Joe Wasserman
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ETA: The syllabus for this course is complete! You can download it from my website here. Please feel free to remix these assignments and the reading list however you see fit!

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I have the great privilege of teaching a combined upper-level undergraduate /graduate course on Games & Learning this spring! It is a small discussion-based course that meets twice a week. One day per week will be spent discussing theory and research on games and learning, while the other day will be spent on boardgame design activities, including playing games, design activities (e.g., altering existing games, 10-minute design challenges).

Half of students' grades will be in-class participation and a cumulative project in which students design a boardgame for learning in small groups, the latter of which will include a written component justifying their design based on theory and research. The remainder of the assignments will be selected by each individual student from a menu of options for a choose-your-own syllabus.

My question: do you creative folks have any additional ideas for potential assignments in addition to those below?

P.S. When my syllabus—including all readings, assignments, and activities—is complete, I plane to share it with the forum.

P.P.S. I'm still fleshing out and revising the below assignment descriptions

Position papers
In these writing assignments, you will be asked to formulate and defend an argument about assigned readings during that particular week. You do not need to find additional sources, although you may.

Every position paper should include the following components: (a) a clear statement of your position, (b) 2-3 arguments that support your position, and (c) 1+ piece of evidence from the assigned readings in support of each argument. You will be graded on the clarity of your writing, the structure and persuasiveness of your arguments, and your use of evidence to support your arguments and position.

Your position should be a proposition of fact, value, or policy. See http://changingminds.org/disciplines/argument/making_argumen....

2-3 pages each

Game evaluation papers
In these writing assignments, you will be asked to apply the assigned theoretical and empirical readings to your experience playing the game assigned during that week. You do not need to find additional sources, although you may.

Every game evaluation paper should focus on 2-3 characteristics of the game that you will evaluate in terms of their potential for learning. For each characteristic, your report should include (a) a clear statement of your evaluation of that characteristic, (b) 1-2 strong arguments in support of your evaluation, and (c) 1+ piece of evidence from the assigned readings in support of each argument. You will be graded on the clarity of your writing, the structure and persuasiveness of your arguments, and your use of evidence to support your arguments and evaluations.

2-3 pages each

Research abstract
You will be asked to find an additional empirical research article related to the week’s assigned readings, to write an abstract about this reading, and to briefly (<5 minutes) present the highlights of this research article to the class. You will be asked to bring a copy of your abstract for everyone in the class.

Your abstract should include the following sections: (a) full APA 6th edition reference for the article, (b) purpose, (c) hypotheses/research questions, (d) methods, (e) results, and (f) implications. The purpose, methods, and implications should be written in your own words—do not merely Roget the article. Furthermore, the implications of the article for research or use of games for learning should be original to you and not contained within the article. The hypotheses, research questions, and results may be taken verbatim from the article.

Discussion facilitator
As discussion facilitator for the day, you will be expected to have a mastery-level understanding of the day’s readings. Rather than presenting your understanding, your task will be to facilitate discussion. You will be expected to prepare a number of points of discussion and/or activities to promote class participation and discussion, potentially including open-ended questions without obvious answers, contentious statements for peers to consider and discuss their agreement or disagreement, and whole-class activities incorporating multiple readings. You may schedule a meeting to discuss your plans in advance of the class meeting for which you will be discussion leader.

In addition to leading discussion during class, you will be asked to turn in a short, 1-page printed version of your prepared questions, statements, activities, etc.

Classroom takeover
This assignment is available only to graduate students registered in 593A. You will take over the class for one day toward the end of the semester to cover a topic of your choosing related to games and learning. The topic should be one that we are not already covering and is of interest to you—but on which you are not already an expert. You will be responsible for assigning readings and being the discussion facilitator that day. If you wish to incorporate an activity of some sort, you may.

