Thoughts on education

So, I spent 45 minutes on Friday waiting for a meeting that never got started – during this period of lost time I decided to have a think about what I believe would help the Games course develop and produce (hopefully) better graduates… Not that the guys (and gals) that have gone through are poor, but they could be given a better chance straight out the gate, as it were.

Anyhow, enough blithering, time to translate my scribbled notes into something vaguely coherent!

Encourage formation of student development groups

This is a big one for me, it infuriates me that so few students seem to head down the route of getting together and making something. I don’t care if it’s a mod, a game or just some form of project, but they should be doing it and the department should be encouraging them to do it.

How do we do that? Set the groups up in the first year, not as part of a unit / group project (as currently happens in the second year). We should provide a focus for the teams, be it the Imagine Cup, the IGF student awards or even “just” the Moddb MOTY awards. Any of these would look, frankly, amazing on a CV – just being a finalist is a huge feat, so something that’s well worth aiming at.

One of the most important aspects to this would be to ensure that the groups are made up of at least students from both Games Computing and Games Production, which should give a good mix between logical coder types and imaginative designer / artist types.

Of course, one of the major issues here is that we’re throwing first years into the deep end – most of them will have never touched a game engine in any meaningful way, let alone written game based code. I focus more on this in a bit!

Microsoft Student Partners

We should have some! They take two per uni, with about 60 spaces each year. The student partners get taken down to a nice hotel in London, shown fancy new MS tech (under an NDA) given free beer and become evangelists for MS on the campus.

Being evangelists mean they get money from MS to run events, which can be as simple as playing on 360s and eating pizza. There are challenges / compos run for the MSPs, a brief chat with Ed Dunhill (who does the Inspiration Tour) made me wish I’d signed up for the thing.

Industry Links

I’m watching the Warren Spector seminar videos as I write this, which just help to hammer home the point that the department is missing out by not getting in more guest speakers for the students. While Lincoln itself is fairly devoid of development studios, there are several in nearby cities that we could create strong links with.

Alongside guest speakers, we could try and arrange placements and internships. While it’s tough to jam a nub into an existing game project, I’m fairly sure we could organise something that’s beneficial to the student and the studio, though I need to think some more about what that might be!

More intensive first year

This links back to the first point – the current programming teaching in the first year isn’t sufficient, students are hitting the second year lacking important knowledge, this hinders their studies in some of the more important / interesting units available to them which in turn screws them for their third year and getting a job.

I like the fact that the first year is focusing on C# rather than Java now, but there needs to be more C++ – rather than a couple of weeks at the end of the year. We need to be sure that OOP concepts are getting hammered home and that we’re introducing students to things like design patterns and good coding practices.

Students leaving the first year should be able to write a C++ application that uses a couple of core OO concepts (inheritance, polymorphism) and maybe even uses some design patterns (factory, composition). They should know what a pointer is and how you can transform a pointer to a parent class into a child class (casting), they should also be aware of the issues with pointers (accessing null pointers and keeping memory tidy (new / delete)).

C# is great because it’s easy, it does a lot of nasty stuff for you and lets you get away with murder by being polite and tidying up after you. But it’s not the industry standard and that’s what we should really be focusing on when it comes down it. Currently, we have students hitting one of their core coding units who don’t know any C++ or OOP concepts. That’s just (excuse my french) fucking shit.

Well, that seems to be most of my scribblings translated into generally coherent writings – all I need to do now is persuade the people in charge that they are all such good ideas and that they need to be implemented post haste. (fat chance, 40 minutes waiting for no meeting!)


#1 Jonathan on 09.25.08 at 6:36 pm

I wish I was born in the UK and had you as teacher.

I’m studying to programmer in Sweden in the second grade (seems like you pretty much the same system in England) and our teacher want me and my friend to participate in the Imagine Cup. Too bad we don’t know any artist :(

#2 Joe on 04.14.09 at 11:31 pm

I’m at Staffordshire Uni and I’m feeling a lot of these things myself. I’d been doing C++ for a few years before I started uni so I guess I’ll be alright, but there are people now at the end of the second year who can barely string together a basic 3D scene in openGL, and hardly any of them have even touched DirectX let alone Shaders! My course at least really doesn’t move fucking fast enough, seeing as games programming is the cutting edge of realtime graphics/AI/physics surely these kind of courses should work the shit out of people? Agh.

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