Monday, December 10, 2007

Communicating With Students

I ran into a friend after the game jam, and we got to talking about (among other things) how teachers throw up red flags to students when they see project scope spiralling out of control.

Instructors say things like:
  • "This looks like an ambitious project."
  • "That's an aggressive schedule."
  • "I think you're being very optimistic."

What students hear, respectively:

  • "You're an ambitious student. You've got tons of initiative. You're a real self-starter. That's a valuable thing to have in the world."
  • "You've got the guts to do what it takes, without letting obstacles get in your way. Go get 'em, you aggressive tiger you!"
  • "You never lose hope or let things get you down, and you've got a positive attitude. I value your optimism."

What the professor actually means, in all three cases:

  • "You don't have a snowball's chance in Hell of completing this project. It's way too much work and/or way too advanced for the time you've got available, and if you attempt it you're going to fail miserably... if you don't kill yourself in the process. Reduce your scope and bring things back to something remotely reasonable. But... if you insist on trying and failing anyway, in spite of my repeated warnings, it is your right and privilege to try. But don't say I didn't warn you."

I think we professors need to be a bit more clear. Next time I see an overly "aggressive" student project, I'll be a bit more direct when I say so.


A. Ortiz said...

I know what you mean. Though, at the same time, 90% of communication is nonverbal. So a lot of it depends on how someone would direct a comment towards you.

If my teacher told me "That looks... ambitious," in a tone that made me think ambitious could be replaced for a more negative word, with his or her eyes wide as they stared at my design document the same way Gandalf would stare at the One Ring of Sauron... I imagine I would have an inkling that this might not be a good idea.

Anonymous said...

Oye! I agree. I'm in the process right now of coming up with a game design concept to do for a semester long game development project. For that specific reason, trying not to overshoot myself, I am having a hard time figuring out where I want to start, 2D (something I've done) or 3D (something I haven't, but need too). I'm trying to stay clear from the ever-so-common RPG, and really wanting to come up with something fun.

But, yeah, I'm not sure I have the instructor that would tell me that I'm shooting way above the mark. He'd just let me go to see how far I'd get.