Final project add-on: Print-and-play files
This assignment is an add-on to the final project assignment. In addition to the final project, you will prepare print-ready files for all paper components of your group’s game. These graphics files will be uploaded to BoardGameGeek and made available for free to anyone who wishes to download, print, and play your game. It is recommended that you have some experience working with graphical editing programs if you wish to select this option.

Final project add-on: Public relations post
This assignment is an add-on to the final project assignment. In addition to the final project, you will write a post to BoardGameGeek’s Games in the Classroom forum, sharing your group’s game with the community. This assignment will necessitate that you create a BoardGameGeek account (if you don’t already have one) or allow me to post it on your behalf with attribution to you. Your post will include (a) a brief description of this class, (b) a brief description of the assignment, (c) an explanation of your game (including pictures of your game), and (d) a plain language explanation of the theory and research behind your design.

Final project add-on: Learning measurement instrument
This assignment is available only to graduate students registered in 593A, and is an add-on to the final project assignment. In addition to the final project, you will independently develop an instrument to measure students’ learning from your group’s game. This instrument should be aligned with the learning objectives of your game and could be comprised of closed-ended and/or open-ended items. If you choose to include open-ended items, you must also develop a scoring guide for these open-ended items. This instrument can be developed based on literature, standards documents, and/or by consultation with subject-matter experts and/or teachers of your game’s subject.

Final project add-on: Journal submission
This assignment is available only to graduate students registered in 593A, and is an add-on to the final project assignment. You will revise the written component of your final project for submission as a teaching idea, game ready to use, or similar format to an appropriate journal, depending on the topic of the game. Your submission will be formatted according to the guidelines of the journal. The precise components of this paper will depend on the learning objective of your group’s game. For example, a game intended to teach a communication topic could be submitted to Communication Teacher, would be limited to 2000 words, and would include learning objectives, a theoretical rationale for the game, an explanation of the game, a debriefing paragraph, and an appraisal of the game (including limitations).
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Re: Feedback on activities for an upper-level undergraduate Games & Learning (+boardgame design) class..?
Random bits- hopefully some are helpful...

-I'd like to take the class!!! (I know I can't but I keep toying with the idea of trying to start such a class at my college.)

-Assignment related: Rubrics. Do you have these for the writing assignments? (I'm going to assume yes you have these or something similar.)

-I'm not clear on the final project. Is it an actual game, or proposal of a game? The Add-ons (good idea!) seem to cover several different things. Also, is this (or could this be) a "team" or group project? If so, consider some part of class where the students pitch their idea to the class to recruit help. A student may lead their own project, but could also help out on another student's project.

-An idea for a focused assignment: Mechanics. Take a subject and have students propose a game in that subject- each using some different mechanics. They'd have to discuss why they chose their mechanic over another. My teaching area is government. An election game mechanic could be dice (roll & move), dice with resources, card draw, deck building, area control, etc.

Not sure if any of those directly help, but I hope they do. I follow this general forum, but feel free to GM me if you like. Good luck with your class!
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Re: Feedback on activities for an upper-level undergraduate Games & Learning (+boardgame design) class..?
govmiller wrote:
Random bits- hopefully some are helpful...

-I'd like to take the class!!! (I know I can't but I keep toying with the idea of trying to start such a class at my college.)

Thank you for your feedback! I'm very excited to teach it.

Quote:
-Assignment related: Rubrics. Do you have these for the writing assignments? (I'm going to assume yes you have these or something similar.)

I do have rubrics that I am considering adapting for some of these assignments, and/or making new ones. I will definitely provide more detailed instructions for each assignment. I really don't want to use rubrics in this class, because it is an upper-level course and I sincerely hope my students will be able to free themselves of them! Pedagogically, I care much more about student growth and critical thinking than grades, so I am a relatively generous grader and provide copious feedback—but I expect this feedback to be taken seriously.

