This week I have been thinking a lot about games and specifically game design because that is the focus of this week’s #CLMOOC Make Cycle. We were asked “to use game design to analyze, remediate, and reflect on complex systems” and to consider what happens when we change the rules. The challenge was to reconstruct a favorite game. I struggled more than a bit with this idea as there are things that I do not like to deconstruct (that is a good way to ruin sausage forever!). I do love playing games and I always have (there are several mentions of games in my “I Am From” poem if you doubt me). Today I tend to enjoy word scramble games (Wordle) and strategy games (Plants vs. Zombies). It just didn’t feel like fun to try to make up my own game.
Perhaps I am hampered because my class is not about a particular content. There are tons of examples of really cool games and game experiences to teach all sorts of content. I did mull over games to support and/or inspire writing, but they all seemed a bit too cute. Honestly, the last thing most struggling writers need is something else between them and their words.
However, I kept returning to one idea inspired by a conversation with Greg Zobel and some other educators. Greg was considering whether or not to use memes as part of his process for giving student feedback. I thought it was a marvelous idea, because after all memes are a sort of social shorthand, but others raised some potential problems including the fact that our students don’t always get our humor (or our memes). However, I’m still playing with the idea that I suggested to get around this problem – have the students create the memes. I’m attracted to the idea of using memes as feedback – not from me – but for writing workshop. Could I make some sort of workshop meme game, perhaps? But I wondered if that would put too much emphasis on the “game” and detract from the actual workshop experience.
Then Susan Watson shared the video “What is a game?” and I started to think about this idea of the “game” as an “interactive experience.” Then Cathy Davidson’s blog post “Why Start With Pedagogy? 4 Good Reasons, 4 Good Solutions” came across my Twitter stream (again) and I reread it. I love this post and, in fact, do much of what she talks about (my students Think-Pair-Share almost every class) and every semester my classes become more and more student-centered (see Easing the Pain of Grading and 3 Reasons You Should Build Assessments as a Class). We discuss meta-cognition and power relations on a regular basis although I’m sure there are still imbalances of power in my class.
As I mulled over the ideas of “interactive experience” and “pedagogy of liberation,” I realized that was actually my goal for my classes. I want my classes to be interactive experiences that change my students. I have already taken some big steps toward this goal. My classes are not game based, but they are gamified – as in using game-based elements. Our community-based assignments (class discussion and class reflection blogs) are assessed by the group using badges. We build scoring guides together much as my friends would determine the rules (and boundaries) of our grass lot baseball games and late night Spotlight Tag sessions.
Back to my Meme Workshop game, I am still considering this idea as I think it has some great potential. Perhaps I can have my students create it with me. We can begin the process by owning our own challenges or issues – creating memes for our biggest challenge and then discussing solutions to those challenges. It might be a very productive workshop…certainly worth a try. For example, one of my challenges is a tendency to try to put too much into one essay (or blog post or article). What can I say – I am easily seduced by ideas… (see above meme for illustration)
I’m also thinking about ways that I can gamify my syllabus. I haven’t blogged about it yet, but I have been creating an infographic syllabus in recent semesters which may be the first step toward a gamified syllabus. The syllabus as a document is full of rhetorical problems (caused by the genre, institutional requirements, user error, etc.) as Traci Gardner noted in her recent Bedford Bits column “Converting to a More Visual Syllabus.” Perhaps there is a way that gamification can solve some of these rhetorical challenges…
In the end, while I did not actually make or remake a game, I do consider this experience beneficial for my teaching. As Kevin Hodgson notes in his blog post “How Systems Thinking Impacts Game Design (and Play),” this make cycle was about games and thinking about games – but it was really about systems thinking. If we spend more time thinking about our classrooms as “interactive experiences” that are created by our “users” then we are much closer to fostering the development of the kinds of students we want to teach. Wendy Eiteljorg’s simple game invites us to look at our world through different lenses and this is the essence of my goal as a teacher. In the end, whether we gamify or use games in our classroom does not matter – what matters is the interactive experience and the changes that experience brings.
Do you use gamification or game-based learning in your classrooms? What potential benefits do games bring to the learning experience?
Addendum: I was inspired by Margaret Simon‘s Apples to Apples remake and the Shark Books challenge (see my contributions below) to share a fun classroom writing prompt or review game, the snowball fight. Perhaps I’m not out of the game yet…And I finally found a game idea that I could easily execute and will enjoy playing myself (and hope other writers might enjoy as well): Check out the Muse Game!