An article in the most recent WIRED magazine got me to thinking about alternative methods (maybe even better?) for delivering training related to both robot building and programming. I was sort-of familiar with Khan Academy (I had watched a video or two a few years ago when someone told me about it) but never truly understood what I was seeing (and hearing) from the website.
If you're not familiar with Khan Academy please pause here and simply read the article and then watch this video... it will get you up to speed much better than I could possibly do so in a paragraph or two. After you've watched the video (or not if you're familiar with KA and its concept), hopefully you'll have an understanding of how the videos work and what the goals of KA are longterm.
I'm not here to debate the pros or cons of KA -- the site and its methodology are the subject of much debate already so let's not add to the noise here... my purpose for this post is not to discuss KA's videos but to pose a question to The NXT Step's audience as a whole:
Would it be possible to provide to those new to Mindstorms(teachers, students, parents) a collection of short videos (5 to 10 minutes max) that would introduce concepts such as The Loop block, Line Following and Object Detection?
Just as KA has a couple dozen categories (Pre-Algebra, Calculus, Economics, etc.), I can imagine a similar group of categories such as Programming Blocks and Basic Movements and Advanced Logic Control... the list goes on. The idea would be to create a standard format for how the videos look and how they are narrated... maybe even some standards on video format thrown in for consistency.
Just as many students who use the KA videos can go back over a difficult topic as many times as they like (without anyone looking over his/her shoulder) and review the content before moving on, I can imagine a similar set of videos being developed where relationships between videos are tagged so that novices don't watch a more advanced video before they've watched (and hopefully learned) the basic videos that contain the information the more technical subjects build upon.
Don't get me wrong -- I still think books are a great method for learning. But imagine rather than reading a page or two that describes how to drop in a MOVE block and tweak it for the various settings -- forward, reverse, power, coast, etc. -- that you can instead queue up a video that maybe shows the block being dragged onto the work area, a few tweaks made on the left side of the screen and a Tribot or other robot on the right side demonstrating the code in action. I also think there's something a bit more personal in having a narrator explain a concept, but probably not everyone will agree.)
Let's assume for a second that the video concept is favorable and enough people voice support. What next? I'm not a project manager, but I imagine that there would need to be some sort of formalized method for managing the videos -- this would likely need to be an individual or small group that would be responsible for not only assigning video topics but also viewing and critiquing them before they are released in the wild. (Of course, a "beta" video could also be released for feedback from the community.)
There are other matters that would need to be considered and decided on:
1. How would video of the NXT software be recorded?
2. Would the video capture software need to be consistent or could a list of acceptable applications be selected?
3. What language would the video narrator need to speak? I dislike assuming English, but then again this is an English-based blog and the majority of the audience are English-speakers.
4. Where would the videos be stored/hosted?
There may also be copyright/legal issues that I'm likely unfamiliar with, but given the purpose of these videos would be to promote Mindstorms and grow its user base, I would hope that there would be ways around these issues, especially if the goal isn't profit-minded.
There are thousands upon thousands of videos out there that show viewers how to solder, how to wire up all kinds of electronics, how to program in dozens of languages, and so many more. And yes, there are already videos out there that demo how to do various things with the NXT kit and its software, but what's lacking is organization and logical planning of the topics to be covered.
I'm very impressed with Khan Academy (and I'm even re-learning my Chemistry a bit at a time with the KA videos on the subject), and I can't help but think that the methodology he uses is perfectly suited for teaching Mindstorms.