Quote:
-I'm not clear on the final project. Is it an actual game, or proposal of a game? The Add-ons (good idea!) seem to cover several different things. Also, is this (or could this be) a "team" or group project? If so, consider some part of class where the students pitch their idea to the class to recruit help. A student may lead their own project, but could also help out on another student's project.

-An idea for a focused assignment: Mechanics. Take a subject and have students propose a game in that subject- each using some different mechanics. They'd have to discuss why they chose their mechanic over another. My teaching area is government. An election game mechanic could be dice (roll & move), dice with resources, card draw, deck building, area control, etc.

The final project is a game design project. Because the project involves interim assignments and a cumulative final project that will all have more detailed instructions, I haven't described them in great detail on the syllabus. But I will revise the description to make clearer that it is a design project.

Students will definitely work in groups of ~3 on their final projects. I've been planning to assign them to groups based on their selected add-ons (to get as broad coverage as possible) and performance on earlier assignments, but I will think about how to potentially incorporate a more dynamic, pitch-like team generation process.

I have in-class activities related to topic ideation in-development. I like your idea about thinking through how to apply many different game mechanics to the same topic a lot! They'll already be learning and writing about various game mechanics, so I'm going to try to incorporate something like that into one of the (mandatory) in-class game design activities.

Quote:
Not sure if any of those directly help, but I hope they do. I follow this general forum, but feel free to GM me if you like. Good luck with your class!

Definitely helpful! Thank you very much.
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Re: Feedback on activities for an upper-level undergraduate Games & Learning (+boardgame design) class..?
You're welcome!

And I'm with you on the rubrics...I asked mostly out of habit since those relate to part of my position with my Division. And I was a reviewer for another graduate level class (not game related) on a Quality Matters review and rubrics were involved. I wasn't sure how much they were expected to be used.

Again, feel free to use me as a sounding board now and throughout the semester if you like.
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Re: Feedback on activities for an upper-level undergraduate Games & Learning (+boardgame design) class..?
This looks great! I'm actually working on a high school level design and theory class right now as well.

My course will live within the English department and students will receive English credit as well as complete their capstone project graduation requirement (this will be their final game prototype and pitch).

For the Game Evaluation assignments, have you considered having students create review and critique videos? Not sure if it fits in with your plans, but with high school class sizes a paired video critique is going to take some of the paper grading weight off my load. I'm planning on having them view and review a number of established reviewer's videos (Dice Tower/Stegmaier's favorite game mech/etc.) and then create their own.

Have you chosen any class readings yet? If you wouldn't mind sharing, I'd love to see what you're having the students read in terms of design and theory.

Thanks so much for sharing!
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Re: Feedback on activities for an upper-level undergraduate Games & Learning (+boardgame design) class..?
My 2 cents particularly for an upper level/graduate class -- students should show research and that research must be scholarly, not Wikipedia, for example. [Note: a check through Google Scholar will often verify the legitimacy of a source. For example, a self-publication or .com source should not appear here: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&c... ]

Students must show their sources to show that their game design was actually researched, then developed. So no matter the topic, for instance a game on the Civil War, students may cite notes and page numbers from a book by James McPherson. Or a game about a balloon race, students would show sources on balloon dynamics.

I like the idea of a rubric. Another thread in this forum discussed producing one. Some categories for a grading rubric may be: game topic, research, rules, play-testing, components, presentation (within the class or possibly at another venue), overall quality, and does the game meet the general parameters of the course or project objectives.

Best of luck. I used game design in several of my upper level/graduate courses as the required major project. In lieu of a research paper, students are researching an approved topic, writing rules using proper grammar and style, designing components, making a presentation of their final game project to the class, and overall becoming "active" learners.

I encourage topics related to their major or interest. A business major may design a game on late 19th century railroad management, for example. Since many of my students will become teachers, I emphasize a design that is appropriate to the grade level they will be teaching.
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Re: Feedback on activities for an upper-level undergraduate Games & Learning (+boardgame design) class..?
DJG414 wrote:
This looks great! I'm actually working on a high school level design and theory class right now as well.

