Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Team Learning and Party Composition

The second week of the Goblin workshop focused on aspect of team-based learning (tm) and the topic of groups in instruction, generally.  I have been a group project skeptic for quite a while.  In high school and undergraduate college work, group projects usually meant that I (maybe with the help of another person) would do most of the work while at least two people just skated by.  The passive members would know that the active members would not let their grades suffer.  I did not have much experience with group work in graduate school but saw greater imperative to include it (many of my students would move on to jobs where group interactions were vital to their success) and built group projects despite my concerns.

Even in the graduate school setting there were two problems.  One problem was the continued problem of shirking.  The people who were comfortable with a lower grade could rely on those who were not to keep the group grade up.  In one case, the presence of a peer-evaluation system was hijacked by a small cluster of shirkers who threatened to uniformly down vote the most active person if he or she did not do most of the work.  This soured me on peer-evaluation systems.

The second problem is that groups naturally specialize.  This is fine with group assignments that serve as a summative experience that primarily teach coordination.  If there is specific course material or skills intended to be taught in the class, though, the group arrangement can allow students to specialize to avoid these lessons.  In  my grant writing class, for example, it was common for people to specialize in a way that only one person got actual experience with budget writing and another with schedule design -- with some specializing in the design of the oral presentation or proposal layout.  I have had to change the design of the course to ensure that people would have to develop a budget, a schedule, etc. for themselves -- in addition to the larger group project.

Given this skepticism, I got much more out of the discussion of group-based instruction than I had expected.  The key lesson for me was the importance of diverse group construction and the design of projects to allow people with a variety of skills to shine.  This leads me back to some interesting mechanics in role-playing games.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Difficulty Curves and Pacing in Gaming and Instruction

The first week in GOBLIN has focused on issues related to difficulty curves and scaffolding in instructional design.  I found the discussion of difficulty curves to be the most inspiring in terms of both my thoughts on game design and instruction.  I intend to follow a simple format for most of these reaction/discussion posts on the GOBLIN program.  I will separate my general discussion from specific discussions of game design and instructional design.  I hope this will enable people to skim through the parts that don't interest them.

Difficulty Curve by David Maletz (Gamasutra)
The basic concept of a difficulty curve is relatively simple.  In games (and in academic course work), people like to experience gradually increasing difficulty -- possibly with some oscillation to introduce variability.  In World of Warcraft, this means that players are limited to specific zones including challenges appropriate to their player level.  When the player completes the content, she should be ready to progress to the next zone and the next higher cluster of challenges.  In academic courses, this means that students should steadily be able to increase their comprehension of the material.  Once they have mastered one set of concepts, they can progress to the next.  One of the best examples of this in my life has actually been my martial arts training.  The curriculum I studied was designed expertly so that material that I was sure I would never be able to learn was about as hard to learn (when I reached that point in the curriculum) as the material I was learning in the first few months.  The learning curve there was remarkably smooth.

You can find a good explanation of difficulty curves in gaming on this Gamasutra page

What has careful thought about difficulty curves meant for my approach to game design and instruction?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A New Adventure in Gaming

It seems like synchronistic timing that I am about to embark on a new adventure in game design as the blog approaches 10,000 page views.  My day job is as a college professor at the University of Oklahoma.  The Center for Teaching Excellence at the university is offering a faculty discussion group about what we can learn from games in the design of college courses.  This includes specific lessons like difficulty curves and more general strategies like full gamification.

As part of this course, I will be posting my reactions to the course (you can find the information on the course -- named GOBLIN -- here) to this blog.  I welcome comments and reactions to the blog as I proceed through the course.  I am not sure if "regular programming" will continue during this time (I have a queue of posts on campaign inspirations, for example) but they will be coming back after the course in mid-March if not.

From what I can tell, this will be an opportunity to think more deeply about the foundations of games as well as my approach to instruction.  I hope it proves interesting to others as well.