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ARGs (alternate reality gaming), Educational Gaming & Design, EHCRP, Games & Curriculum Design, Motivating Students

ARG After School: All work and No Play Makes EHCRP and Empty Program

–Continued from prior entry.

So we don’t have time to get parents on board the EHCRP, likewise because we were a late arrival, we don’t have much in the way of buy-in from the school’s staff of guidance counselors. To get the students to sign up and to keep them coming, the program has to make students want to come. In other words: the program has to be fun. The curriculum has to be fun. From my experience with the population I knew that even in their junior year, only a small minority of students coming into the program would already be thinking in mature terms, i.e. have the maturity to go out of their way to get involved with a program that is going to prepare them for college. I’m not being cynical; it’s just the reality. Even in suburban districts with helicopter parents, the vast majority of high school students are not self-motivated. In a district with 95% single parent households, the student who would take on more work after school voluntarily is a rare bird indeed.

But these students do play video games. While less than 1% might be academically self motivated, 95% play video games and are motivated by them. Interestingly, as motivational structures, video games had managed to accomplish many of the things that we were aspiring to do in EHCRP. In my design document for “Locks & Keys” I made a list of what games can do with kids(and adults for that matter), and why we should use an MMO:

So here it is, in a nutshell: Why should we use an MMO (massively multiplayer online) style game structure?

1. MMO’s inspire players(students) to perform repetitive tasks which would otherwise seem utterly monotonous. Ironically the same game structure also encourages independent and creative thinking. Thus curricula which involve both creative thinking and memorization are perfectly suited to this learning/motivational structure.
2. MMO’s also inspire students to be very detail oriented, as completing tasks, quests, et cetera require meticulous preparation, and exact attention to detail. In many cases anything less than 100% is a fail. Success is only achieved through perfect execution.
3. Our program needs to motivate our students to be successful. The immersive nature of a real-life game provides a motivational structure absent from a traditional academic approach. This approach utilizes highly structured social interaction to maximize student effort through cooperation, peer pressure, and competition; in other words, as a social context, the MMO channels what could otherwise be distractions into motivational forces.
4. If we are successful, and the immersive game which informs the class is as addictive as I hope it will be, students will take the problems and puzzles from the class home with them, and will work on them outside of class on their own and within their guilds. This is a very common effect of using this structure for these classes.
5. We need the students in the program to sell it to other students. If our students love the experience we are giving them, then this will go a long way towards solving any recruitment and retention issues we might otherwise face.
6. Since the game designing is front-loaded, i.e. mostly done before the semester begins, classroom management is fairly easy. Students will have tasks and goals to pursue at all times which they will be encouraging each other to pursue. Front loading will be hugely beneficial to the program instructors as this means that the prep workload will occur at the beginning of the semester rather than at the end, freeing us up to manage the inevitable end of semester workload that we all face.
7. The biggest downside to using this curriculum structure is that grading and record keeping is very intense, and much in excess of what it is for a traditional curriculum.

(continued)

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