This is reblogged, with modifications, from my personal blog of academic fantasies: acaseltzer.wordpress.com
I was watching a friend play a videogame the other day, and I was struck by how hard he worked at cracking a particular level--he went back and played it again and again, very focused. And I thought to myself, that's exactly what I want my students to do. (I'm teaching a first year writing class right now that has a strong emphasis on process and revision.) I want my students to go back and puzzle over the material and change their strategies. How can we bottle that?
So, in the spirit of #FutureEd, this is my attempt to imagine a university that uses the lessons of videogames, particularly the big cooperative world-building games like Minecraft, Myst, etc.
In her MOOC, Cathy Davidson discusses how we tend to carry over old teaching methods rather than adapting to our changing world, which is particularly evident in (some) online courses. With all the hours people invest in virtual gaming and creative building, with all the writing and cooperative learning that happens on group message boards, why are so many of our online courses a talking head speaking to a camera, or some readings plus a few essay assignments? Where does conversation go in the online course?
Beginning the Game: Your subscription to Videogame University is paid for this semester, and you can start playing!
The first levels, which are largely automated, take you through the process of creating your avatar, building your house, and meeting your neighbors. Your house is pretty empty right now; you’ll earn decorations as you take more “courses.”
The game takes you through the process of setting your learning objectives, which are displayed prominently in your house. You decide you want to earn a B.A., but you’re not sure whether you want to major in Psychology, Poli Sci, or English.
Like many videogame worlds, you interact in real-time with other players through their avatars. To start, you’ve been randomly placed in a community with 20 other “freshmen.” You chat and get to know them and look through their houses. If everyone in the community makes good progress towards their learning goals, the community as a whole gains extra awards, so there’s an incentive to make sure everyone’s playing regularly and getting help if they need it.
Reward Unlocked: 101-Level Portals Open!
Your 101-Level Classes: You travel through portals to bustling towns; the equivalent of courses in different disciplines. In the towns, you wander where you wish, finding interactive puzzles and games in each building which introduce you to the conceptual frameworks of different disciplines.
In your Psych course, you interact with NPCs who are acting out the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and answering some simple questions unlocks a few videos of psych experiments. In your Political Science course, your avatar is swept into a lesson on Marx as you solve puzzles about the means of production. In your English class, you begin an interactive journey where you learn about different theories of critical reading and then apply them to texts.
Reward Unlocked: Group Message Boards Open!
In the Group Message Boards, you can get immediate help on any puzzle that’s got your stumped, read walkthroughs and tip sheets created by other students, and generally experience a heightened level of peer-to-peer learning. All Group Message Boards are moderated by Sages.
The Sages: You encounter many people on your wanderings. While some of the first puzzles are automated by the game, as you gain more and more experience, you will increasingly need Sages to complete your tasks. Sages, in real life, are professors and PhD students with a deep knowledge of the subject and administrator privileges, and thousands of them roam through the game, holding impromptu classes, answering questions, and pushing students to think about their topics.
In the English town, you meet a Sage who you like, whose schedule is compatible with when you usually play the game. She tells you that you can unlock English 202 if you write her an essay about Jane Eyre using one of the critical perspectives you’ve learned about in the game. In real life, you read Jane Eyre, regularly meeting with your Sage and her small group of followers to discuss and analyze the novel. You write your essay, which is read by your Sage and the rest of the “class.” (It’s fairly common that particularly rich videogame worlds lead to reading and writing outside of the game.) You revise your essay based on their comments, and…
Reward Unlocked: English 202 open!
What do you think? Is this something that you'd like to play, or would it ultimately still be too isolating? Would the design challenges be insurmountable, or could you imagine virtual puzzles and games working for the introductory material of your disciplines? Are games like this already in existence, and if so, what are they?