Faculty Experiences - C.E.B. Reas

C.E.B. Reas - photoC.E.B. REAS

Design|Media Arts








Interview Topics


What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

How could the University better facilitate the use of technology in instruction?


Pedagogy


Student motivation

Student creativity

Different learning styles

Get students comfortable with technology







Technology


Processing (software)

Programming

Interactive exercises


Links





Teaching Students to Develop Technology of the Future


I want my students to be technically literate so the obvious constraints don’t narrow their creativity. I want them to be able to think beyond what the current technologies have to offer. Teaching my students to work only with the technology of today won’t get them far enough so I try to give them a broad base so they can respond and react to technological changes and hopefully develop the technologies of the future.

It is important to engage talented students. I aim to create an environment for learning where the students can explore the content of the class very freely and extend their knowledge quickly.

I want my students to be technically literate so obvious constraints don’t narrow their creativity. I want them to be able to think beyond what the current technologies have to offer. Teaching my students to work only with the technology of today won’t get them far enough so I try to give them a broad base so they can respond and react to technological changes and hopefully develop the technologies of the future.

I teach in the Design|Media Arts (DESMA) department so all the classes I teach are studio classes. My students are designers and artists; they actively create and build things throughout the entire class. All my exercises relate to technology, for example students do design projects for the Internet or they work on projects that involve interaction with computers through screen or physical interfaces. In either case, they would need to learn computer programming to work on such projects

I want my students to be comfortable with technology and think of it as a medium of expression and communication. But I found that teaching computer programming to students with design and arts background can be very challenging. This is because typical computer programming curriculum is primarily text-based. This does not fit the needs of DESMA students who usually are visually and spatially oriented. In finding ways to explain the computer programming concepts that would fit the needs of design students, I developed Processing.

Processing is a programming language and environment built for the electronic arts and visual design communities. It is created to teach fundamentals of computer programming within a visual context. Processing is designed for making things that are visual and making things that respond to mouse or keyboard or other kinds of interfaces. For instance, the “Hello World” program is the first program that Computer Science students would write but when DESMA students learn with Processing, the first program they would write is a program that draws a line. So we shift it from text space to visual space. The ability to make images through the codes gives students a motivational force for learning because they are making things that they are very interested in.

As a teaching tool, Processing is designed so that students can start off with a few minutes of instruction and begin programming immediately. As students become proficient in one level of programming they can continue writing programs that are more and more complex. This is because Processing scales elegantly as it provides three different modes of programming – each one more structurally complex than its predecessor.

We have used Processing for three years and it has been growing very organically. We have been modifying and changing Processing to make it into a better teaching tool based on our teaching experience and students’ feedback. We consider this program to be a starting point or a base point for getting into a lot of other kinds of technology.

I teach my students the basics of thinking with the technology so they can apply those concepts to other contexts later on in their education. For instance we recently designed a class for our sophomores in which the students think about interaction through writing software and that becomes a base for pursuing other projects -- such as animation or video – later on. Having the basic understanding of how computers work or how software works allows them to think beyond what commercial software packages have to offer.

My students come from a wide range of backgrounds. I may have students with programming background and students with arts and design background in the same class. Students with the programming background have a certain advantage because they have a better understanding of technology. On the other hand, students coming from an art or design background have a different advantage in that they have a more sophisticated visual sense or interesting ways of perceiving technology and its use. Whatever the students’ backgrounds are, Processing allows students to start writing programs, trying things out and seeing the result immediately. This is because Processing is familiar to students with programming background but more importantly Processing reduces the learning curve for people without any programming background so the class can focus on its immediate concern that is, how to use technology to fulfill expressive or communication purposes, rather than simply learning how to use technology.

Design and engineering have very similar processes and methodologies. In my teaching and my work, I don’t think of them as separate. It is only the end results that are different. And I think that both disciplines have a lot to learn from each other.

The trend in our discipline is to move away from mouse and keyboard-type interfaces towards custom interfaces or using computing technology with hand-held devices. Thus we are developing new tools that allow people to write programs from mobile phones or to build physical interfaces. In order to keep up with these trends, we have our students working with space and objects instead of just with the screen interface. We are also trying to develop better teaching material, better tutorials and more dynamic tutorials. For example, concepts such as recursion or matrix mathematics can be very difficult, but with the right kind of teaching tools students can begin to develop an intuition and a quicker sense of how these things work. Dynamic tutorials have existed for a long time but we are tailoring such tools specifically for this domain.


Oral Interview, February 2005