sample cartoons from our Graphics in 5 Minutes Youtube Channel

Instead of sitting through an hour long lecture, what if you could learn the material in 5 minutes? That's the goal of Graphics in 5 Minutes. Each 5-minute video, or "cartoon", is the equivalent of 50 minutes of a university-level computer graphics class. And cartoons aren't just shorter -- they're highly visual, full of demos and animations, and much more engaging than a normal lecture.

This isn't a new idea. If you were alive in the 1970s or 80s, you may remember SchoolHouse Rock ("I'm just a bill. Yes I'm only a bill. And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill..."). I owe much of my early knowledge of government, history, grammar, and other topics from these short educational cartoons. And I remember them far better than my elementary school classes, partly because I watched each one dozens of times.

If you're interested in learning computer graphics, these cartoons are the equivalent of a university computer graphics course. In the University of Washington (UW) undergrad computer graphics course (CSE 457), we cover three of these a week for 9 weeks. The cartoons let you watch a class-worth of content in two and half hours -- about the length of a typical Hollywood movie. Of course, it's important to practice that knowledge to retain it. If you took the graphics class at UW, you would do that by doing the programming projects, written homeworks, and studying for exams. And you can do that too, by going to the class page and downloading these materials. But if you just want to get a quick understanding of computer graphics, watch the cartoons!

I created half of these cartoons myself, corresponding to the first half of a typical graphics course. If you're curious how I did it, watch my video on how to create a cartoon (each one took me ~20 hours). The other half were created by the students themselves. Working in groups of four, each team produced one cartoon, and these student-produced cartoons were used to teach the second half of the course. Several of these student-produced cartoons were rated higher than my own cartoons, indicating that you don't have to be an expert to produce a highly effective cartoon. I included a few of these in my Graphics in 5 minutes playlist. You can find the full set of student-produced cartoons here.

So what does it mean to say that a cartoon is equivalent to a 50 minute lecture? And how effective are these cartoons compared to lectures? In Spring 2022, we performed a formal user study to answer these questions in a classroom setting. Specifically I divided 67 students into two groups, and I gave traditional live lectures to one half in a classroom and cartoons to the other. The cartoon watchers did not come to class. The lectures covered exactly the same material as the cartoons -- they shared the same slides/visuals, but were designed to be taught in an interactive format instead of a video. Through this A-B test, we were able to measure the performance of cartoons vs. lectures both in terms of student preference and impact on learning.

The key results of the study are as follows. Students preferred the cartoons to lectures by a 2 to 1 margin. And there was no statistically significant difference in learning effectiveness between the two formats, as measured by exam, homework, and project scores. In other words, the cartoons were just as effective as traditional classrooms for teaching the material. Given the choice between a traditional lecture class and a cartoon class, students preferred the latter -- i.e., a cartoon class with no lectures. That being said, students did miss one aspect of lectures -- interactive Q&A. And there was enthusiasm for a hybrid format, where the cartoons are supplemented by instructor-hosted Q&A sessions. If you're interested to learn more details of the user study, you can find them here.

If you're an instructor who prefers a traditional lecture format, you could assign these cartoons (instead of a textbook reading) as prep for your lecture. You may also find it useful to sample animations from these videos within your lecture slides. If you're more adventurous, you can replace the lectures entirely with Q&A sessions where you simply replay each assigned cartoon, and answer questions + work through example problems. This is the format I plan to do at UW (repurpose lecture slots with a mix of Q&A, VR/Fabrication/Research demos, break-out sessions, quizes, and other interactive activities), based on the student feedback from the study.

How is it possible to condense the time by a factor of 10 (from a 50 min lecture to a 5 min cartoon)? Well scripting and rehearsing the narration gives a ~2x speedup, eliminating Q&A is another ~2x, and cutting out the mechanics of writing on the board/slides is another ~2x. But isn't something lost when you cut these things out? Yes, but the cartoons have complimentary advantages, namely the ability to pause and rewatch as many times as you want. They're especially good at quickly refreshing your knowledge before a project, exam, or interview.

Whether you're a teacher or just some one interested in computer graphics, I hope you find these useful!

Steve Seitz
Professor, School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington
June 1, 2022

Acknowledgements: I want to thank all of the students from the Spring 2022 offering CSE 457 who participated in the study, filled out countless surveys, and produced excellent cartoons of their own! Thanks also to Hugues Hoppe, Sandhya Subramanian, Ira Kemelmacher, and Michael Cohen who watched early versions of these cartoons and helped me to improve them.

Note: there are still a few gaps -- I did old-style lectures for ray tracing and particle systems. I plan to add cartoons for these in the near future.