Using Game Design Theory as a Framework for Course Design

Poster on Using Game design to influence course design entered at the UBC Computer Science Undergraduate Poster Competition

A while ago I wrote a post titled “school is just a game, let’s make it a good game“. At the time I thought I was really clever for coming up with it. Unfortunately, the idea was being looked at in other places and this idea now even has a title: “the Gamification of education”.

Gamification is one of those words that just sounds dirty. It sounds like (and just could be) a disease that people want to unleash upon school (this could also be due to the fact that “gammy” was a part of my slang vocabulary as a child). To many it is in fact a dirty word, the sentiment of “wait, what, we’re going to use operand conditioning to get students to learn?”… “This is evil and mindless and corporate.” is travelling around.

Of course, if you apply the FourSquare method of just tacking on “achievements” to a course, this sentiment is justified. But what if instead of turning school into a crappy game, we started with the premise that it is already a game and that a way to improve it would be to make it a better game?

In order to test that premise I spent 4 months working with Kimberly Voll to review the current literature around game and course design looking at what good game design was and seeing if we could apply it to course design. The in-depth hectically cited paper and poster are attached below for those who want to read them but here are the cliff notes:

We looked at 7 different elements (these are not the only 7, just the ones we looked at) that designers play with to create good games and looked for places in course design literature where these elements had been looked at. The 7 are:

  • Motivations: Designing in a way that complements the reason for playing
  • Reward: Providing multiple types of satisfying rewards
  • Punishment: Creating punishment that can be enjoyed (games that never punish you suck)
  • Challenge: Keeping the game just hard enough to be engaging
  • Story: Providing a narrative and sense of mystery that pulls the player forward and gives them a sense of purpose
  • Community: Giving players a chance to interact with other people
  • Freedom: Giving players as much agency as possible (or at least the illusions of agency) within the game’s structure

By tweaking these 7 different aspects game designers create incredibly engaging games. If we want to make a more engaging course, all we have to do is tweak those elements as well. Notice, we don’t have to add the elements, they are already a part of the course, they just need to be fixed. A key thing to note is that this is not a one-size-fits-all way of looking at things, each course (just like each game) would need to come up with a unique way of improving on these elements.

Paper is below and I will be writing much more about this as I go on to work on it over the summer and study it as a Master’s thesis.

Paper on using game design to influence course design

Poster on Using Game design to influence course design entered at the UBC Computer Science Undergraduate Poster Competition