ACM - Computers in Entertainment

After All, Why Should I Learn Computer Graphics?

Guest Column
By Sicilia Ferreira Judice

Believe me or not, the most common question in the classroom is: “Why should I learn computer graphics?” Even after three and a half years teaching computer graphics, and even after having more than 100 students, this question still surprises me. I remember when I was in college and decided, along with a group of friends, doing a project about electronic games. At that time, our course had no discipline of computer graphics to offer, and in our city there was nobody working in the area. We could have given up and done another project, taking the easy way. But we wanted the new, the unknown. So, we contacted professors at major universities in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and started studying computer graphics techniques on our own. The result was the development of a project in an innovative area for our university, and also the inclusion of computer graphics in the course schedule. Besides, of course, we have learned much on our own. 

I am not the kind of person who loves playing video games all the time. In fact, I don’t care much about playing. What attracts me is the mystery behind each pixel. How can I change it? How can I move it? I thought this curiosity also reached the students of computer science, as happened with my friends and I. However, what I see in practice is a little bit different. Most students prefer a more rapid and less painful way to get knowledge. And they get it through more intuitive programming languages, APIs that facilitate all the work, or even interactive work environments with tools for self-correction. I am not against the use of these facilities, especially when we need to speed up production. What worries me is the excessive use of these tools in learning time. What I observe in the classroom is the diminished ability to think about what is being done, and therefore the inability to make decisions.

Leaving aside the fact that I am a professor of computer graphics and need my job, one of the main motivators in learning computer graphics is the beauty and ease the visual communication provides. In fact, we live in a visual era, where we see the displays of computers, cell phones and mobile devices in various sectors of our routine. Here's why I still surprise at the student's disinterest in learning computer graphics.

Then, thinking about this obstacle that presents itself, earlier this year I decided to develop a different task for the students. I asked them to research about projects in the area of computer graphics. Once done the research, each group of students should choose a project of greater interest and present in the classroom to the other colleagues. However, the task had only one restriction: no project could be in the area of entertainment, such as games or movies. The goal of the task was to show students various knowledge areas that make constant use of computer graphics.

As might be expected, I find myself surprised again, but this time in an unexpected way. I got a great result with students. First, most of them were motivated to perform the task. They did not know that computer graphics could be applied in several projects, with a variety of goals, such as training, treatments, aid in learning, digital inclusion, simulations, among others. Some students realized the importance of visual programming and were motivated to do projects in the area. Also, I selected the best projects and participated in a roundtable, which included the students, at a conference held annually at the college. It was rewarding to see the students presenting to the community. And even more gratifying to realize that, at least for those students, I achieved the goal of showing that computer graphics is beyond beautiful and fun designs on screen. We can use all its potential for various projects. It just depends on our ability to create!

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