My course will live within the English department and students will receive English credit as well as complete their capstone project graduation requirement (this will be their final game prototype and pitch).

Oh, very cool! That sounds like a fun class. Mine is in the Communication Studies department, but doesn't exactly fit with the rest of our offerings.

Quote:
For the Game Evaluation assignments, have you considered having students create review and critique videos? Not sure if it fits in with your plans, but with high school class sizes a paired video critique is going to take some of the paper grading weight off my load. I'm planning on having them view and review a number of established reviewer's videos (Dice Tower/Stegmaier's favorite game mech/etc.) and then create their own.

That's a really interesting idea! I will have to think about whether a video assignment would support the learning objectives I have for the class. I can see that working really well in your course.

Quote:
Have you chosen any class readings yet? If you wouldn't mind sharing, I'd love to see what you're having the students read in terms of design and theory.

I'm currently whittling down and organizing the reading list, so I'll definitely be able to share that in the next few days! Thanks!
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Re: Feedback on activities for an upper-level undergraduate Games & Learning (+boardgame design) class..?
smic wrote:
My 2 cents particularly for an upper level/graduate class -- students should show research and that research must be scholarly, not Wikipedia, for example. [Note: a check through Google Scholar will often verify the legitimacy of a source. For example, a self-publication or .com source should not appear here: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&c... ]

Students must show their sources to show that their game design was actually researched, then developed. So no matter the topic, for instance a game on the Civil War, students may cite notes and page numbers from a book by James McPherson. Or a game about a balloon race, students would show sources on balloon dynamics.

Great point! When I think research, I immediately assume scholarly sources. I will make that explicit in the assignment.

Quote:
I like the idea of a rubric. Another thread in this forum discussed producing one. Some categories for a grading rubric may be: game topic, research, rules, play-testing, components, presentation (within the class or possibly at another venue), overall quality, and does the game meet the general parameters of the course or project objectives.

Hm, yeah—for an unusual assignment like designing a game, it does seem like more focused guidelines are necessary. At the very least I will provide additional detail about the criteria by which they're going to be evaluated, if not a rubric per se.

Quote:
Best of luck. I used game design in several of my upper level/graduate courses as the required major project. In lieu of a research paper, students are researching an approved topic, writing rules using proper grammar and style, designing components, making a presentation of their final game project to the class, and overall becoming "active" learners.

I encourage topics related to their major or interest. A business major may design a game on late 19th century railroad management, for example. Since many of my students will become teachers, I emphasize a design that is appropriate to the grade level they will be teaching.

That sounds great! I'm really looking forward to this class. Students will definitely have agency in selecting their game topics, and will need to consider age appropriateness and relevant educational standards for their chosen topic.
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Re: Feedback on activities for an upper-level undergraduate Games & Learning (+boardgame design) class..?
Joe,

This is great! Thanks for sharing. I'll be following closely, as I'm sure won't be a surprise to you because of the MLA capstone I'm working on to finish my Master's degree.

One suggestion for an assignment would be to add something about rules writing. Perhaps you can use existing good (and bad) examples of rules, have students choose a game's ruleset and evaluate it, and/or have them write rules for a game they know how to play.

I developed a game design toolkit for MidAmerica Nazarene University's Center for Games and Learning. If you are interested in it, I can share it with you if you are interested.

-Matt
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Re: Feedback on activities for an upper-level undergraduate Games & Learning (+boardgame design) class..?
oicu12b12 wrote:
Joe,

This is great! Thanks for sharing. I'll be following closely, as I'm sure won't be a surprise to you because of the MLA capstone I'm working on to finish my Master's degree.

One suggestion for an assignment would be to add something about rules writing. Perhaps you can use existing good (and bad) examples of rules, have students choose a game's ruleset and evaluate it, and/or have them write rules for a game they know how to play.

