[Bf-education] Blender 101

Knapp magick.crow at gmail.com
Tue Nov 15 08:39:21 CET 2016

I am posting this in BF_Functionality list. I think you have some great

On Mon, Nov 14, 2016 at 11:24 PM, Tom Haines <thaines at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dear Mike,
> Here are answers to your questions, from 3Dami! Apologies for the length...
> Can you give a little background about yourself as a Blender educator?
> What’s your experience as a teacher?
> Tom: Been running 3Dami for 5 years. To give a quick rundown, Pete and I
> run a seven day summer school every year for 14-18 year olds, where teams
> of 9 go through the entire process of making a 3D animated film, from
> scratch. They start with writing scripts, end with a premiere, and run like
> a real small studio, with a student director and producer. We make them do
> everything, except for audio and textures, though it’s pretty common for
> them to do those as well. I have also run three hour sessions to teach
> Blender to 10-16 year olds. In my day job I do have some actual teaching
> responsibilities, but it’s mostly just 1-on-1 teaching assistant stuff for
> masters students, with the occasional lecture and designing coursework, not
> involving Blender.
> Pete: I started teaching Blender in school in 2007, the old interface, to
> 12 year olds in London. This was successful but I took up another job and
> didn’t come back to teaching until 2009. Through an after school club I
> taught Blender to 16-18 year olds looking to study to get into the
> film/games industry. My students won 4 awards (2012 - Turing
> <http://animation.cs.manchester.ac.uk/animation12/animation12.cs.manchester.ac.uk/gallery/winners/16-plus/index.html>;
> 2013 - Apocalypse & Cheese Quest
> <http://animation.cs.manchester.ac.uk/animation13//gallery/winners/16-plus/>;
> 2015 - Welcome to 2016
> <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSvtZQPlbuI&list=PLa7KNPJTHIrXhTe0VkJAFRZvzma2UL_xZ&index=6>).
> I founded 3Dami with Tom in 2012 (see above). In 2014 Google awarded me
> $15k to create resources to teach computational thinking through 3D
> animation to school aged students; this money has been used to create a 3
> hour intro booklet (the basis for part of b3d101), as well as training ~60
> teachers in running blender classes and delivering Blender taster sessions
> to 400+ students.
> What format is your lessons? Classroom? Online? 1 on 1?
> Everything 3Dami does is classroom based, though actual teaching includes
> lecturing and a lot of 1-on-1, as students have specific problems they need
> to solve. We also have a series of online tutorials which may be found on
> the b3d101 website, or on our YouTube channel. They were created with
> Google CS4HS funding, and Pete should be making more at some point.
> The Blender taster sessions we run are quite flexible. It can involve
> students seeing the teacher demonstrating work, working individually or in
> pairs to create animations, and watching videos / using booklets to aid
> them in learning new concepts. At the same time the teacher circulates to
> offer support to any struggling students, or advice to exceptional
> students. Throughout the sessions we get students to visit other students
> to ask them how they created their work, using them as ‘mini-teachers’.
> Who is your students/audience? What?s their age and skill level? Where are
> they located?
> The annual 3Dami summer school is always 14-18, but for other events we
> adjust to cover anywhere in 10-21. We have had a 6 year old sneak into an
> event for 10-16 year olds! Before attending 3Dami we expect students to
> submit a portfolio, with at least one work made using Blender, to check
> they have learnt the very basics, but probably around half of a typical
> 3Dami event are near beginners. The shorter lessons (1-3 hours) are aimed
> at absolute beginners.
> The students we invite to 3Dami come from incredibly varied backgrounds,
> which is deliberate - we want heterogeneous teams. Everything from computer
> science through to fine art, and everything inbetween.
> What skillsets have you taught? (i.e. modelling, animation, games)
> Everything but games (which we would like to remedy someday, but have not
> yet figured out how to translate the current model). And I mean everything
> - they are making films, so there isn’t a single part of Blender they
> havn’t used. For beginners we tend to do the absolute minimum of modelling,
> materials and lighting so they can create an OK scene, with a bit of
> animation for students that get to it.
> What are some issues that you see students struggle with in their first
> hour with Blender?
