Game Making for Learning

So here’s my pitch for not making learning games for students, but rather getting them to make those games for you.  It’s less work, more fun, and potentially a better learning experience for students.  Win, win, win.

First, the back story:

Okay, so I used to teach Project Management to art students.  This was a somewhat quirky undertaking.

Admittedly, these were design/visualization students who were going to go work for advertising agencies or web design houses or the like, not fine arts students seeking purer artistic truth, but it’s still a somewhat odd mix.

The nice thing about their program is that it was very practically based, and the students (almost without exception) were working on projects (websites, marketing materials, etc.) for actual (non-paying) clients at the same time that they taking my class.

What that meant was that they did a ton of work for my class early in the semester (analysis, project plans, scope, budgets, etc.), and that by the end of the semester we were just filling in the gaps.  Also, at the end of the semester, they were furiously working to get their client projects done, having discovered (with a certain painful inevitability) the joys of scope changes, and schedule delays, and changeable clients, and so forth.

But (as a merciful gesture) I wanted to have their final project not be a source of great stress. By that point, they had mostly earned their grades, and I just wanted a final project that would cause them to revisit key material, and to reflect on everything they’d learned over the semester.

So I gave them two options:

  • One: They could create a project management template that they could use on future projects, that organized all their formats, and gave everything a standard look and feel.  This required them to scrutinize all the documentation that they had done all semester, and process it into a coherent whole.
  • Two: They could create a project management game. The only requirements where that it 1) covered all of 15 key topic areas from the semester, and 2) that it could be used to teach somebody else about project management.

On the last day of class, students would either present their template to their fellow students, or they would bring their game, and we’d play it.

And this ROCKED.

Some of the things that they came up with:

  • Project Management Chutes and Ladders (the metaphor holds surprisingly well)
  • Project Management CLUE (“I think it was the primary stakeholder in the copy room with the scope change…”)
  • A video game called “Hunt the Project Monster”
  • Any number of different varieties of board games
  • A variation on the card game Scruples that involved project management dilemmas (ethical and otherwise)
  • Project Management Jenga (again, the metaphor holds surprisingly well)
  • A Project Management race card game where remote controlled cars would race around the track and crash into project obstacles which they would then have to resolve
  • Project Management Twister (Seriously)
  • A Project Management memory game that involved matching problems to solutions
  • A Project Management adventure game that involved the project management issues facing trolls and elves during battle preparation.
  • Any number of trivia games, board games and team games
  • And, new this year (I no longer teach the class, but I passed it to one of my original students from several years ago and keep in touch), they have apparently added Project Management drinking games to the repertoire (although I believe the demonstrations were mercifully alcohol-free)

As I mentioned earlier, the two things that I wanted the students to achieve by doing this were:

  • Revisit key material
  • Reflect on what they’d learned over the semester

And, by and large, this assignment does those things pretty well.  Students actually have a reason to go through the material looking for key points they can use in the games, and, while I also assigned a more traditional reflection paper, I was really satisfied with the quality of reflection demonstrated by the games they built.

A couple of things about this:

  • There’s a tendency towards trivia games: There’s a tendency to have the project management ideas show up in these games primarily as trivia questions (“If a client decides to completely change everything at the last minute, will you A) Cry B) Do a scope change or C) Set their desk on fire“) – the experience would definitely be richer if the gameplay was bound up in the workings of project management itself (e.g. scope points, time points, budget points, etc.).  EdgeofStretch was talking on twitter about concept mapping a while back , and I think that could be a useful tool for thinking about how the elements interact, and from there how to make that a game. There are also wonderful resources out there on how to conceive, design and build games.  But I think the amount of guidance and modeling needed to get the students into that mindset were beyond the scope of this particular class.  It’s definitely something I would consider when using game-building as a learning tool in the future.
  • It doesn’t have to be this full blown an effort: Even if it’s not practical to have students build a game (maybe you are limited by time, or may you are dealing with an online environment), just having your students go through the act of thinking about how they would “game-ify” a topic, and sketching out design ideas could be a really valuable activity.  Meta-understanding, in the form of game design.

What examples have you seen?  What could it be used for?