Designing Curricular Games in Teacher Education: Exploring an Evolution of Game-Based Teaching

Designing Curricular Games in Teacher Education: Exploring an Evolution of Game-Based Teaching

Janna Jackson Kellinger
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1461-0.ch006
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This chapter explores the use of game-based teaching in teacher education courses. It compares a version of a course taught in a traditional manner to the game-based version. It then traces the evolution of the author's use of game-based teaching and details ways the author overcame various obstacles in subsequent courses. In doing so, it discusses the affordances and constraints of learning management systems and concludes that small changes in learning management systems would greatly improve the ability to use them to create curricular games.
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When I was a high school English teacher, I played games in my classroom with my students. We played competitive games where teams of students had to race to put items, such as the different parts of an MLA (Modern Language Association) citation, in the proper order; we played last person standing games where we stood in a circle, tossed a ball, and when you got the ball you had to give an example of the designated part of speech that started with the last letter of the previous word; we played process of elimination games like Jotto where students had to figure out the target word by guessing other words and the person who knew the target word would say how many letters were the same in both words. For the most part, students loved the games and the games helped reinforce their learning.

However, one of the first games I played was such a disaster I almost quit teaching right then and there. I was a student teacher and decided to play Jeopardy the trivia game with my students. I drew the grid on the chalkboard with the categories and the varying amounts of points for each category, erased each amount after it was used, and used the chalkboard to keep track of each group’s score. This meant my back was turned to the students quite a bit. I instructed the groups to “slap in” when they knew the answer. Because it was so hard to tell which group “slapped in” first, chaos ensued when a group felt like they had slapped in first, but I had called on another group. In addition, little did I know that while my back was turned, students were wadding up pieces of paper and throwing them out the window. Directly below the classroom was the vice principal’s office. He came storming upstairs and chastised me after seeing “snowballs” outside his window. I vowed that if I remained in teaching, I would never play Jeopardy with my students again. I later decided to try it again, but this time with strict rules. After that, when we played Jeopardy in class, groups went in order, each group had a spokesperson who had one minute to answer, if they got it wrong, the next group would have a chance to go and if all groups had a chance to attempt the same question without succeeding, then that original group got to choose the category and amount for the next question. With these rules in place, playing Jeopardy went much more smoothly. This was my first lesson in designing curricular games—the importance of rules. In fact, you could argue, it is the rules that make the game. As McGonigal (2011) points out, the goal of golf is to put a ball into a hole. Without the rule that you have to hit that ball with a club from far away, players could just walk up to the hole and drop the ball in, but clearly there would be no fun in that.

While the term “games” encompasses a wide range of activities and whose definition has fuzzy boundaries, the focus of my work has been on curricular games which I describe as unit-long or semester long “problem space[s] where players can try out different solutions [to achieve a goal] without suffering real-world consequences” (Kellinger, 2017, p. 30). As I explain further, “Those one-shot games are fun and can be motivating (at least sufficiently motivating to get students to learn enough facts to win the game), but tend to be recall games, not games that promote deeper understanding, critical thinking, problem-solving, or innovation” (Kellinger, 2017, p. 29). While I dabbled in those “one-shot” games as a high school English teacher, I did not advance in my development of designing true curricular games as I define them until I entered the world of teaching in higher education. This chapter explores my evolution in thinking, explains some of the nuts and bolts of designing curricular games, discusses how to troubleshoot common problems, and recommends changes that could easily be made to Learning Management Systems (LMSs) to convert them into curricular game authoring platforms.

While an LMS will not enable a lone instructor to create a video game like Grand Theft Auto, it is important to remember that students likely will not compare curricular games to commercial video games, what Squire (2011) calls the “ceiling”, but rather to the “curriculum” part of “curricular games”, in other words, the type of instruction that they are used to, what Squire (2011) calls “the floor”. My hope is in writing this chapter that readers will also see game-based teaching as a doable endeavor by decreasing the intimidation factor. By exploring my own mistakes, I hope to convey the iterative nature of designing curricular games as each time you teach it, you are also playtesting it with an eye towards ongoing improvement.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Boolean Logic: Boolean logic uses operators such as AND, OR, and NOT to define certain conditions to determine if something is true or false.

Curricular Games: Curricular games are games designed to teach students through a game story where students play the protagonist with obstacles students must overcome to reach an end goal.

Non-Playing Characters (NPCs): Non-playing characters are characters in a game who are not being played by the game player. In video games, they are agents controlled by computer as opposed to avatars which are characters controlled by the human player.

Learning Management System (LMS): A software platform for instructors to teach students or trainers to train workers, it is a way to deliver online content and track student progress.

Boss: A boss battle is the final challenge in a video game where all skills learned throughout the video game are used to defeat the boss, who is a conglomeration of all the powers and skills of the mini-bosses encountered along the way.

Adaptive Release: Also known as selective release, this term refers to a way for instructors to control which students see what in a learning management system by setting rules to determine what conditions must be met in order to make something visible to individual students, groups of students, or the whole class.

Leveling Up: Videogames are often constructed in such a way that players must demonstrate mastery of an easier skill before “leveling up” to a higher level that requires more skill or skills.

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