This reflection post is the first in a series by staff members of the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS) who have taught remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Arya Basu is a Visual Information Specialist at ECDS.
by Arya Basu, PhD
One of the most satisfying moments in one’s teaching comes when a student expresses their confidence in the recently taught subject matter. My colleagues and I experienced this sense of pride in Spring 2019 when we first offered our pilot class to a limited group of students comprising six bright and eager young minds. Our course, which we again offered in Spring 2020, is entitled “Introduction to 3D Visualization and Interactive Media Design,” which I taught alongside colleagues Ian Burr and Joseph Fritsch.
In this class, we introduced 3D modeling, texturing, and visualization using modeling software such as Autodesk 3D Studio Max and real-time game engines such as Unity. For the first half of the course, we went through hands-on assignments to learn and practice developing/modifying 3D assets. We focused on real-time rendering game engines and their various applications for the second half of the course. Students learned about different 3D visualization paradigms such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). This course also introduced the concepts of basic interactive programming via scripting using the C# programming language, which we used to implement basic 3D asset manipulation. Finally, students learned about various application (immersive) deployment strategies that real-time game engines offer.
Before the United States got hit with the COVID-19 pandemic along with the rest of the world, we offered our class for the second time to a larger group of twenty students in the Spring of 2020. Our class got interrupted mid-way through just before the spring break, with most of our students scrambling to get to their homes as the main University campus was about to shut down. Our international students were affected the most, as they eventually had to return to their country of origin. All of this happened throughout the spring break as we, the instructors, were left figuring out the best tools to teach this class remotely with asynchronous video lecture access and remote access for problem-solving. This situation has brought us to the following observations or issues:
- It is very taxing for students to learn and be productive in a teleconferencing platform such as Zoom while mastering 3D modeling and game-engine programming.
- 3D modeling software demands unique and high-end computing resources, to which most students have no access at home.
- Our international students have had to endure an extra layer of burden in the form of time zone differences. They must have access to asynchronous video lectures with proper captioning to follow the class. They also need flexible assignment deadlines due to many varying factors, such as access to reliable internet connection overseas.
- Co-working on real-time problems (be it 3D modeling, texturing, or scripting) can get cumbersome when you are using the software in an awkwardly nested format. Picture: Zoom with remote screen access to a student’s 3D modeling workflow or Unity editor workflow. This also involves the potential of having to overcome ethical barriers regarding pedagogical methods, especially if you solve problems in front of the entire class using Zoom.
Despite all the issues mentioned above, we completed our Spring 2020 class with a majority of the students scoring straight A’s. Their hard work leads me to conclude with the following hashtag:
This post is the first in a three-part series on teaching the 3D Visualization and Interactive Media Design course; to read the next reflection post by Ian Burr, please visit this blog post, or to read the third post by Joe Fritsch, please check out this blog post.