The first is from Dave Bustard and Darryl Charles of the School of Computing at the University of Ulster (Coleraine), Northern Ireland and the second is from Emmett Kilbride at Ballyfermot Senior College, Dublin in the Republic. I received many more e-mails with regard to the feature and some suggested it is a good topic for a face to face discussion rather than a feature. Perhaps it is something for a future Awakenings or other games conference?
Response 1: Dave Bustard, Darryl Charles, University of Ulster (Coleraine), Northern Ireland.
This article raises many debating points but our response concentrates on two of the more central issues: the implications of having the word ‘games’ in a course title; and developing suitable designs for games courses.
The article seems to be suggesting that all courses with ‘games’ in the title share the same objectives. Is that true? Currently, for example, the University of Ulster offers a number of combination courses with the structure ‘X with Y’, meaning two-thirds of subject X with one-third of subject Y. This includes ‘Computing with Business’ and ‘Business with Computing’. Hopefully, no one would assume that these are the same, as the first is designed for those aiming for a career in Computing while the second focuses on Business. Likewise, our offering in Digital Games is the BSc Hons Computing (Digital Games Development), which is intended to indicate that we offer a degree in Computing, with a ‘pathway’ or specialism, in Digital Games Development. Our goal is to produce graduates ready for the computing industry, in general, together with knowledge of the games industry and some experience of digital games development. In particular, each student has a significant final year project that involves the design and development of a small game, the results of which can feed into a portfolio to impress potential employers. Some students may also continue to postgraduate study.
Over many years, governments have been pushing higher education institutions towards business models that have students as ‘customers’. The article seems to go one step further by implying that employers are actually the main customers, with graduates as the ‘product’. Is that appropriate? In practice, both perspectives are relevant but are simply two of many factors and constraints that need to recognised and balanced in designing any course. Another, for example, is the gap between course design and the emergence of the first graduates. This requires some forward speculation as the requirements and employment prospects for a subject like Computing, and even more so with Digital Games, may well change substantially in the intervening period. In practice, this issue is handled by updating course content every year, with major reviews and revisions implemented on a larger cycle.
In relation to Digital Games teaching at the University of Ulster (Coleraine), the main design decision in covering this topic was to decide that it would be part of a general degree in Computing rather than taught as a main subject. This is because the games job market is relatively small and seems likely to stay that way. We wished to give students an opportunity to seek a job in Digital Games but also to have the wider knowledge and skills that allow them to consider other careers. This is especially important as those who enter the games industry don’t always stay in it. A broader course also gives students more flexibility when their interests change or their performance in some areas is less than the subject requires. In our case, students can switch in and out of the BSc Hons Computing (Digital Games Development) course and indeed can take all of the games options and still opt to graduate with a BSc Hons Computing degree.
Dave Bustard, Darryl Charles
University of Ulster (Coleraine)
10 Jan. 2007
Response 2: Emmett Kilbride – Ballyfermot Senior College, Dublin.
Firstly let me start by saying that in my opinion education is much more than simply delivering programmes based around specific applications. It involves developing the social skills of students: how to work in a team, how to meet deadlines and recognise authority and respond in an appropriate way. There are no modules that teach these skills and it is indeed the teachers that impart this vital knowledge throughout the academic year.
Having links with industry could be an important part of a course. However, there are issues that companies must be aware of. In the past, it has been my experience that companies have an agenda when it comes to developing student skills. Companies naturally try to influence the curriculum in the direction that they see as being viable at that particular time. An example of this might be when an animation company wants students with strong animation skills. While this may be true of one company what about the other company who want students with scene and modelling skills. A balance must always be sought for the benefit of students. Ballyfermots’ courses are designed to try and meet the various needs of employers as much as possible. Hence the college has both games courses and animation courses.
Companies are also responsible for the training of their employees. Life long learning is now recognised as an important aspect of all workers employment. In this way companies can develop an employee’s direction and skills to suit that particular company. Education should not stop when the student leaves the college.
At this point I think it is worth mentioning the way in which modules are written and then implemented into a course. Firstly the teachers get together and discuss what changes need to be made to a module to keep it relevant. A teacher is then assigned to update or write the new module. This is no easy task. There is a particular format in which the module must be written and all aspects and outcomes expected must appear in the module descriptor. This then moves to the internal verification system within the college itself. If it passes it then goes to the NQAI for submission as a Locally Devised Module. This will then be further scrutinised before approval is obtained.
