Free Online Gamification Course: Game Design in Education, Assessment, and Therapy

I’m offering a free online Gamification Course with a focus on game design in education, assessment, and therapy, thanks to the generous folks at OpenLearning.com. I’ve had a long association with the University of New South Wales in Sydney and this extends the relationship into the 21st Century. This blog is a good place to offer a few words of explanation.  This course is very general and is targeted at teachers and therapists. It offers ways to create simple custom games. If the game design costs and time are kept to a minimum then a game version need only offer a benefit/cost advantage rather than lay any claim to increased learning.

While game design can be applied to advertising, such commercial applications are usually professional-level productions with detailed attention to user interface. Unlike teachers, advertisers would rarely have a need for a simple, rough, quick custom game. Classroom teachers can offer direct assistance if a game interface proves too difficult.

The psychological principles in my course are relevant to commercial applications but teachers have greater latitude because they can tweak the game design on the fly. The default position for teachers is to fall back on traditional methods which the research shows would stack up well against a game version. Advertisers may not have such luxury once they’ve locked into an expensive professionally-designed game promotion.

The course has 17 movies spread over 6 learning modules. It sounds like a lot but taken together these add up to less time than listening to a single traditional evening lecture. The real work is of course off-site. The learner is intended to go off and do their own research then apply what is learned to their own situation.

In such a role, the movies merely need to grab attention. Viewers can pause, re-wind, or go to the text on the page if they want details. The movies also serve to demonstrate techniques the learners can apply to their own teaching such as use of text to speech, avatars, Ken Burns Effect, transitions, multitracking … to name but a few.

Hence my movies deliberately use every cheesy effect I could muster. I don’t recommend learners do the same – quite the opposite. Throughout the movies I ask the learner whether it wouldn’t have been simpler, classier and more efficient to use text to convey the information rather than multimedia. The intent is sobriety rather than hypocrisy.

I use music, psychology and astronomy as my demo’s mainly to kill 2 birds with one stone. I do this in my spare time for free. I’m not a maths teacher. Therefore, while I would love to see maths teachers apply these methods to their teaching I’m not the guy to lead them. I can show them tools like the spreadsheets at http://chandoo.org/wp/tag/tom-benjamin/  but only maths teachers would know which parts of their curriculum might benefit from gamification.

On the other hand, music is intrinsic to this course. It was the methods of music therapy such as OrffSchulwerk that introduced me to concepts of ‘restricted alternatives’.  Music (http://www.oz-rock.com) has been an activity of mine since the days I sang weddings and frat parties in Detroit.

Astronomy taught me empowerment. Telescopes were my first purchases as a kid with paper route money. My homemade telescopes in a dark rural night show me intergalactic space as it really appears, rather than as time-exposed Hubble-o-rama.

Psychology was my university major and initial career. So these are activities I would do on my weekends anyway.  Between music, psychology and astronomy you have a pretty broad spectrum. So the demonstrations with these topics ought to be more than enough to give ideas for game and multimedia applications to other subjects and sectors.

Although I intended the ‘quest’ format to be obvious to any who do the demo’s such as The Lost Composer Mystery Quest, below is a simple summary of the sequence:

1. Call to Adventure Vignette: movie, slideshow, audio or text intro to the ‘mission’ to identify the ‘lost’ component (lost city, lost song, lost hero, lost equation, lost artwork … whatever)

2. Clue #1: quite difficult and peripherally related to subject -ie- astronomy clues to a music quest or vice-versa; cryptic crosswords, indirect movie or audio clues

3. Clues #2 #3 etc. increasingly more direct and easier clues: crosswords, puzzles, shoot-em-up interactive gamelets etc that give further clues as rewards

4. Final Clues dead giveaway clues allowing all participants to catch up

5. Finale task: participants prepare their project for submission, based on their identification of the ‘lost’ item and information gained in the search.

6. Presentation of finale task: their own original video or live show. this could be a diorama of the lost city, a spreadsheet of the equation, bringing a character to life with animation, recording their version of a song … etc

7. Total points: weighted sums for the first sets of clues (higher weights for getting it early) and scores for the quality, originality of their project presentation. If submitted to YouTube or social media scores can be given for ‘likes’ and ‘hits’.

8. Prize or Recognition.