> The main issue is switching Blender into a mode and not knowing how to
> switch it back to what they were using before, or even understanding it has
> happened. In our experience the complexity of the interface is not an issue
> as long as you make it clear that they can ignore most of it and tell them
> exactly (with pictures!) which buttons to press.
> How would you describe the learning curve of Blender?
> Absolutely fine - it’s comparable to any other heavyweight 3D modelling
> software, and probably at the easier end of the spectrum, if only because
> it has had the most recent interface refresh. I have seen a 6 year old use
> it… Some parts of the interface can be a bit weird/inconsistent etc. but
> the UI team seems to be working on that. For instance the choices of what
> to have in the menus and what to have short cut only can be weird at times.
> What part of Blender is surprisingly intuitive to the students?
> I wouldn’t say it’s surprising, but the move/rotate/scale widget is really
> helpful, and most of a beginner's time is spent interacting with it. The
> right mouse button thing generally isn’t an issue. The approach of having
> specific workflows based around switching to the right mode for solving a
> problem limits the scope for things going wrong (when it’s not
> accidental!), and is immediately intuitive to students. Beginners don’t use
> shortcuts, so it’s important all of the core features they need are
> available in menus/buttons.
> What are some ongoing issues that constantly frustrates students?
> Accidental mode switches. Hell, that often catches me out, the difference
> being I realise, check and find the issue in a few seconds, while a student
> needs a teacher to help them, assuming one is available. I have two main
> feature requests here:
>    1.
>    A menu item that resets the Blender interface - window layout and
>    modes. Or just modes - that’s the big issue.
>    2.
>    The ability to disable particular modes. Note that because of ‘muscle’
>    memory we would prefer to ghost out disabled items, rather than hide them,
>    so that students can graduate to the ‘all features’ version without any
>    relearning.
> Additionally, some school administrators leave a lot of hidden files lying
> around (School IT in the UK has an extremely poor reputation, unfortunately
> for good reasons), and Blender doesn’t hide files that are marked as hidden
> on Windows systems. This can be problematic for students when they are
> browsing through the directory structure, as they can’t find the
> files/directories they want. Some schools have actually refused to install
> Blender for this reason, because it lets students browse to hidden folders
> that ‘they shouldn’t access’. Obviously this is silly, but it’s still a
> problem we have faced.
> Students sometimes miss the tabs on the left hand side - they are both
> small and lack contrast, and are hence easy to miss. A slight tweak to the
> default theme, either colour, size or both, would help.
> Is there any customization you’ve done to Blender that makes Blender easier
> to teach/learn?
> Nope. Part of this is because it’s not required in our experience, part of
> it’s because students are learning Blender at home before coming to a 3Dami
> event, and changing the interface would only confuse them when they arrive.
> I’m not counting enabling plugins that ship with Blender by default - we do
> plenty of that. There are a number of plugins we would like, but they are
> all a bit blue sky - mentioned below.
> What are 3 key areas of Blender that could use improvement in order to
> reduce the learning curve?
> Obviously you’re here to modify Blender, but it’s worth saying the biggest
> problem is the shortage of teachers willing to teach Blender (due to not
> knowing it, though it’s debatable if that is really required), and the
> materials available to help them teach. Not just tutorials but worksheets
> and lesson plans. Online tutorials tend to be aimed at self-learning
> university students, and are usually of little use to teachers.
> Continuing the above theme, it’s also not just about Blender. At 3Dami we
> require asset management and a render farm, and we have our own (
> https://github.com/thaines/rfam) because the standard tools just don’t
> work well with students. But my time is limited, so the feature list of the
> above is a long way short of what we desire - there would be value in
> getting the existing, and better maintained tools, into a state where we
> can use them.
> You also might want to consider the blender.org website - we need a good
> education section, that helps both teachers and students find what they
> want.
