teaching with the tools of a digital world

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A Game Based Story

I have started down a path of Game Based Learning (GBL) in my class this year and it originated from an experience last year that I will relate, shortly. I am currently using a number of GBL ideas and philosophies in all of my Earth Science and Physics (although less so in Physics) classes. I have seen some successes already and I have made refinements along the way. I hope to get back to blogging more regularly and have decided to focus around my use of GBL and Project Based Learning – this will without a doubt dredge up some about my beginning use of performance or standards based grading. 

All of this started, or at least, the realization that I was going down this path, started at a conference during last school year. I was a presenter at a conference put on by the University of Wyoming’s Distance Learning Center. While in attendance I listened to a presenter discuss how they had implemented a Game Based Learning environment for an introductory university level writing course where the end goal was a completed research paper.

Up to this time I had been struggling with what to do with a required research paper that students had to write for Earth Science. The previous year I had taught this unit had been atrocious! Students dragged their feet, complained and made minimal effort to complete the assignment and I felt they accomplished little and learned less. This idea of making a research paper process into a game was intriguing and I ended up basically copying the idea in a couple short weeks just in time to implement it in my own class.

Here are the basics of the project:

As a researcher you are asked to defend a scientist’s greatest contribution to society – either their theory or discovery – from being slandered by outsiders. The game consisted of four levels that each had several assignments to choose from. Each level also had a total of 300 points available to students, yet their grade was only calculated out of 200 points – this gave students the ability to pick and choose which assignments they did at each level to get to their 200 points (they did not receive extra-credit for getting more than 200 points). As students progress through each level they came out with more and more of their research paper completed (Leve 1 = research, Level 2 = rough draft, Level 3 = self, peer, and instructor editing, Level 4 = final draft). Students were able to progress through the levels and whatever speed they chose – although a few needed some extra encouragement at the end to make more progress, but not nearly as many as in the previous year.

This ended up being such a succes that I began looking for ways to add components of GBL into my class writ large, rather than just this one unit. I found on this search a book by Jane McGonigal “Reality is Broken: why games make us better and how they can change the world.” I have since read the book and begun implementing a number of changes in my class. I would like use the next few blog posts to describe what I have learned (and experienced) about games, how they can truly change the world of education, and how they can make us all better along the way.

Game on!