Can A Graphics Professor Teach you Computer Graphics The Way Schoolhouse Rock Taught You Everything Else?

University of Washington Professor Steve Seitz grew up watching Schoolhouse Rock and he wondered if he could teach his computer graphics class the same way – through a series of short cartoons! Would doing this be more or less effective than giving traditional lectures? How many videos would he need? Could he REALLY replace a 50-minute lectures with 5-minute videos?! He decided to test the idea with the Spring 2022 instance of the “Introduction to Computer Graphics” class (CSE 457).

Graphics in 5 Minutes

The result is his Graphics in 5 Minutes project, and its YouTube channel has 26 videos in its playlist. He created the first half of those himself, and his students helped create the rest for the second half of the class. These videos are meant to replace the lectures, but not the projects, homework, or other assignments.

Prof. Steve Seitz
Prof. Steve Seitz

The students loved the videos, but were they as effective at teaching college level computer graphics as traditional lectures?! To test this question Prof. Seitz split the class into 2 groups: one group got traditional lectures, while the other watched the videos instead. Using exam, homework, and project scores, he found no statistical difference between the 2 groups! Students preferred the videos to the lectures, except for the loss of interactive Q&A. So Prof. Seitz is considering a hybrid version for next time, where the cartoons are supplemented by live Q&A from him and his teaching assistants.

Prof. Seitz notes that the student’s preference for the cartoon videos does NOT mean that producing them was easy. Each video required approximately 20 hours to make and some topics required 2 or 3 videos. But those videos he made persist as learning aids that students can watch as often as they want – just like how he watched Schoolhouse Rock. In order to help his students create more of these videos (for the second half of the class) he created a video on how to make these videos.

The Graphics in 5 Minutes website has more details as well as his Cartoon vs. Lecture Study data analyzing the results of the class. And the project continues to grow: Since the class ended he has added 2 videos on Large Language Models, another on Subdivision Surfaces, and has plans for more on topics like Ray Tracing and Particle Systems. But for now, he’s thanking colleagues who critiqued early drafts and helped him turn this idea into a class that actually worked.

So go ahead – click on a YouTube link and start learning college level computer graphics!