Getting to know David Whittinghill

David Whittinghill, assistant professor of computer graphics technology and computer and information technology, joined the Purdue faculty ranks in 2009. Prior to that, he worked in the defense industry as a senior developer leading user-interface design teams. He has also gained extensive industry experience in the fields of visualization, agent-based modeling, digital anti-tampering, and web development. His expertise is in computer programming. He earned his doctorate, master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Purdue.


What I teach: I teach Computer Graphics Programming I, Video Game Design and Development, and Pipelines and Development, a graduate class that helps students understand how to effectively create, manage, and complete a computer graphics project. In my heart of hearts though I am a programmer. I love to program and I love to teach programming. I love the artistry and elegance that is required to create good code. I also teach game development, in particular, game design. In that class, it’s not ‘how do I make a game?’ but ‘how do I make a fun game, a compelling experience, or an inspiring experience’?” The course is as much about the interaction with the technology - what the player experiences during the game – as it is about the technology itself. The technology is simply a means to an end

My teaching philosophy: My teaching philosophy is really “learn by doing.” I give a lecture, of course, but I suspect it doesn’t really sink in until students can touch it. Perhaps this isn’t the case in other disciplines, but I’ve certainly found this to be true in my own. I believe in lots of homework. I see learning programming as being very similar to learning to play a musical instrument. When one first picks it up, it’s just noise. One must practice and practice in order to make progress, to learn almost through osmosis to develop muscle memory. What starts as noisy, hard work one day, quite suddenly, becomes musical.

Ultimately, as a software developer I have to solve a problem for somebody; if I fail to solve the problem, I have a failed piece of technology. [/pullquote]On the role of games and simulation in healthcare: I’ve partnered with the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital and St. Vincent’s Health to develop physical therapy video games for the Xbox Kinect for kids with cerebral palsy. I have been able to meet the kids and their therapists and observe the exercises they need to perform to stay healthy. My goal is to convert each exercise into an event that drives the progress of the game; every prescribed exercise motion should have a correlate within the game. These kids are expected to do quite a lot of therapy to maintain their health. It is a lot to ask of any child so why not help them have some fun doing it? Beyond the entertainment dimension, children who perform more exercise more regularly have improved health outcomes. My research team of graduate and undergraduate students is currently helping to prototype more portions of the game and get them to come alive. I really believe in this work and think it has a great potential to improve lives.

I am also working on a simulation project with a dentistry professor at IUPUI. We are developing simulations around a haptic training device that trains dental students in proper injection techniques for the jaw. Ultimately, as a software developer I have to solve a problem for somebody; if I fail to solve the problem, I have a failed piece of technology. Our work here is in framing the experience in a pseudo video game fashion in order to move the educational experience forward in a way that builds logically but also in a way that incentivizes the experience.

Outside of Purdue: I like to play my drums, loudly. I like to hang out with my family and watch my daughter and son grow up. I like to play video games whenever I can; I play a lot of “Left 4 Dead”, a sort of shoot-em-up zombie apocalypse game, that is networked across XBox Live and allows me to play with anybody in the country in real time. I remember when I was a kid, my mom and her sisters would get together and play cards around the table. That’s how they bonded as a family. Today, my friends in New York and I kill zombies together while chatting over our headsets and talking about the trivialities of our respective days. For me this is my generation’s card game at the kitchen table. It’s not really about the game; it’s about the social interaction. The whole experience has been quite wonderful, and it’s actually one of the things that got me thinking about the cerebral palsy exercise game. If we can build an entertaining diversion for the kids suffering from chronic disease and connect them through Xbox Live, the kids can potentially build a network of gaming buddies and enjoy a more social existence while also getting some important exercise.

People in this Article: