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Conferences and Video Lectures; Scientific Educational Games

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John Langford analyzes whether conferences should offer video lectures. Judy Robertson discusses the merits of the Game Design Through Mentoring and Collaboration project.
  1. John Langford "To Video Lecture or Not"
  2. Judy Robertson "Game Design Through Mentoring and Collaboration"
  3. References
  4. Authors
  5. Footnotes
October 29, 2010

For the first time in several years, ICML 2010 did not have attending. Luckily, the tutorial on exploration and learning that Alina Beygelzimer and I put together can be viewed since we also presented at KDD 2010, which included video lecture support.

ICML didn’t cover the cost of a video lecture, because PASCAL didn’t provide a grant for it this year. On the other hand, KDD covered it out of registration costs. The cost of video lectures isn’t cheap. For a workshop the baseline quote we have is 270 euros per hour, plus a similar cost for the cameraman’s travel and accommodations. This can be reduced substantially by having a volunteer with a camera handle the cameraman duties, uploading the video and slides to be processed for a quoted 216 euros per hour.

YouTube is the most predominant free video site with a cost of $0, but it turns out to be a poor alternative. Fifteen-minute upload limits do not match typical talk lengths. Video lectures also have side-by-side synchronized slides and video that allows quick navigation of the video stream and acceptable resolution of typical talk slides. Overall, these differences are substantial enough that YouTube is not presently a serious alternative.

JOHN LANGFORD: “Video lectures increase the size of the audience and the value to authors by perhaps a factor of two for a cost about 1/3 of current presentation costs.”

So, if we can’t avoid paying the cost, is it worthwhile? One way to judge this is by comparing how much authors currently spend traveling to a conference and presenting research vs. the size of the audience. In general, costs vary wildly, but for a typical academic international conference, airfare, hotel, and registration are commonly at least $1,000 even after scrimping. The size of audiences also varies substantially, but something in the 30–100 range is a typical average. For KDD 2010, the average number of views per presentation is 14.6, but this is misleadingly low, as KDD presentations were just put up. A better number is for KDD 2009, where the average view number is presently 74.2. This number is reasonably representative with ICML 2009 presently at 115.8. We can argue about the relative merits of online vs. in-person viewing, but the order of their value is at least unclear, since in an online system people specifically seek out lectures to view while at the conference itself people are often opportunistic viewers. Valuing these equally, we see that video lectures increase the size of the audience, and the value to authors by perhaps a factor of two for a cost about 1/3 of current presentation costs.

This conclusion is conservative, because a video lecture is almost surely viewed over more than a year, costs of conference attendance are often higher, and the cost in terms of a presenter’s time is not accounted for. Overall, video lecture coverage seems quite worthwhile. Since authors also typically are the attendees of a conference, increasing the registration fees to cover the cost of video lectures seems reasonable. A video lecture is simply a new publishing format.

We can hope that the price will drop over time as it’s not clear to me that the 216 euros per hour reflects the real costs of Some competition of a similar quality would be the surest way to do that. But in the near future, whether or not a conference has video lecture support substantially impacts its desirability as a place to send papers.

*  Reader’s comment

I share your emphasis on the importance of collecting public video lectures from academic conferences. However, your main reason for not using YouTube reflects a misconception, and you ignore the many significant advantages in features and reach that make YouTube worth a closer look.

  1. “Partner channels” do not have the 15-minute upload limit as can be seen with various academic conference channels such as USENIX1, as well as various open source conference channels. The limit seems to be getting conference organizers to upload content.
  2. YouTube provides automatic machine-generated captions and machine translation into ~50 languages, which greatly expands the reach to the hearing impaired, non-English speakers, etc.
  3. The captioned text of conference videos on YouTube is indexed by the Google search engine, so a query for an obscure technical concept that is verbally mentioned in a lecture will show up in search results for related queries. This is a huge benefit for the dissemination of knowledge.

In any case, I hope more sites such as add captions that can be indexed by search engines in the future so that there is further competition and feature development to make it easier and cheaper in this space.

        —Murray Stokely

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Judy Robertson “Game Design Through Mentoring and Collaboration”
November 19, 2010

I was interested to read about a really fantastic National Science Foundation-funded project called Game Design Through Mentoring and Collaboration (GDMC). Taking place at McKinley Tech and George Mason University, the project encourages young people into STEM careers through weekend and summer courses in computer game design. I particularly like two aspects of GDMC. First, the students learn with slightly more experienced peer mentors as well as an instructor. This can be a very effective model because both the mentor and the mentee can learn a lot, and it gives the teacher much-needed assistance in a busy class full of temperamental computers and children. (If you want to know more about different models for effective mentoring, Kafai et al.1 is a good place to start.) Second, the students also learn about science subjects and integrate their new knowledge into their games, e.g., after input from a Federation of American Scientists biologist, the students’ games included accurate information about antibiotics, glial cells, and neurotransmitters. If we can’t convince every child to become a computer scientist, any kind of scientist will have to do.

JUDY ROBERTSON: “If we can’t convince every child to become a computer scientist, any kind of scientist will have to do.”

Game design projects are increasingly popular in education, and the evidence is starting to accumulate about the effectiveness of such schemes. In an article published earlier this year in Computers and Education, Vos and colleagues2 compared students’ motivation and use of strategies for deep learning when they either played a simple memory drag-and-drop game or constructed their own such game. The children enjoyed making games more than playing them, and were more likely to use deep learning strategies while doing so. A notable finding from this study was that the children were less motivated in the play condition than by their normal classroom lessons. This just goes to show that if you’re going to spend classroom time on a game, it had better be good or you might as well not bother. Or perhaps a more positive way of looking at that would be to say it takes a high-quality game to beat an enthusiastic teacher.

Game genre and graphical quality are likely to be factors here. The simple 2D board game style application in this study looks rather dull in comparison to the sort of action game you might find gracing the screen of a Wii. It may well be that making an online board game is more fun than playing it only because playing it isn’t that exciting to start with. In contrast, the GDMC students learn a wider range of technical skills that enable them to make 3D games with proper physics. I think this is pretty important because, in my experience, kids want to make games that look and feel as good as the games they play at home. After all, they want their friends to be impressed when they play them. So, hats off to the students on GDMC: Your counterparts across the pond in Scotland (see salute you!

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    1. Kafai, Desai, Peppler, Chiu, and Moya, "The multiple roles of mentoring," The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and Creativity in Youth Communities, Kafai, Peppler, Chapman (Eds.), Teachers College Press, New York, 2009.

    2. Vos, van der Meijden, Denessen, "Effects of constructing versus playing an educational game on student motivation and deep learning strategy use," Computers & Education 56, 1, January 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.08.013.

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