Wednesday, October 28, 2020
ADVT 
Life

Gaming platform Twitch energizes online classes

Darpan News Desk The Canadian Press, 17 Sep, 2020
  • Gaming platform Twitch energizes online classes

David Churchill is just 20 minutes into his first lecture of the semester at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and already students are expressing their enthusiasm. Not with lit-up eyes or hands waving in the air but with a series of emojis: PogChamp emote, LuL emote, PogChamp emote.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, few of the university's fall semester courses will be in person. There is a university-approved video lecture system, but for his two courses in the computer science department, Churchill is experimenting with an online streaming platform used mainly by gamers.

The platform, Twitch, is where video gamers usually log on to watch others play or to stream their own gameplay in hopes of attracting a few viewers.

Load the website and most of the teaser screens show frantic, pixelated explosions. Viewers and streamers communicate in live chat windows, using text and so-called emotes — gamer emojis, really. The PogChamp emote, for example, is a tiny cutout of professional video-game player Ryan Gutierrez looking stoked.

For Churchill's live-streamed lecture on artificial intelligence, that symbol amounts to high praise.

The assistant professor of computer science addressed his students last week from his webcam. His image was embedded on a bigger screen showing the course notes as a cascade of comments, questions and emotes poured into the chat window, from users — presumably his students — with names such as RandomCuztard and KlonTwitch.

He'd look over and answer questions every few minutes.

With 117 people registered for the course, his first lecture held steady at about 100 viewers. In theory, anyone in the world could have been among them.

Churchill is aware of the well-publicized attempt by New York University gaming professor Robert Yang to teach via Twitch last spring. According to the technology news website The Verge, Yang's 18-student class attracted 584 viewers who flooded the chat with emotes, and it disintegrated into chaos.

"To say lecturing on Twitch is a failed experiment — No, that person had a failed experiment," Churchill, 37, said in an interview. "But if you've grown up online and dealt with trolls your whole life, it's more manageable, I believe."

He adds, laughing: "And I have grown up with trolls my whole life, let me just get that out."

Churchill has been streaming on Twitch regularly for the past six years, showing games he was working on or his latest developments with the artificially intelligent programs, or bots, he builds to play the complex intergalactic battle game StarCraft.

He had planned to record his lectures and put them online for his students, but he found they were boring — "like a eulogy," he said. He wanted more energy, and more opportunity for human connection.

So he turned to what he knew — and to what his students knew. When he asked those who'd already enrolled whether they wanted recorded or livestreamed Twitch lectures, Twitch won 71-0.

Energy and connection is what drove David Samson, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus, to the platform when the pandemic pushed classes online.

He taught his entire Sister Species summer course on Twitch and has no regrets. Anthropology may not seem like an immediate match for Twitch, but Samson's a gamer, and he knows it well. Of all the video platforms, he said, Twitch is the one built for lively, high-energy interaction between streamers and viewers.

"One of the best ways to keep people's engagement high is to really make a rapport with people via their handle names, so you're like, 'Oh, Bonobo34, that is an awesome question, thanks, you're on a roll,' " he said.

To keep it professional as the emotes scroll by, he said he wears a suit for each lecture. Like Churchill, Samson had his teaching assistants moderate the chat in case things got out of hand.

Samson said his end-of-course evaluations were just as good, if not a little better, than those for the in-class version of Sister Species, and student performance was just as high.

It's not perfect, of course: Samson points out that anyone streaming lectures on the platform is ultimately handing over their work for free, to be consumed by anyone in the world, whether they've paid tuition or not.

"It's not the safe space you get when you're all in a room together," he said. "By necessity, I keep it specifically on content that I would feel 100 per cent comfortable taking on if I were in a public lecture with 1,000 people."

Despite the difference, he thinks he'll keep using the platform when and if regular lectures resume. In particular, it'll save a trip for students who may be commuting from another campus for his course, he said.

Back in St. John's, the feedback from students after Churchill's first week of Twitch lectures was encouraging, he said. Unlike Samson, Churchill is not yet sure if he'll use the platform when regular classes resume.

"I'd have to evaluate that once this term has ended," he said. "There's a lot to be said for actually being there in person with students."

MORE Life ARTICLES

Asymptomatic but want a COVID test before socializing?

Asymptomatic but want a COVID test before socializing?

While it seems like a responsible move, experts say a negative result from an asymptomatic case may give people the false impression that they can't spread the virus.

Asymptomatic but want a COVID test before socializing?

Joni Mitchell recordings from 1963 found in box

Joni Mitchell recordings from 1963 found in box

Nine songs were recorded that night, featuring Mitchell and her ukulele, which he said she hoped to use as an audition tape to attract managers and booking agents.

Joni Mitchell recordings from 1963 found in box

States face pressure to ban race-based hairstyle prejudice

States face pressure to ban race-based hairstyle prejudice

Advocates this week presented a draft proposal to New Mexico state lawmakers that would outlaw employers and schools from discriminating against Black and Native American women’s hairstyles. It's the latest state targeted by a national campaign.

States face pressure to ban race-based hairstyle prejudice

Office furniture in demand as workers stay home

Office furniture in demand as workers stay home

Ikea has about 1,000 home-furnishing suppliers in 50 countries. Its top supplier countries are China, Poland, Italy, Lithuania, Sweden and Germany, several of which have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Office furniture in demand as workers stay home

WATCH: EMOTIONAL Amy Sangha, Nurse: Covid19 Survivor's Inspiring Story ♥ #TreeofGiving

WATCH: EMOTIONAL Amy Sangha, Nurse: Covid19 Survivor's Inspiring Story ♥ #TreeofGiving

Amy Sangha, a nurse of 20 years at St. Paul's hospital tested positive for COVID-19 in Spring 2020 during the height of the pandemic panic. While isolating in her home she came upon a brilliant idea of the "Tree of Giving" where she asked her family, friends and community members, to tie ribbons to a tree in her yard.

WATCH: EMOTIONAL Amy Sangha, Nurse: Covid19 Survivor's Inspiring Story ♥ #TreeofGiving

Some gardeners in a pickle over scarce canning supplies

Some gardeners in a pickle over scarce canning supplies

The scarcity didn’t surprise Elizabeth Andress, project director for the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Some gardeners in a pickle over scarce canning supplies

PrevNext