Many educators have contemplated the use of games as way to engage learners, or maybe thought about using some elements found in games to engage learners. A big hurdle for integrating games into a course is the amount of work it takes to build them to use in a course, even if you have the skill-set. Of course, you could always take the easier route and try to integrate an existing game into a course. The hurdles there involve cost and finding a game that supports the content specific to your course. There is another approach to bring game concepts into the learning environment that does not necessitate a huge investment of time, combining game design with problem-based learning.

Create activities in your course that have learners design and contextualize the content of a game. You set the rules and mechanics of how the game will work, your students design how the content fits into that game. No one has to actually program or build a game. The idea is to use game mechanics as a tool to get learners to think about instructional material and how concepts inter-relate.

So where do you begin? Start with what you know. What are your favorite games? These don’t have to be a computer or video game. Think about puzzles, board games, or card games that you have enjoyed. Are there elements of how the game works (mechanics) that can be applied to your course content? Do some ‘research’ (this is the fun part). There is something of a board game renaissance going on right now offering a boggling variety of board and card games. These cover a range of concepts, from pandemics to book collecting. The board game Chronology offers a simple mechanic that can lend itself to a variety of topics. The game works as the name implies.

Remember, you don’t have to provide the rules for an entire game. Keep the activity focused on one element of a game that you can apply to content appropriate for your course and that supports the given learning objectives. Keep the rules simple.

One of my favorite games is Sid Meier’s Civilization V. The purpose of the game is to build a ‘historical’ civilization from the ground up. A key element of the game is researching and building technology. In order to be successful at building technology and move your civilization forward, you have to understand how technologies are inter-related and build on each other. You can’t just research gun powder, for example, but have to first research and develop all of the underlying technologies to get there.

Sample of the technology tree from the game Civiliztion V
You can’t research Horseback Riding before you develop Trapping and Animal Husbandry. (Image from STEAM community workshop)

The above image should be familiar to anyone who has used timelines, production trees or flowcharts. You may already be using something like this in your course. Game design can simply be a way to engage learners in developing these tools.

A big strength of using Project-Based Learning in this way is that it doesn’t require a lot of time to set up and the project can easily be managed with tools that already exist in your LMS, using student Groups, or something as simple as shared Google docs. How far you want to push learner creativity in the design is up to you and the needs of your course.

Here at Ecampus, we are lucky to have a marvelously creative Media Development Team who would be able to help build supporting material for your ideas. Depending on the complexity of the game you propose, it may even be possible to put your learners’ work into a game ‘shell’ that would result in a working version of the game. This, in turn, could be used as a study tool.

the title screen

Often an instructor will bring us media (like a collection of photographs) and ask if we could help create some sort of interactive exercise  (like a microscope simulation, to explore their photographs). We’re happy to do what you ask, but when time and interest permit – we like to push a little further. Sometimes we will ask if it’s all right to make a game.

This past term in Botany 350, we created an anime-themed adventure game, Plant Detective, which let students collect clues and present their findings to a humorous  caricature of their instructor. You can play it here, and I’ll discuss how we made it after the break.
Continue reading

Part of quality online course design is ensuring that students have opportunities to practice with course content in active, engaging ways. Providing students with lectures to read and hear passively is a start, but is generally not enough to help learning happen. To make real learning happen online, it’s important to encourage students to engage with the concepts they are learning actively.

Another best practice of online course design and teaching is providing opportunities for formative assessments, that is, low- or no-stakes practice activities with feedback that lets students know if they are on track for summative assessments, such as final exams.

Yes, but who has the time?

These kinds of practice activities and formative assessments are great, but they can take time to create, facilitate, and respond to, and most of the instructors we know don’t have excesses of time!

Thankfully, there are tools available to help create quality learning activities quickly and easily. StudyMate games are a quick and easy way to include these sorts of activities in your classes. Furthermore, the feedback is built into the game, so once they are created, they don’t require additional time for facilitation. Best of all, students find the games to be enjoyable and effective ways to study course concepts.

StudyMate games are built using one of three types of questions:

  • Single answer (such as a term and its definition)
  • Multiple choice
  • Calculated (math problems)

Instructors provide the questions, and the OSU instructional design team can help create the games. Games include flash cards, matching, crossword puzzles, and a Jeopardy! – like challenge game.

You can even use this software to create a glossary of terms for your class:

Try some StudyMate games used in Charisse Hake’s Math 105 class.

To learn more about StudyMate and to see other sample games, visit the StudyMate Sample Games Page.

To learn how to create StudyMate games for your class, contact instructional design specialist Shannon Riggs at shannon.riggs@oregonstate.edu.