From gamified to game-inspired: Leading a workshop for games in higher education

JBH_teaching At this year’s Games + Learning + Society conference , I was lucky enough to lead a workshop on using games in higher ed settings. I had three main goals for the workshop. First, I hoped to highlight issues specific to higher ed around games, learning, and (especially) teaching. Second, I wanted to bring together different perspectives on using games, from critical analysis of games to gamifying the class experience itself. Lastly, I hoped to start a larger conversation and build from this one-off workshop towards a more formal field of study focused on higher ed practice. To meet all three of these goals, I was joined by a great team of educators and innovators: Elisabeth Gee, Sasha Barab, Anna Arici, and Adam Ingram-Goble (all from ASU’s Center for Games and Impact) and Elizabeth Lawley from Rochester Institute of Technology. Each of these presenters brought a unique perspective and shared their experiences using games in different ways. For example, my own teaching focuses in part on games as “texts” or exemplars (discussing, say, issues of identity by making avatars and playing various characters in games). Adam’s class, by contrast, used metaphors from games to structure the learning activities (such as quests and bosses), while Sasha spoke about the Center’s evolving Journey Builder platform, which connects in-class activities to a progression of learning between courses. Anna discussed the Quest 2 Teach program, which infuses gameplay as a central part of pre-service teacher’s training. Elizabeth walked attendees through the Just Press Play gamification project, which emphasizes student’s college experience outside of the classroom. Together, these perspectives tell a more complete story about the many ways educators can and do use games to teach. The workshop was also an opportunity for attendees to interact with the presenters. Each presenter served as a conversation leader for a small group around their perspective, so that attendees could focus on a topic that most interested them. After working in small groups, we reconvened to share the observations each group developed. In this way, attendees got a chance to dive deeply into a perspective but also gained some insight from the other views which could influence their own practice. Several common themes appeared from all of the groups. First, that giving learners a context-rich experience is central to using games of all sorts (which is indeed a theme in much of the literature around games and learning). The groups also recognized that games are just one tool among many good teaching techniques, which is an important move away from games as a kind of cure-all. Lastly, and most critically, a central problem of using games in higher ed is that many classes are often highly specific, so finding commonalities between various subjects, levels, and institutions is especially difficult (but necessary). This points to the last goal: to build a network of practitioners and examples which can help drive game-based teaching across all kinds of higher ed classes. As part of this effort, here are the questions each small group worked on – please feel free to share your thoughts, insights, and perspectives to this growing field:

What problem, challenge, or issue does this particular form of Game-Based Learning (GBL) address?

For example, gamification techniques frequently are employed as a means of addressing the problem of students’ lack of motivation.

How does this form of GBL address these issues? What features or affordances are most effective?

For example, the capacity of digital games to allow players to take on new identities can be important to helping them adopt a new perspective.

What are some difficulties or uncertainties associated with this form of GBL?

For example,how do badges really differ from grades in motivating students or representing their learning?

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