Friday, May 22, 2009

Show-Off Day

As if last semester's tortures weren't enough, I found myself signed up for another six weeks of summer classes back in mid-April. Today, mercifully, my class on Operating Systems Technologies had its last meeting. What can I say? I am going to miss this class.

Today's class was the most raucous I had ever run for Ateneo de Davao. My students' final presentations interspersed with cheers and catcalls and clapping and laughing. For a moment, I was afraid someone would knock on the door and reprimand us for being too loud. Perhaps I was the loudest one of all. Embarrassingly, I had also invited a co-teacher to witness the proceedings.

If we bordered on the unruly, it was because I had designated today Show-Off Day. Since after the midway point of the summer classes, I gave the students leeway on what special project they wanted to pursue. The first four weeks had been all lectures and programming assignments designed to give them as wide a scope of the technologies available under open source. In the last two weeks, I told them they could wander off my syllabus track, pick any project they wanted and, well, just run with it.

Run with it they did. One student got started on Blender, a 3D modelling and animation software, and other students soon followed. Pretty soon, we had four animation projects in progress. Another student with a more traditional artistic bent picked up on Synfig, a 2D animation package. These projects prompted others to take up sound editing and video compositing, all using open source tools.

The highlights of our Show-Off Day were these: a creepy cartoon clip bordering on horror about an insomniac girl, a dancing dog, a gyrating fur ball, fireworks, and a sci-fi techno music video. (And yes, we did manage to talk about databases and user interfaces and system performance bottlenecks in relation to the problems they faced. But that's the boring stuff.)

All of these projects were self-directed, with nothing from me more than the occasional encouragement. Heck, these guys now know more about the products than I did. If anything, all that I could be said to have contributed was the encouragement and the space.

Really, what I think got us to Show-Off Day was the spirit of play. Open source provided a fertile playground for my students to explore and experiment. They didn't need to pay any fees or pirate any software. All the tools were freely downloadable at a touch of a button. And if some things didn't quite work as they expected, that was just fine. It meant there was a problem to be solved. Deep down, young techno-geeks (and we are all young) love to solve problems, genuine problems.

The best compliment I received today came after I had wrapped up the class and chatted with my co-teachers in an unofficial post-mortem. "Was that really M--- who was presenting?" said the teacher who sat in the class. "Because I've never heard him present that way before! I didn't know he had it in him!"

The most touching compliment though -- and I blush to say this -- was a tribute video, done by way of a talk show spoof that featured interviews and class vignettes. Composited and edited in KDEnlive with bits of Blender and Audacity, and yes, it's also open source.

Hmph. Darned brown-nosers. Since I'm too big and manly to cry, all I'll say is:

"Show off, guys. Show off."