just does not seem right.  An ebook is the obvious resolution between a paper book and the internet.  The trick is to make the ebook better than the paper version old farts like me love so much.  My (not so original) idea is to embed the videos into the ebook like pictures in a paper book.  The videos would be very short to reduce the desire to nap and would target the immediate topic/paragraph of the ebook.  The video would be used only to make difficult to describe in print topics more clear.  I am basically thinking of animated pictures.  Long videos are guaranteed to kill any interest a kid (or me) might have.

To keep the students focused and assured they are catching all the salient points embed questions in the text of the ebook.  Click the link, answer the question, forward on to a teacher dropbox.  Build the ebook with a student login and a teacher setup so a destination for the answered questions can be programmed into the book.  Some of these questions could require students to enter code snippets.

iBook Author is a start towards being able to build something like this on the fly.  The fact I have not had time to tinker with Author kind of limits my opinion of Author.  One of the many things I have to remedy this summer.  Sucked into the dark side again.

Learning to program with Kinect

June 8, 2012

The kids are gone so now I really have to get to work.  I am converting from Win XP to Win 7.  Now if all my computers were the same brand and model this supposedly would be easy.  I could build a FOG server (I am not quite sure what that is but that is what has been suggested) and magically distribute the new OS.  Out of over 200 computers I think I have two sets of 20 that are the same brand and model.  So the FOG server is out.  So I have a bunch of DVDs and I do a bunch at once.  I end up physically touching every computer.  A bit tedious but actually worthwhile.  It amazing how many dysfunctional computers I am finding.  Broken keyboards, missing mice, bad CD drives, monitors that are dead, etc.  For some reason I cannot be informed of these issues during the school year.

While the DVDs are cooking I have started on my C# self education so I can maybe teach the kids some Kinect programming.  I am using Rob Miles “Introduction to Programming Through Game Development Using Microsoft XNA Game Studio” and his “Using Kinect for Windows with XNA”.  Grrkkk.  Learning this way puts me face down on my keyboard drooling into the keys.  Rough on keyboards and leaves a funny pattern on my face.  I had thought I had hit the jackpot when I found http://channel9.msdn.com/Series/KinectQuickstart.  Boy, that guy can click that mouse fast!  If I was good enough to follow their tutorials I would not need their tutorials. “Quick” is the word.  There are also some minor Visual Studio version differences that caused some immediate, lesson ending confusion.  I am back to the books.  I have never liked video tutorials.  With a book I can stay on one page until I figure it out.  With a video it is stop, rewind, stop, rewind – over and over again.

Teachers should be forced to learn something new every year.  It will remind them how difficult it is to learn and help them realize why so many kids struggle.  Watching the first two videos in the series is one of the finest examples of what can go wrong when an enthusiastic expert tries to teach at the rate he understands the material.  I have to make sure I do not teach this way.  (Not a major problem in my programming classes, I am in no way an expert.)

Last year I had one of my small classes (3 kids) mess around with Stephen Howell’s Kinect2Scratch software.  Very simple, easy to play with and fun for the kids.  I am not going to give up on the XNA direction but Kinect2Scratch is much more attractive to students.  If I had classes full of uber computer geeks I could point them at the book and get out of the way.  I do not have uber computer geeks (OK, I do have one), I have main stream kids that want to do fun things with programming.  Until I can get proficient enough at C# and XNA that I can explain the rough parts so we can get to the fun parts I may have to reconsider my plan for next semester.  What I need is a Kinect add-in for Small Basic.  Now wouldn’t that be fun!