Making Machine Learning Review Easier with Music Videos

08 May 2018

Link to ML Music Video Playlist

I’ve had the privilege over the last semester of helping Michael (Littman, my advisor) to teach machine learning to a class of around 240 students. As the final drew nearer, we began to discuss the possibility of an extra credit assignment to help students review for the final and produce artifacts to help their peers. We had the crazy idea of having the students make music videos (like Schoolhouse Rock, for those who know what that is) explaining different topics from the course. What was even crazier is that more than a third of the students in the class took us up on it. The result is a youtube playlist (linked above) for the class to review by, consisting of one video from several years ago by Michael in collaboration with Charles Isbell and Udacity, and about 16 videos produced by teams in the class. I was really impressed by the quality of work produced by the students, and feel motivated to consider other forms of student-contributed content.

For anyone interested in the specifics of the assignment, here’s the original description:

Your task is to create a parody music video explaining a machine learning topic in a way that makes it easier for your classmates to review. You will be evaluated on technical correctness (is everything in the lyrics true), clarity of presentation (do the lyrics or visuals help someone understand the topic), and production value (is the video enjoyable to watch/listen to). In order to ensure that the content is technically accurate, lyrics should be submitted to (S)am at least one week before the deadline. He can also help clean up any difficult or messy sections, and is available throughout this assignment to help explain concepts, brainstorm lyrics, or connect you with production equipment or tools.

If your team produces a quality video, it is worth up to 5% on your final grade, about ⅔ of a homework assignment.

Tips: It is easier to parody existing songs than to write your own, although you are certainly welcome to write your own music if you prefer. A low-time-investment workflow might look like this:

  1. Choose a popular song and find a karaoke/instrumental version (.5 hours).
  2. Choose the topic and brainstorm the content of each verse (1 hour).
  3. Have some people work on ironing out the lyrics (2 hours) while others work on visuals for the video, such as pictures, equations, animations, or costumes/dance moves (2 hours).
  4. [Send the lyrics to (S)am for review.]
  5. Pick a location and obtain recording equipment (1 hour).
  6. Record any video (1 hour) from at least two different angles [2 takes]. Do something to make it easy to synchronize the video (the music playing in the background, for example), and then you can switch easily back and forth to make a nice-looking music video. Alternately/additionally, record non-video voices while listening to the music through headphones (.5 hours) [which makes it easier to manage the balance of the vocals in editing].
  7. Edit the video together using audio and video software (1 hour). Audacity and OpenShot work well, but Brown also has student licenses for some much nicer software, such as Adobe Premiere via the Creative Cloud.
  8. [Upload and send the YouTube link to (S)am.]

The total time for any one person under this scheme is about 6.5 hours, and good task division can reduce that. Using group messaging tools like GroupMe, Slack, or WhatsApp, and scheduling tools like Google Calendar, Doodle, or When2Meet can greatly facilitate team management. Convogo (Brown Startup: can be used to facilitate meetings, and Asana ( can be used for group task management and filesharing, although that might be overkill for this project.

Final Thought: We want you to succeed. Not only is this extra credit assignment meant to help you show your understanding of course topics and improve your grade, but this is meant to help your classmates as well (and maybe make you famous). If there is anything that is getting you stuck, or seems to require more time than outlined above, please get in touch with (S)am. He can connect you with resources, help with lyrics, explain or suggest topics or ideas, or even do featured performances or give editing tips. Although there is work involved, we don’t want this to be an undue burden on anyone, and we certainly don’t want any work invested to go to waste because a quality result wasn’t produced by the deadline.

- (S)am

Subscribe - Get new insights from the frontier of AI and Education.