UC Berkeley computer science professor strives to engage students through creative prerecorded lectures

Photo of Professor Dan Garcia's home setup
Dan Garcia/Courtesy
When UC Berkeley computer science professor Dan Garcia first set up his studio, he spent days adjusting the lights and optimizing the acoustics with sound baffles, which are designed to absorb sound to prevent echoes. Garcia said he spends about six to 12 hours making each video.

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When UC Berkeley announced that the fall semester would be virtual, campus computer science professor Dan Garcia transformed his “man cave” basement into a studio in order to make engaging prerecorded video lectures for his students.

According to campus sophomore Kyle Yu, Garcia — who is teaching Computer Science 61C, “Great Ideas in Computer Architecture” and Computer Science 10, “The Beauty and Joy of Computing” this semester — has always been known as a funny and creative professor. During his lecture videos this semester, Garcia has performed an impression of “The Godfather” while petting a Pusheen stuffed toy, and he has also incorporated juggling into his lessons, according to campus sophomore Boyang Li.

Yu added that Garcia’s enthusiasm and love for teaching motivate him to want to learn more.

“They are a lot of fun. Typically what you learn in (computer science) is ‘teach me the concepts’ and that’s it, but when I am watching it, I actually laugh,” Yu said. “It makes me look forward to watching the lectures and learning from them.”

In August, Garcia received a grant from the College of Engineering that included one month of summer salary to cover some of the time he spent on creating the videos.

Garcia said he has equipped his studio with a previously purchased green screen, 4K camera, lights and microphone.

Additionally, Garcia said that when he first set up his studio, he spent days adjusting the lights and optimizing the acoustics with sound baffles, which are designed to absorb sound to prevent echoes. He added that he spends about six to 12 hours making each video.

“You can tell when people are excited by them. I also love the material, and I think that comes across,” Garcia said. “I really appreciate and enjoy sharing the enthusiasm with my students.”

According to campus sophomore Eric Wang, Garcia has a reputation among UC Berkeley students for being a fast-talking and enthusiastic professor. Wang also said students “go out of their way” to take Garcia’s courses.

Garcia said he adjusts the text on his presentation slides so he can stand in front of them in the video instead of just being in a small box in the corner of the video. He added that he finds standing up allows his diaphragm to open, which means he can bring more energy to his lectures.

“It gives you a feeling that you are actually attending the live lecture,” Li said. “They are basically the best lecture videos I’ve seen ever since the beginning of this online study era.”

Additionally, Garcia hosts live lectures on Mondays, during which he brings in guest speakers rather than covering course content, according to Wang. He added that he enjoys being able to interact with Garcia during the live lecture through the chat function on Zoom.

Garcia said, however, that it is “hard to simulate” in-person lectures.

“There’s nothing quite like the energy of a room if you give a great lecture and the students are really engaged,” Garcia said. “That energy is just so amazing face to face. There’s nothing equivalent on Zoom. There’s nothing, as good as it is; you don’t have the same experience.”

Contact Jasmine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JasmineLee_02.