In my many years of teaching video game development and other entertainment technology courses, I have found one statement to be true above all others — “The only way to learn how to make games, is to make games.”
I often use the analogy of learning to shoot a free throw in basketball. One can spend a thousand hours in lectures about free throws, write a thesis on the history of the sport of basketball, study the anatomy and physiology used in the process, calculate the Newtonian physics of the throw, and read every book on the topic, and still be completely and totally unprepared to “put the rock in the hole.” It’s not until one sets foot on the court and shoots thousands-upon-thousands of practice shots that they will gain mastery of the skills needed to succeed at the task.
I believe the same is true in the field of creative media development. One can spend a thousand hours in lectures about design, write a thesis on the history of entertainment, study the psychology and systems theory used in the process, learn the mathematics and computer science behind the technology, and read every book on the topic, and still be completely and totally unprepared to work in the industry.
For this reason, my primary theory of pedagogy is a project-based one. To best prepare students for their future, students must directly participate in practicing the objectives they are meant to master. It is not enough to see, hear, or study — they must also perform the tasks they will be expected to perform in their future careers.
That is not to say that theory courses are not valuable. They can act as catalysts to enhance the power of project-based learning by providing a solid foundation of prior learning. The literature has shown, time-and-again, that the greatest asset for learning is prior knowledge, and theory-based courses can provide the prior-knowledge that makes project-based courses so valuable.
For this reason, I believe that the best learning is personally adapted to the learner. A good instructor must find a “hook” in the student’s prior knowledge on which to hang new information. However, these hooks may vary from student to student. For that reason, it is important that a good instructor must be agile, able to pivot on a moment’s notice in order to adapt the curriculum to the prior knowledge of their students.
Moreover , students should leave a course with skills that extend far beyond the content of the course. Fortunately, concepts such as creativity, systems thinking, critical thinking, critical analysis, and design-based thinking are critical elements of the courses I teach. These skills are necessary for success in creating entertainment technologies, but are equally valuable in any career field.
These elements form the foundations of my teaching philosophy — project-based learning, with a personalized approach based on the learner’s prior knowledge, and the goal of providing complex, critical-thinking skills and provide value far beyond just the content of the course.