This real-life story is the translation of a text first published in Eductive’s French edition.

For my course Incrustation photoréaliste [Photorealistic Inlays], offered to students of the DCS in 3D Animation and Computer-Generated Imagery at the 3rd session of their program, I completely renewed my teaching last fall (2021). Now, each student works independently and controls the pace of their learning. To do so, I divided the course into a series of workshops consisting of autonomous learning activities.

Structure of the course and description of the pedagogical approach

The workshops

For each workshop, the student must watch a series of short videos that I recorded using OBS studio and do exercises. When they feel they have mastered the content, the student completes a certification activity, which is a hands-on assignment (for example, embedding a real image or a computer-generated image on a background, adding realistic shadows).

The image that serves as the basis for one of the certification assignments

The instructions of one of the certification assignments [in French]

The image produced by a student as part of a certification assignment]

Resources of a certification assignment

I then meet with the student so they can present their certification assignment. If the assignment meets the expectations (clearly communicated to the student), the student gets certified. If not, I ask the student to refine, correct or redo the assignment to do better. I do not give the student a grade: it is a “pass” or “fail” system. Successful students are awarded experience points in Moodle, using the “Level Up! Plus” module (the paid version of the “Level Up!” module). This video game-inspired feature makes the learning experience more fun.

2 screen captures of the “Level Up! Plus” module, in the teacher interface]

2 screen captures of the “Level Up! Plus” module, in the teacher interface]

Once certified, the student is guaranteed a grade of 60% for this evaluation criterion. If they wish, they can take another workshop on the same subject to deepen their knowledge and increase their competence by covering more advanced concepts. This allows the student to move to a higher “level.” There are, in general, 5 levels for each criterion. The student who passes the certification of the 2nd level will have a mark of 80% for this criterion, the one who passes the 3rd level will have 90%, etc.

But, instead of continuing on to the 2nd level after certification, the student can also choose to tackle another criterion, which logically follows the one they just succeeded. In fact, when a student obtains a certification, I unlock other workshops for them in Moodle.

Each workshop is quite short in itself. In total, a workshop takes between 15 minutes and 2 hours to complete.

There are a total of 28 criteria in the course. Students must achieve a minimum of Level 1 in each of these criteria to receive a passing grade for the course.

At the beginning of the session, there are 10 entry points into the course: each student chooses, among the 10 workshops, the one that appeals to them the most. Each student will then complete the learning in a different order, deepening the notions they wish, based on their interest and motivation to perfect their skills.

The projects

Once the student has successfully completed certain combinations of workshops, it gives them the opportunity to complete a project.

To realize a project, the student must choose a mandate from a bank that I have determined. For example: embed a computer-generated image or a real image in a given background. The student then shows me their production, but it is not the production that I evaluate as such. Rather, it is the student’s analysis of their assignment (or the presentation itself) that is evaluated. To do this, I meet with each student individually to discuss, as I do when awarding the certifications associated with each of the levels of the different criteria. The student presents their project to me. Often, students meet with me while opening on their computer the page that lists the expectations for the project evaluation. This way, they make sure they don’t forget anything by telling me about the different aspects of their project!

I ask students to do a minimum of 1 project during the semester, but they can do more if they wish.

Penguins drawn in 3D are embedded everywhere in a photo taken in an alley of Limoilou

Production of a student in the context of a project

Student Autonomy

Students can do their work in or out of class. To get certified, they have to talk to me. On occasion, I have met on Teams with some people who could not be in class for a given session. However, the vast majority of students come to class for every class.

In class, students can help each other. Each student completes the workshops at their own pace and in a different order (although some choose to “follow” each other to help each other). However, when a student is doing the work related to a certification, they can see the names of those who have already obtained it (thanks to an option in the “Assignment” module of Moodle). They know who to go to for help if I am not available or if they are working outside of class!

A paradigm shift from knowledge provider to coach

This new approach has made a huge difference in my teaching duties.

First, since each workshop is independent and at any given moment the students are all (or nearly all) working on different concepts, I hardly speak at the front of the class. I welcome students at the beginning of class, but that’s about it.

During class, students raise their hands when they want to meet with me for a certification or when they have questions. I informed them that, if necessary, I would prioritize answering questions over meeting for certifications, to avoid delaying the work of students who are “stuck”. However, generally, by the time I was free to answer a question of a student question who had their hand up, they had already found the answer: either on their own or by consulting a colleague. I find that the pedagogical formula is very supportive (and effective) of the development of student autonomy.

Since all assessments are done by talking with students during class, outside of class, the time I spend grading is virtually zero. I take a few minutes each week to produce progress cards that give each student an overview of their progression (seeing all of the criteria for the course and the steps they have taken, as well as the overall grade they have accumulated so far). This is done quickly by pulling the information from Moodle.

However, designing all the workshops was obviously a huge workload. (Although my method of recording video tutorials is very effective [in French].) Besides, I’m not done: the Fall 2021 students did not have access to 5 levels for each of the criteria (in some cases, there were 3 or 4). (I adjusted the grades accordingly.) I hope to finish next fall.

The development of tools for monitoring students (the correction grids and the tools for extracting information from Moodle) required a lot of work as well.

Upstream, the development of the course’s workshop tree required a long and deep reflection. I took a lot of time to make sure the workshops could be linked in a coherent order, even if the student could make choices.

In short, my new approach has been associated with a real shift in my teaching posture. That caused some insecurity, but I love the result! The atmosphere in the classroom is great! The students are learning effectively and in a way that is enjoyable for them… I’m thrilled!

Students’ perception

A survey of students found that 100% of them found the pace of the course to be neither too slow nor too fast. Also, 100% of them find that the course content is rich enough. We can therefore say that 100% of the students find that the course is perfectly adapted to their reality (level, interest, difficulty)!

Students have control over the pace of their learning. When they understand a concept well, they complete the workshop quickly. When it is more difficult, they take the time they need. They can replay videos several times if needed. Some students had to repeat a workshop several times! But in the end, they passed. No student is “stuck with failure.” The course gives them the right to make mistakes, while requiring them to produce the task associated with the workshop perfectly. The challenges are there and the expectations are high, but they aren’t associated with undue stress.

The pedagogical differentiation strategy used in this course takes into account each student’s personal level of competence at the beginning of the course, their speed of learning and their level of motivation. Some students who are less interested in the subject matter of the course, or less motivated, just do the minimum. That’s okay: they still learn the basics!

Most, however, went further. They refined their skills on the concepts that interested them most. The group average was 84% at the end of the session. Two students got 100%: they did every workshop possible and got all the certifications.

Are you interested?

I have a colleague who was enthusiastic about my approach and wanted to use it in one of his courses this term (Winter 2022). However, since it was an entirely new course (we recently renewed my program), he had, unlike me, no material to draw on. As a result, he couldn’t get as far as I did. Well, it works anyway! He seems to be enjoying the experience.

If you are interested in the approach, you can start by integrating it for a portion of your course, so that the prep work associated with it is more reasonable. Write to me in the comments area if you dare to move forward with this approach!

About the author

Guy Cantin

Guy Cantin has been teaching 3D at Cégep Limoilou since 2002. He received the “Trainer of the Year in media and entertainment” award from Autodesk in 2006, which allowed him to be hired as a technical advisor in the development of the 3D Animation and Computer-Generated Imagery program, where he has been teaching since 2007.He is currently involved in the revision of the program as a specialist in 3D teaching at the ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur . He is particularly interested in strategies for pedagogical differentiation of learning.

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