> Getting to Blender itself, at the 3Dami summer school our problems are the
> exact same problems facing any small professional studio. Dependency graph
> and linking issues for instance. Particularly cleaning up after linking has
> gone wrong, though Blender has got much better at that now. Lack of
> overrides, the physics system biting us on the arse, no mega shader. In
> other words, all the stuff the Blender devs are working on anyway. However,
> I will highlight the principal of a ‘golden path’ - when software requires
> you to do something in a particular way, but there is no warning if you
> deviate from the path until it doesn’t work, with no way to link the
> failure back to the original mistake. Blender is actually not that bad on
> this front, but it still has some golden paths, and they burn us regularly
> - even if you tell a teenager to only do something one way, they will
> inevitably try and do it the way that doesn’t work! Linking groups is a
> perfect example - every year I have to explain to a student why they can’t
> move an object they just linked, or why linking a mesh does nothing. The
> rigify plugin is similarly problematic. Understanding why a cycles render
> is taking 8 hours as well. I realise all of the above are probably beyond
> the scope of 101, but thought them worth mentioning anyway - education is
> not easily siloed, and touches on everything.
> Considering when we teach to younger students, a complex interface is not
> a problem when there is a teacher giving them permission to dive in and
> ignore most of the buttons. This may not be the case for self-learning
> students online. As already mentioned, the ability to easily reset the
> interface and to disable (ghost, not hide) modes would be of value to us.
> What else can you tell me to help build a better Blender for beginners?
> Your initial email implied you would be creating a separate build, rather
> than allowing us to configure the standard release. We would want a smooth
> transition from ‘cut down’ to ‘everything’, so would think it should be in
> the standard build. We don’t want students mastering the basics then having
> to download another version of blender to use the full version. This would
> also cause problems in schools, where they would only download the ‘101’
> version and refuse/take ages to install the full version. This might be a
> switch on the splash screen to put blender into ‘b3d101 mode, with another
> very obvious button to put it back again. It might even be the ability to
> fully customise the exact features desired of Blender on the splash screen.
> To get a little wild, here are four things we want - they are mostly
> complementary to Blender rather than new features, but all would massively
> improve our ability to teach Blender. These are obviously far beyond 101,
> but worth mentioning so you are aware how we would like everything to
> ultimately fit together, assuming someone ever finds the time to do any of
> the below! :
>    1.
>    A website to which students can upload and show off their work, using
>    a plugin that comes with Blender. This would help us manage portfolio
>    submission to attend events. Reality is we probably need to make this
>    ourselves, as we would want them to submit their various forms to attend
>    using the same website. This builds on Seymour Papert’s educational theory
>    of ‘constructionism’, where students learn best when creating and sharing
>    their work. The best example of this is the scratch programming environment
>    by MIT (https://scratch.mit.edu/), which has hundreds of thousands of
>    children all over the world sharing their programming projects in a way
>    that other students can look at the underlying code and fork their own
>    versions. A similar Blender version of this would allow students to not
>    only see the end animation/models, but look at the Blender files that made
>    them
>    2.
>    A asset management/render farm plugin, with uploading/downloading
>    to/from a remote server, with proper version control and support for
>    linking, plus the ability to add external assets with licensing information
>    - essentially everything we have in our classroom setup but online, so
>    students can continue to work at home during 3Dami events if they want,
>    but, more importantly, after the event is finished continue to polish. Our
>    films are never good enough to submit to a film festival, simply because of
>    the time pressure, but if students could keep working online afterwards
>    many of them could be polished to that standard. Additionally, we have had
>    teams of our students make films online, using tools like Dropbox and
>    Skype, which aren’t great - we want to provide them with a proper system.
>    This would imply a need to also support pre-production - script development
>    etc.
>    3.
>    Platform that organises a curated set of tutorials into a ‘tech-tree’,
>    so that students can work towards a specific goal by completing all
>    tutorials leading up to, e.g. ‘can make a game character’. This would
>    require multiple versions of each tutorial (video with sound, video without
>    sound (ideally recut rather than just subtitles - young students can’t read
>    and watch at the same time), and text), multilingual support, worksheets,
>    customisable views of the lesson tree for teachers, and the ability for
>    students to submit work so their teacher can grade it, with some kind of
>    system to ensure consistency of teacher grades.
>    4.
>    Finally, one that might actually fall within the scope of 101!
