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IGDA Summit: Educators On The Future Of Game Programs

IGDA Summit: Educators On The Future Of Game Programs

February 19, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

One of the sessions at the IGDA Education Summit, a two-day conference at the 2008 GDC, was a multi-discipline critique of courses in game instruction.

The session was a break-out-style meeting of minds -- and syllabi -- as educators compared their programs and looked toward best practices in each of the three major disciplines: programming, art, and design.

Attendees in this session were asked to break into small groups not only by discipline, but also in accordance with what they were most concerned about within their discipline: theory, skills, or synthesis.

One of the goals of this particular session, said Derric Clark of University of Advancing Technology, who acted as host during the summit, is to get people from other academic game development programs talking to each other. Although most educational fields lack best practices, an area such as video game development is also missing those practices in the professional world by and large, so the need for an open dialogue about curriculum is decisive.

As a listening participant, I joined the Programming Theory group. When I talk to people about game programming education, one of the common criticisms I hear is that game-specific schools tend to be too light on programming theory. This is why I chose to sit with the programming theory group.

There were two seasoned educators from universities in the U.S., two from the U.K., and one educator from the Republic of Singapore who was looking for a good deal of input and suggestions to help his still budding program.

Two of the major points that the educators at my table wanted to discuss were which programming languages to teach students and the problem of students entering game programming courses without enough knowledge of math. Some toyed with an idea that Ernest Adams suggested in his keynote speech for the Education Summit earlier in the day: teach Assembly.

Although C++ is the dominant language in the game industry, students who learn Assembly suddenly have to confront foundational theory in the form of memory management. Limiting students in other ways may be just as beneficial, especially for first-year students. The programming theory group also decided that it is not in the interest of a game programming course to teach students Java, as it saps theory out of the course almost completely, allowing students to learn a language without understanding how anything beneath it works.

The art and design groups later shared their findings with all the attendees, as did the programming tables. A speaker representing the art-teaching faculty distilled her group's major issues down to broadening the style of work art students make, noting too much influence from manga, and little else. And a design teacher said educators in her discipline need to create meaningful assignments for students that don't just get them to do, but also to think through their process. Design curriculums also need to offer students assignments in many styles of games, from board games and card games to real-life ones.

The IGDA Education Summit continues Monday and Tuesday (Feb. 18 and 19) at the Game Developers Conference.

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