Digital Animation for Educators
This Learning Enhancement project has been funded through the HEA and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.
|COORDINATOR:||Dr Kevin Nolan|
|COLLABORATORS:||Mr Eoghan Phelan|
|COHORT:||50 Staff and Postgraduate Students|
Many subjects undertaken at third level institutions can be highly complex and even abstract, with students expressing difficulty relating the concepts therein to the real world. Fluid Mechanics is one such subject that requires students to embrace mathematical concepts that often seem to bear little resemblance to the flowing world around us. The subject requires an ability to compartmentalise the effects of fluid and flow properties in both isolation and competition with each other. Such mental gymnastics do not come easy resulting in a divide amongst students who can perhaps interpret the mathematics and those for whom a whiteboard sketch is insufficient but have good intuition. Student feedback clearly reflects this disparity and frustration.
In 2018 I began to introduce simple 2D and 3D animations into the lecture slides to help drive greater understanding of key concepts. These limited animations were extremely well received in student feedback with students reporting that the media appealed to their visual approach to learning — they wanted more. Inspired by this feedback I piloted a new approach for one of my modules, Mechanics of Fluids I (MEEN20010). PowerPoint slides were replaced by interactive Jupyter Notebooks containing detailed but conversational prose, embedded videos of sophisticated 3D animations, interactive 3D models and Python code snippets allowing the students to explore the equations just derived. Feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive.
Driven by the success of this approach, and an appreciation that creating such engaging media is neither quick nor easy, I applied to the Learning Enhancement Project Fund to secure support to share with colleagues how to create their own engaging media.
Creating 3D animation is not easy. It requires technical knowledge and artistry. Armed with the former and not much of the latter I proposed a community of creators. This community consists of those who have a vision of what type of media is needed, perhaps for their particular subject, and those who possess the technical ability to take the concept from whiteboard to rendered pixels.
The initial goal was to run a summer workshop, aided by an exceptionally gifted intern, with hands on training allowing each participant to build a sample project to ultimately be used in their teaching or research. However to move to an online university experience required a rethink and a series of intensive Zoom based sessions were ultimately chosen as the delivery medium.
Two tiers of participation were chosen with Tier 1 participants the most interested in acquiring the required skills and Tier 2 more observational participants. This allowed the course to be rolled out to a broader audience.
It is intended for this summer workshop to continue annually and build the aforementioned community of creators. Ultimately a library of UCD branded and licensed 3D animations will be created on a diverse range of topics showcasing the best of UCD teaching and learning.
The Innovative Approach
Key to this project was a highly skilled and motivated intern, Eoghan Phelan, who became adept with open source 3D animation software for his final year project, earning a Highly Commended accolade in the Global Undergraduate Awards in the process. In what became an exemplar of teach your teacher, Eoghan produced an excellent series of course materials for the workshop participants as well as providing many one-to-one tutorials.
A participant survey was carried out upon the completion of the workshop
- 79% of those who responded said the course was Useful or Very Useful. However, when asked if the course was challenging, 57% agreed that it was ‘tough’.
- All participants stated that they had little or no knowledge of 3D animation prior to the course with 57% reporting satisfactory to very good knowledge after the course.
- There was a similar broad agreement in relation to the skill and responsiveness of the instructors.
- There was some disagreement with the pace of the course with 35% happy with the pace and 28% feeling the pace was too fast, the remainder was neutral.
- 50% of participants wish to create animations for their own modules and 61% feel confident to create content with additional support.
- When asked why they chose the course 43% cited a specific need for animation content, 21% out of curiosity, 21% looking for a zero-experience introduction and the remainder looking to brush up on existing skills or interested in animation for other reasons such as research.
- There was a general consensus that Zoom was an effective learning environment.
- 79% of responders would recommend the course to others.
- 86% agree that 3D animation can broadly improve the student experience.
- Mechanics of Fluids Lecture notes (MEEN20010) These lecture notes for the Mechanics of Fluids module include 17 animations.
- Blender 3D animation software "Blender is the free and open source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, video editing and 2D animation pipeline."
- "The Power of Animation and Video in Transforming Student Learning", Article in the Engineer’s Journal.