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  Reports from SIGGRAPH 2001

SIGGRAPH as Textbook:
Learning Skills for Undergraduates

Erin Callihan
24 July 2002

Is it possible for undergraduate graphics students to in essence "learn backwards?" Can they pick up a SIGGRAPH paper and "learn" to understand it without having the appropriate background knowledge?

The University of Aukland's Kevin L. Novins believes the answers are yes. Novins has been teaching for years, following a traditional "bottom-up" approach, in which a student's base (bottom) is learning fundamentals and the top (up) is conducting and understanding research. For example, most students are given base courses in fundamentals. They are then asked to use their base knowledge in a more hands-on atmosphere, be it research, papers or projects.

This past year, Novins realized that this method is not the one that he himself utilizes. He explained that he often reads a paper after attending SIGGRAPH and realizes that there are "holes" in his base knowledge. Holes that he fills by going back and adding onto his "base" through research - more of a top-down research driven approach.

Novins felt that his undergraduates may have more holes to fill in their background knowledge than he, but they probably all share the same or similar gaps. He reasoned that if they worked in small groups, the holes could be collectively filled, as if each student has a shovel and they are all working together to fill their base knowledge. It would take one person days to fill such a big hole, but it would take one fifth of the time/effort if five persons were filling the same knowledge gap.

Novins decided to implement a new plan.

His class of 20 students democratically chose four papers from last year's SIGGRAPH conference proceedings that they would be tested on after four weeks. After reading the papers, each student drafted a written tutorial aimed at filling one of the specific gaps. These "gaps" were identified and "filled" through individual meetings with Novins. After drafting the tutorials, the students conducted peer reviews to iron out any problems and to identify any communication issues. The class then reworked and finalized their tutorials and submitted them to Novins.

The final exam was a 40-minute, single essay format form a choice of three questions. Students were on their own to answer the essay but were able to use all 20 tutorials which Novins had posted online. In essence, the tutorials were each student's "filler" in the overall hole of their base knowledge. Having access to all 20 tutorials served to completely cork the holes in their base knowledge.

Novins discovered that this method expanded his students' confidence and also reinforced learning by teaching. Because it was catered to each individual student, the class was active and interested throughout the project.

Novin's paper, "SIGGRAPH as Textbook: Learning Skills for Undergraduates," was featured as a part of the SIGGRAPH 2002 Educators Program. The program exists to share "the processes, techniques and technologies that are critical for educating future pioneers, practitioners, and visionaries in computer graphics and interactive techniques." The contributors in the Educators Program span a diverse field of teaching professionals, from K-12 to post-secondary institutions, and throughout the week, they collaborate on forums, traditional workshops, papers and panels.


Official SIGGRAPH 2002 Educators Program Description


The annual conference is a chance to see friends you might only see at SIGGRAPH.


SIGGRAPH is the name of the show. ACM SIGGRAPH is the name of the organization.

Photos from SIGGRAPH 2002


This page is maintained by
Jan Hardenbergh
All photos you see in the 2002 reports are due to a generous loan of Cybershot digital cameras from SONY