Engagement Through Gaming: Theory into Practice

May 10, 2009 at 1:16 pm Leave a comment

Yikes. I started this series kind of a while ago and never got past the first post, huh?

Well, I do have a reasonable excuse: I’m two weeks into my six-week gaming elective for sophomores.

Overall, I have to say I’m really pleased so far. Much of the formal instruction I’ve received on classroom teaching has focused more or less on triage–classroom management, formal requirements, and generally What To Do About Troublemakers. Not surprisingly, then, I went into the class–me all by my lonesome with eight sophomore boys–a little bit geared up to deal with, well, troublemakers.

Instead, I’ve found the guys are all friendly and generally polite. They do what I ask them to do, help each other out, and seem to be having a good time. They’re pretty much the perfect first class for me to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to teaching about gaming.

What Works:

1. The Democratic Process. As it turns out, my guys are very invested in having a say in what goes on in the class. When another teacher suggested that the student blogs should probably be edited a little more closely for things like grammar and punctuation, I asked the guys how we should handle that, and we ended up having a fantastic discussion.

2. Figuring Things Out Together. We’re using Scratch to create our own games and animations. It’s a fantastic software, and I’ve still only skimmed the surface as far as all the things it can do. Because I’m far from an expert, we’re all helping each other out as we go. I think a huge benefit to this approach is that I’m seeing a lot of informal peer-to-peer instruction. One of the guys will figure out something neat, and the guy next to him wants to know how he did it.

3. Keeping It Fun. I’m making time for us to just sit and play games at least once a week (one out of three classes). And the more we learn about game design, the more room we have for discussion when we play the games they already know and like. But because we’re actually playing the games, we’re having more than an abstract conversation.

What’s Working… Less Well:

1. Blogging. At least, the way I’d intended. I had pretty lofty goals when I came up with the idea to have my gamers write blog posts. We’re talking visions of full-length game reviews. That hasn’t happened yet, and so far I haven’t gotten anyone to write a post longer than a paragraph. My problem was a dissonance between my interests and theirs: I cared about thoughtful writing, and they cared about whether or not people they didn’t even know would read their blogs. I think we’re meeting in the middle by figuring out the ways they can increase the chances someone will find the blogs–things like categories and tags, tagging with specific game names, and, yes, better writing.

2. Group Discussion. This isn’t a college discussion section. We can’t just sit around a table and talk, and I sure as heck can’t lecture. (To my credit, I haven’t tried.) I quickly found out that we have some of our best conversations while we’re doing something else. It was while we were playing original NES titles, for instance, that we were able to talk about whether graphics or gameplay are more important for a game.

3. One Player Games. It’s really boring to watch someone play a game alone. And it’s not that much better to watch two people playing, although it’s at least a bit more engaging when you have the expectation of taking a turn soon. I’m finding it’s important to always have another option, and that not everyone is even going to be interested in playing–last week half the class was really into XBox demos, and the other half was perfectly happy to keep tooling around with Scratch.

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