This process can take an extremely long time as there are many submissions from colleges that must be accessed. The system is there to protect the students from receiving sub standard teaching and modules. When the module is passed it can then be implemented into the course curriculum the following year. Module descriptors must adhere to stringent quality guidelines as set down by the national awarding bodies, FETAC and HETAC.
In relation to the ‘courses are too short’ comment I feel I must respond in the following way. Today in BCFE we have the Ludo One year course. This programme is an introduction to the various aspects of game creation. Students can then progress to the two year HND in computer games. Here the skills students obtained are taken a step further and an advanced set of skills can be obtained. Upon completion of this, and provided a merit profile is obtained, the students can further progress to a one year degree programme which is validated by DCU.
It is possible for a student who meets the entry requirements of 5 passes for the Ludo course to leave BCFE with a Degree in Media Production Management, not to mention all the other skills that have been obtained. No other Further Education facility offers this unique progression towards a recognised degree and it is something that we are very proud of in the college.
The Ludo course offers a simulated Work Experience module. The classes are divided into the various sections and teams such as graphics, sound, programming and so on. This provides students with the opportunity to work in a team environment. I personally think this is crucial, so much so that it is a core module on the programme, which means every student who wishes to receive a full award must partake in the module.
Another point worth mentioning is that students from the two-year programme CGHND have entered the Dare to be Digital competition and last year the team won their heat in Ireland and went on to represent Ireland in Edinburgh.
Links with Industry and Resource Issues
As with everything in education and business, it is dependant on funding. How many industry experienced individuals are willing to come and teach in a college when it would mean a significant cut in wages. Guest lecturers are indeed a good idea but again we come across the same issue, are employers of these professionals willing to allow their personnel time off to come and provide lectures?.
BCFE has to make difficult budgetary decisions every year. Two years ago it was decided to invest yet again in the games course. New computers and software was purchased and so the course was upgraded. We moved to max 7 which had just been released. Now in an ideal world the Ludo course would have max 9, new core duo computers, all the latest software and so on and so on. However this is not the case nor will it ever be. The games industry offers no funding whatsoever to BCFE in relation to equipment or software.
I have a discussion with my students every year about not having the latest computers and software. Indeed some students may have a superior computer system at home. However I think, and I stress this to the students, that there is terrific value in working with older programmes and computers. In real life and in the industry it is seldom that a company will upgrade their computers or software every six months. There is a lesson to be learned in the way that we have to deal with these deficiencies. It is in my opinion a valuable lesson. Students and teachers must use work arounds and think creatively as to how to achieve a solution to the various problems that will and often do arise.
BCFE will be hosting the Animates festival in 2007. Industry specialists will be offering workshops and discussions on all aspects of animation and graphics within the games industry and the wider animation industry. Funding will be sought from the industry here in Ireland and we are hoping that companies will realise what an opportunity this represents for the Irish gaming industry. The key question is will this funding be forthcoming?. We have the contacts but the payment of these lecturers and the cost associated with hosting an event of this size and calibre is the key issue. The games industry cannot complain about the lack of industry guest speakers and interaction if it is not willing to help with funding these opportunities.
It is difficult to justify preparing the students for the game industry alone. The multi media industry in all its various forms is also an employer and as there are not a huge number of employers or indeed a large games industry to speak of here in Ireland it would be remiss of the college to focus on this one area alone. Students must be given the widest opportunity of achieving employment and the skills they obtain must in some way reflect this.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is the fact that both sides of a complex problem are recognised. Both the industry and the education sector have very different needs and it is doubtful whether these needs will ever totally converge, however discussion and a setting out of the various problems and challenges that lie ahead can only be seen as a good thing.
Emmet Kilbride BA (Hons.) MedProMan
Ludo Course Co-ordinator, BCFE.
If you want to comment on this article please go to Education threads on the boards at
More information on courses and research at the institutions mentioned above:
BSc Hons Computing (Digital Games Development) with DIS
See also the blog of the games research group at UU at http://creativecomputingcoleraine.blogspot.com/
Ballyfermot Senior College Dublin.
HND in Computer Games Design
Computer Games and Interactive Entertainment Development (LUDO)
or see http://126.96.36.199/bcfe/courseinfo.php?course=31