>    However, while it’s a nice sounding idea it’s unclear if this would be of
>    greater value than good YouTube videos, and the extra work required by
>    tutorial creators may mean it never gets the critical mass to be valuable.
>    It also has the potential to hold hands so much that students don’t really
>    learn. Maybe treat this as a potential future discussion rather than a
>    definite desire. The idea would be for a system that loads tutorials and
>    splits the screen to show instructions on one side while letting a student
>    use the interface on the other. A number of ways for the instructions to
>    interact with the user could then exist - showing where menu items are
>    would be a simple one, all the way up to demonstrating what the student is
>    meant to do with the live interface and letting them reset back to an
>    earlier step. I could imagine this as a plugin, but it might actually work
>    better as a web browser plugin, that adds support for extra markup in html
>    that gets communicated to running instances of Blender, e.g. ‘click this
>    link and Blender will show that menu item’ (have a look at the MIT scratch
>    intro). An alternative would be to adopt an approach taken in the first
>    levels of real time strategy games, where you have hint arrows and text
>    boxes telling you what to click, you can't progress or use other features
>    until you have clicked the correct buttons / completed the task.
> One last thing: Could we get the screencast keys plugin back? (I know it’s
> still available to download, but worry it’s going to break at some point)
> Making tutorials is still a significant part of improving Blender
> education, and we need that to be as easy as possible!
> Kind regards,
> Tom & Pete
> On 12 November 2016 at 19:55, Mike Pan <mike.c.pan at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Hey guys,
>> To get things started with the Blender 101 design project, I've put
>> together some questions that I wanted to ask you. If you can take 10
>> minutes out of your day to answer it and mail it back to me, that would
>> help a lot.
>> ---
>> Blender 101 Educator Questionnaire
>> Can you give a little background about yourself as a Blender educator?
>> What’s your experience as a teacher?
>> What format is your lessons? Classroom? Online? 1 on 1?
>> Who is your students/audience? What’s their age and skill level? Where
>> are they located?
>> What skillsets have you taught? (i.e. modelling, animation, games)
>> What are some issues that you see students struggle with in their first
>> hour with Blender?
>>  How would you describe the learning curve of Blender?
>> What part of Blender is surprisingly intuitive to the students?
>> What are some ongoing issues that constantly frustrates students?
>> Is there any customization you’ve done to Blender that makes Blender
>> easier to teach/learn?
>> What are 3 key areas of Blender that could use improvement in order to
>> reduce the learning curve.
>> What else can you tell me to help build a better Blender for beginners?
>> ---
>> Thanks,
>> Mike
>> On Thu, 10 Nov 2016 at 00:22 Mike Pan <mike.c.pan at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> Hi all,
>>> For those of you who don't know me, I am working for the Blender
>>> Foundation on something called Blender 101. What is Blender 101? Glad you
>>> asked!
>>>    - Blender 101 will be a release-compatible build of Blender
>>>    (reads/writes the same blend files)
>>>    - 1 build with several UIs optimized for different use cases
>>>    - Target audience are 3D beginners (students and casual content
>>>    creators)
>>>    - UX controls will be compatible with Blender 2.8 (minimal
>>>    relearning when user transitions to the full version)
>>>    - Goal is to simplify the interface, but not restrict user
>>>    experiences
>>> My process:
>>>    - Gather feedback from Blender community
>>>    - Gather feedback from local (Canadian) schools where Blender is
>>>    taught
>>>    - Research industry leaders/competitors
>>>    - Understand the need of the 3D printing industry (Funder is Aleph)
>>>    - Create and publish proposal by end of year.
>>>    - Will continually publish my work on the my wiki
>>>    <https://wiki.blender.org/index.php/User:mpan3> as well other online
>>>    venues.
>>> The project has just started and I am in the information gathering
>>> phase, so *I would love to hear from you! If you can share your
>>> experience teaching Blender, that would help this project immensely. * So
>>> please allow me to to pick your brain.   Any and all feedbacks are welcomed!
>>> Thanks,
>>> Mike
>> _______________________________________________
>> Bf-education mailing list
>> Bf-education at blender.org
>> https://lists.blender.org/mailman/listinfo/bf-education
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Douglas E Knapp, MSAOM, LAc.
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