So today I decided to play around with Unity – it’s a professional game development environment. I worked through most of their 3D platformer tutorial and found making games to be pretty easy and fun: it’s definitely worth downloading (it’s free for PC/Web games) if you know programming and think making a game would be a neat project.
Now the (ostensible) reason I’m doing this is for a class (Handheld AR Game Design). The professor sort of told us to go through the Unity Tutorials. By “sort of” I mean that he told us to go through the Unity Tutorials, but then made it abundantly clear that he would not be checking to ensure we did do this. He also has an upcoming lecture about introducing us to Unity: that lecture could (in theory) rely on us having picked up the basics already and jump right into AR, but he never said that that was the case or that this lecture would be on a particular day.
So what we have is a recommended assignment. And just to be clear this is not a small thing: this tutorial I’m going through is 122 pages long. So I did it, mostly, and I found it cool. But I started to think: would it be better if it was assigned? Let me take a stab at pros and cons:
- Absolutely no work for the instructor (the niceness of this really can’t be overemphasized)
- Sets an expectation that students should be doing things for their own interest, not because they have to
- Lets students be flexible. I skipped some parts of the tutorial that was teaching me stuff I understood well; I will likely use that time to go back and explore some stuff I thought was particular interesting on my own
- Some students just won’t do it. Maybe that means it’s their fault but from a completely pragmatic perspective students who are behind hurt the whole class in a variety of ways.
- Make it “required” means that busy students have an excuse to do it. Certainly I can testify to the fact that, I felt more-or-less like I was slacking off as I went through this tutorial. As a converse to the above, maybe that feeling let me skip some sections that actually contained stuff I’d find helpful but I was too lazy to do.
- Can’t easily make assumptions about when it’s done, incorporate them into lesson planning
What would I do if it was my class? I think I’d assign it formally. The main issue for me is Con1: if it’s worth recommending, it’ll benefit the whole class to be able to rely on everyone knowing it. I’d try to mitigate Pro1 by making the check and the grade both perfunctory. I think Pro2 is nice in theory, but in all honestly “doing what your teacher told you to do” should not need to be a sign of taking learning initiative: if that’s the goal there a better ways to reward people for going above and beyond.
Anybody out there agree or disagree?