Games as Models for Learning

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Gamification provides an approachable model for open pedagogy. We will describe three different gamified systems that draw on familiar concepts like choose your own adventure narratives and dungeon-crawling role play to promote student autonomy, growth mindset, and safe-zones for experimentation and failure.


John Stewart is the Assistant Director of Digital Learning for the OU Center for Teaching Excellence. John is interested in developing learning environments to promote digital literacy and opportunities for undergraduate research. Before joining the center, John lectured on history of science at the University of Oklahoma and Missouri University of Science and Technology. He earned his Ph.D. in the History of Science from the University of Oklahoma.
Ben works in the Office of Distance Education and eLearning at The Ohio State University, where he is the Program Manager for College Ready Ohio, a state-funded grant initiative aiming to bridge the worlds of K12 and higher education through teacher professional development, strategic technology implementation, and online/hybrid learning. In addition, Ben coordinates OSU’s GE Online initiative, which aims to develop beautiful online sections of high-enrollment general education courses. Ben has master’s degrees in educational philosophy and psychology and in business administration, both from The Ohio State University. A former high school educator and learning specialist with OSU’s student athletes, Ben is also an Associate Director with the non-profit iBELIEVE Foundation, which promotes leadership development in Appalachian youth.
Keegan Long-Wheeler is an educational technologist in the Office of Digital Learning at the University of Oklahoma. Keegan uses his background in science, pedagogy, and technology to provide instructors with holistic solutions to their instructional and technological needs. Additionally, Keegan passionately creates open source professional development curriculum to engage faculty in digital literacy, experiential learning, game design, coding, and more! In particular, Keegan loves working with Domain of One's Own projects and his open professional development programs: GOBLIN, eXperience Play, WebFest, Canvas Camp, and more!
Rachel Niemer is the Director of Strategic Initiatives in the Office of Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan (U-M). In this role, Rachel coordinates the Product Management, Public Engagement, and Behavioral Science teams in their work as thought-partners with faculty. Rachel helps establish the vision for designing new and engaging learning environments using best practices from industry paired with findings from the learning and motivational sciences. Prior to joining the AI team, Rachel served as an Assistant Director at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at U-M, where she specialized in health sciences educational development and instructional technology. Rachel has also taught pedagogy courses at the University of Rochester, where she was an Assistant Director of Learning Assistance Services. Previously Rachel was a chemistry instructor at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and a postdoctoral scholar in pharmacology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Extended Abstract

Gamification provides an approachable model for open pedagogy. We will describe three different gamified systems that draw on familiar concepts like choose your own adventure narratives and dungeon-crawling role play to promote student autonomy, growth mindset, and safe-zones for experimentation and failure.

The first part of this session will focus on an effort to use gamification to increase student motivation during the redesign of a traditionally face-to-face course into an online course. The course’s professor will explain how she implemented a gamification system called 3DGameLab in a novel way to provide a variety of possible learning paths. Rather than using the same three units of content that she traditionally used in the face-to-face humanities course, the instructor developed more than a dozen units and allowed each student to choose the content that most interested them and to work at their own pace. The modular design of the units also afforded the opportunity to implement micro-assessments, shortening the feedback loop. Each student started the course with zero points and earned her grade through these micro-assessments and an optional final-boss challenge. After it’s initial redesign, this course has also been taught as a hybrid course with both in-person meetings and online components.

Building on the instructor’s perspective in implementing gamified course systems, the second portion of this session will shift to the developer’s approach and explain the evolution of a gamified learning management system called GradeCraft. Earned grades, freedom to fail, increased autonomy, and transparent progression are all concepts that work well in both games and the classroom. The researchers behind GradeCraft will discuss the pedagogical principles behind their design and relay the feedback they have received from early adopters.    

The third part of this session will describe a five-hour professional development workshop intended to help University faculty learn how to develop text-based video games for their courses. The designers of the eXperience Play workshop series will explain how, by introducing the faculty to educational video game design, they used this technology as a vehicle to teach educational principles like scaffolding, assessment design, and peer-to-peer discussions. While faculty were using design thinking to prototype their games, they were also challenged to think about how to transfer their experience with open pedagogy back into their own classrooms. This eXperience Play professional development workshop was developed as an open educational resource and is now being adapted and implemented at other universities. The original developers of eXperience Play will be joined by a colleague currently adapting the workshops for his University to discuss instructional adaptation within the open educational ecosystem.

Games, like classes, require instructions for getting started, mechanisms for progression and motivation, and clear goals that feel authentic for participants. Gamification affords the opportunity to redesign assessments and shorten the feedback loop. Students can help to develop their own personalized experience by choosing the content and schedule that best suit them. Instructors can act as facilitators to encourage learning through fun. This session presents gamification not as a narrow application of badges, leaderboards, and competition but rather as a model for pedagogical innovation.