Creating Assignments to Showcase Talent

I like to stump my students occasionally to force them out of their comfort zones. I cannot require them to be curious, but I can try to inspire it through assignments that at least appear extremely difficult. This year, I am teaching a 3D class. The course has been extremely popular, and I imagine most of the students in attendance envision lucrative careers for themselves where they are making animated movies and digital effects. At the midpoint of the semester, I tasked the students with creating a virtual art museum. They had to find artwork to display in the museum, create walls for the pieces to “hang” on, display their lighting skills by illuminating each piece, and replicate the feel of walking through a real museum’s various rooms and corridors. This type of assignment combines much of what we had gone over in class, plus one or two things that we had not yet covered. For example, I did not specifically go over things like creating a wood texture to frame the artwork in, but it was not necessary to complete the assignment. However, an assignment like this may spark a student’s desire to learn other, more complex, textures than what we were able to cover in class.

I prefer assignments like this because I can gain a lot of information about both the student and how successful I was in teaching the subject matter. Will they color the walls, and if so, how many colors? If they do not, is it because they thought it was unnecessary or because they were unable to? Will they go out of their way to illuminate each piece appropriately, or will they all be uniformly lit (and if so, will it be out of laziness or lack of understanding?) I do not get this kind of insight through rote examinations where the students are regurgitating things that I have told them, potentially without even understanding the concepts. Assignments like this allow the students to actually showcase their talent and demonstrate that the concepts taught in theclass have a practical use in the real world.

There was much grumbling and grousing when I first gave the assignment, which did not surprise me. However, over the course of students actually working on their museums, some of their attitudes changed dramatically. They began to have a vested interest in how the project was coming together, and what their overall concept was going to be. Suddenly, they were interested in talking about what art they were using, how they were going to display things, how many rooms a museum should have… there were some interesting conversations going on. The students all turned in their assignments and seemed genuinely proud of themselves.

I was very happy that they decided it was a worthwhile assignment because it only gets harder from here. Their final task will be to make a (very) short film!