How teaching helps me learn
He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.
-Man and Superman (1903) "Maxims for Revolutionists", George Bernard Shaw.
As I started out in my game development career, I also got requests from friends working with education to teach and lecture about my job.
As George Bernard Shaw pointed out in the quote above, there's a certain disregard attached to teaching, but I have, to the contrary, found that teaching can also help me learn about my own methods of development and the way I do things.
Teaching game development to students gives me the opportunity to analyze myself. In order to teach, I have to put words on to what I'm actually doing, and as I'm sure many of you know, putting something into words makes it more concrete, more tangible. It is to some extent the same as writing a game design document. I have to communicate how I do things, which to me is not always obvious.
But it's not only the act of putting words to my method that makes me partial to teaching. It is also the feedback and the fresh perspective on the craft that I find useful. Standing in front of a class explaining a method often brings back interesting questions from the class, questions I might not have asked myself while working, so it also gives me an excellent way of examining my own preconceptions. Does this really have to be done this way? What is the reasoning behind writing a doc a particular way? How does this help in the game design or production process?
Another area that always give me a tremendous sense of pride is the results that come from teaching a crowd of students and then seeing them put the theory to work. I'm always surprised at the level of innovation and creativity that comes out of the sessions I teach, particularly when doing courses on basic game design, using a board game as the starting point. Many of the games that come out of the work we do together are absolutely brilliant, both in mechanics and execution. Doing these exercises also make me have to think analytically about mechanics, why some work and some don't, something that otherwise happen more or less automatically for me. I never stop to think when I work.
As always, design is a craft, and you can't really learn production without doing it, but in order to get better at what I do, I feel reflection is vital. Teaching helps me stop to think, to analyze and to have a lot of fun. I really recommend it as a way of developing oneself and ones methods.