Faculty Engage with Gameful Design to Improve Student-Learning at Iowa

Faculty Engage with Gameful Design to Improve Student-Learning at Iowa

Games aren’t just fun, they can be powerful vehicles for learning and expression when thoughtfully designed and placed in the right context.

Such was the overall theme of the daylong Game-Based Learning Faculty Institute that connected 16 faculty members with gaming experts to explore the emerging methodology of game-based teaching and learning in the classroom. The event was hosted by the UI Center for Teaching and ITS.

The Institute challenged faculty participants to play both analog and digital games and to identify and dissect the core experience of play and what it can teach. 

Dr. Ben Duvane, Assistant Professor in the Educational Psychology program in the UI College of Education introduced the group to strategies for implementing games to enhance learning.

“There is a host of exciting research on games such as learning by making, assessment, and engaging learners in community-involved work,” Duvane said. “I encourage faculty to sit down and play some games, analog or digital, and think about how they are learning in the game,”

Teams of faculty spent the day exploring and analyzing the experience of playing games.

One team played a stylized interactive game, Dys4ia, about a transgendered woman’s experience with hormonal therapy. The bright retro colors, simple mechanics and compelling story are what guest speaker and independent game developer, Josh Larson, calls the “experiential glue” that provides an empathetic game experience for its players.

For Will Coghill-Behrends, Director of the Teacher Leader Center, the empathetic impact had broad implications.

“It wasn’t until I experienced the depth and power that games can provide to build empathy that I became a believer that games do indeed have the power to change the way we think about social justice sorts of issues,” Coghill-Behrends said.

Dr. Duvane also demonstrated techniques and approaches for game-based learning assessment. Faculty participants learned how digital games could create powerful data-rich learning and formative assessment environments.

“Games in the pure form are an abstract, complex system with quantifiable outcomes, ” said Larson.

Teams of faculty members also developed games around high-level course objectives. These games underwent multiple iterations drawn from different perspectives. This iterative design process combining curriculum and games was highlighted as an important part of development for the classroom.

 “During the workshop, I understood that I should start with learning goals, and then focus on game-based components to achieve these goals,” said College of Engineering adjunct assistant professor Ibrahim Demir.

Later in the day, Brittney Thomas, UI Library Learning Commons coordinator, talked about how “badging” -  game elements given to players for accomplishing certain goals - can be used in a purposeful way and shared some of her research on the perks and perils of digital badges in higher education.

“Badges have the ability to connect a learner’s experiences, skills and knowledge in unique ways, Thomas said. “They can motivate learners to find value in the things they are truly passionate about and may not have recognized as legitimate areas of inquiry.”

Later this year, faculty and staff will check-in to see how gaming techniques have been applied and assess impact.

How gaming evolves in higher education remains to be seen but for some the Institute was a great introduction to this emerging practice.

This daylong professional development opportunity for faculty is one of many Institutes designed to support the exploration of emerging teaching-learning methods.