The Secret Ingredient is… Pedagogy! Gamifying Faculty Development with OLC’s Iron Chef

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Well-designed learning games present challenging problems and motivate players to collaborate with peers, take calculated risks, and reflect on the learning process. UMBC successfully adapted OLC’s Iron Chef conference activity for the last two years. Join us to learn about the game-based faculty development with a pedagogical twist.


As eLearning Manager, Dr. Mariann Hawken oversees several Blackboard applications at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and provides support for faculty course development activities. With more than 20 years of experience in educational technology, Mariann is a Blackboard MVP and a certified Peer Reviewer with Quality Matters. Past activities include distance education policy development and comprehensive faculty training programs for online/hybrid course redesign.

Additional Authors

Jennifer M. Harrison has worked in higher education for almost 30 years and is currently UMBC’s Associate Director for Assessment in the Faculty Development Center. She has expertise in accreditation, institutional effectiveness, student learning assessment, critical pedagogy, curriculum development, educational technology, and online and face-to-face active learning. She currently specializes in interdisciplinary educational development. An experienced speaker, she has created hundreds of workshops, programs, and presentations for a range of higher education audiences, including national, regional, and local conferences. At UMBC, she consults with faculty and staff to strengthen learning assessment practices and offers programs and workshops to support faculty development. She was key contributor to UMBC’s successful re-accreditation efforts and continues to work with faculty, staff, and leaders to support authentic assessment. Before joining UMBC, she served the labor movement for 15 years at the National Labor College, crafting interdisciplinary writing, research, and critical thinking curricula; leading faculty development, prior learning assessment, and educational technology processes; cultivating strategic, institutional effectiveness, and learning assessment plans, and successfully contributing to re-accreditation as Associate Professor of Writing and Director of Assessment. After earning tenure, she chaired the admissions committee, brokering a FIPSE grant into a redesigned student-success oriented matriculation process designed to integrate with prior learning assessment and improve graduation rates; redesigned the capstone program; crafted key policy documents; and contributed to continuous improvement initiatives by founding and chairing the Assessment Committee. Dr. Harrison holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, and Culture from UMBC, a master’s degree in English Language and Literature from University of Maryland, College Park, and a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in art from Washington College. Her current research focuses on authentic assessment, including inclusive curriculum mapping and design; graduate, co-curricular, and interdisciplinary assessment; assessment technologies; and the benefits of contextualizing learning analytics with direct learning evidence.

Extended Abstract

Research in the learning sciences suggests that a good way for learners to understand and integrate new concepts is through activities that simulate real-world uses, especially those that involve the learners’ in applying concepts toward outcomes that matter to them (Clark, 1997). Well-designed games for learning motivate players to work through challenging problems that require them to engage with concepts, take calculated risks, and reflect on the learning process (Gee, 2007). The pleasure of game-based learning may be enhanced through collaboration and/or competition (Smith-Robbins, 2011). Although many faculty developers recognize that game-based learning can be provide a pathway toward deeper learning, game-based programming designed to support pedagogical learning among faculty is still relatively uncommon, perhaps because developing such activities is time-consuming.  

In this interactive session, we will immerse the audience in playing a faculty development-oriented version of “Iron Chef,” inspired by OLC’s annual conference event and the popular Food Network competitive cooking show. This demonstration will enable participants to experience first-hand a game designed to support faculty to develop awareness of and synthesize pedagogical knowledge. This session is ideal for administrators as well as faculty and staff who support faculty development, pedagogy, assessment, and instructional technology.

Participants attending this session will learn about 1) adapting, coordinating, and preparing OLC’s Iron Chef event for a faculty development focus; 2) developing activities, evaluating tools, and supporting resources for the local Iron Chef event; and 3) identifying effective practices for collaborating with others and managing local Iron Chef processes. Slides and web resources will be posted on the conference website and shared during the session. The speakers will use samples of our prior Iron Chef activities, gamification, and web-based response systems to poll the audience with multiple types of questions including open-ended feedback. Upon completion of this session, participants will be able to use the materials we provide and draw on their experience in the session to adapt the activity to programming at their own institutions.

About Iron Chef at UMBC

Iron Chef at UMBC began when Instructional technology (IT) staff shared their experience with OLC 2016’s Iron Chef conference event with the Faculty Development Center (FDC) staff. Over the next three months, the staff brainstormed and planned an Iron Chef event for UMBC faculty to be piloted in spring 2017. Two core principles emerged from planning:

  1. The quality of a proposed teaching strategy in Iron Chef needed to be based in evidence on learning.

  2. Peer review was a critical component of the evaluation process.

This team-based session takes place in a room with round tables. As participants enter, they are assigned a color or number to ensure that each table has roughly equal numbers of participants. Teams of 4-5 participants are ideal, but tables of 6 or more people may be broken into two sub-teams.

After self-introductions, we provide a 5-minute overview of the objectives of the game and the process participants will engage in. Each team reads the Iron Chef Challenge, in the form of a “menu” that has each team create a solution (“recipe”) to the common problem scenario (the “standard ingredients”), complicated by “secret ingredients” that are unique to each team. The secret ingredients are randomized: Teams spin an electronic wheel to determine for which classroom context (the “secret ingredient”) they must design their activity, e.g., large class in high-tech active learning classroom, small class in low-tech active learning classroom, large class in fixed auditorium seating, small class in seminar classroom, or online component in hybrid class.

Teams have 20 minutes to collaborate on a solution that includes the standard and secret ingredients. UMBC provides Chromebooks with preloaded Google Slides, which allow teams to capture key points and cite supporting research. When the buzzer sounds, each team has 2 minutes to present their solutions to the whole group. Teams will assess each other’s work using the provided electronic Iron Chef Contest Team Scoring Rubric. The presenters tally the scores using an interactive rubric shared by all teams and award the winning team a prize. Any remaining time in the session is used for question/answer and discussion/reaction to the game.

UMBC’s Iron Chef has been offered five times including its spring 2017 pilot. Faculty feedback praise the innovative program:

"I attended last year's Iron Chef competition and had a great time.  It gave me a chance to wrestle with some pedagogical ideas in a fun, think-on-your-feet environment, with the support of many of my colleagues.  I came out with new teaching strategies that I was excited to adapt to my classes!"

"The “Iron Chef” teaching event demonstrated to me that I could work with a team to create a fast, creative, “in the moment” solution to a common teaching problem. The knowledge that we had a limited time to produce a product promoted fast decision making and open communication within the team. Competing with the other teams made us want to create a product that was impressive and robust despite the short time frame."

"Last year’s Iron Chef competition was not only great fun, it inspired me to create my own Iron Chef Challenge for my students. The in-class exercise was a huge success; probably one of the most enjoyable activities we did all semester."

“A fun, informative workshop - I enjoyed brainstorming ways to approach course design with colleagues from different disciplines.  I would have been excited to teach the course we created together.”


Clark, A. (1997). Being there: Putting brain, body, and world together. MIT Press.

Gee, J. P. (2007). Good video games+ good learning: Collected essays on video games, learning, and literacy (Vol. 27). Peter Lang.

Smith-Robbins, S. (2011). This game sucks: How to improve the gamification of education. EDUCAUSE review, 46(1), 58-59.