I developed a game design toolkit for MidAmerica Nazarene University's Center for Games and Learning. If you are interested in it, I can share it with you if you are interested.

-Matt

That sounds great, Matt! I'd love to take a look at your game design toolkit. Thank you!

A mandatory part of the game design project will be writing rules—both for interim smaller projects and the final project. I like the guidelines Kathleen Mercury created, especially since the example game (Splendor) is one that I'm having my class play: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1c1En1wNwQXUKKLM3_kWJOAI6... I really like the idea of evaluating existing rules and re-writing rules as an additional, smaller assignment.

I imagine you've seen this, but just in case you haven't, Genesee Valley Library has a ton of great info on boardgames aligned with national and state standards: http://www.gvlibraries.org/gaming http://www.gvlibraries.org/find?tid=5204
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Re: Feedback on activities for an upper-level undergraduate Games & Learning (+boardgame design) class..?
The syllabus for this course is complete! You can download it from my website here. Please feel free to remix these assignments and the reading list however you see fit!

Some of the fiddly details about assignments (including the final boardgame design project) are not included on the syllabus, as I'll provide them to students as-needed. Details about in-class game design activities are also sparse, but they will include modifying existing designs and rapidly prototyping/iterating novel designs.
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Great stuff!

I'm teaching a small political science seminar on conflict simulation design this term, and will transition to teaching a full course on the topic starting next academic year.
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Quote:
-Assignment related: Rubrics. Do you have these for the writing assignments? (I'm going to assume yes you have these or something similar.)

Quote:
-I do have rubrics that I am considering adapting for some of these assignments, and/or making new ones. I will definitely provide more detailed instructions for each assignment. I really don't want to use rubrics in this class, because it is an upper-level course and I sincerely hope my students will be able to free themselves of them! Pedagogically, I care much more about student growth and critical thinking than grades, so I am a relatively generous grader and provide copious feedback—but I expect this feedback to be taken seriously.


I know I am a little late to the game with this response, but thought it doesn't hurt to throw in my 2 cents. Coming from a graduate student who took classes with similar approaches on curriculum development for ESL, I would make sure to explain this to your students very intentionally. I had professors would take a "learning is most important" approach, but then be scathing when it comes to grades. I am sure some of your students will also have been burned by this before. Also, sometimes a good example can be just as helpful as a rubric but less cumbersome with creative limitations. Hope this helps and keep us updated how the class goes!
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CGetahun wrote:
Mymil wrote:
Quote:
-Assignment related: Rubrics. Do you have these for the writing assignments? (I'm going to assume yes you have these or something similar.)

-I do have rubrics that I am considering adapting for some of these assignments, and/or making new ones. I will definitely provide more detailed instructions for each assignment. I really don't want to use rubrics in this class, because it is an upper-level course and I sincerely hope my students will be able to free themselves of them! Pedagogically, I care much more about student growth and critical thinking than grades, so I am a relatively generous grader and provide copious feedback—but I expect this feedback to be taken seriously.


I know I am a little late to the game with this response, but thought it doesn't hurt to throw in my 2 cents. Coming from a graduate student who took classes with similar approaches on curriculum development for ESL, I would make sure to explain this to your students very intentionally. I had professors would take a "learning is most important" approach, but then be scathing when it comes to grades. I am sure some of your students will also have been burned by this before. Also, sometimes a good example can be just as helpful as a rubric but less cumbersome with creative limitations. Hope this helps and keep us updated how the class goes!

Thank you for the great feedback! I turn back students' first graded assignments tomorrow. I will be sure to (a) describe my philosophy on grades + feedback and (b) provide an example for this assignment in particular, as it was their most frequently-selected option.

As far as the class progress goes, so far it's been great. They've drawn on their experience playing Red7 last week in subsequent assignments and discussions. One of the graduate students enrolled in the class described our first discussion (which occurred yesterday) as "the best class discussion [they've] ever had." I take both of these as a good sign.
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This may be a little OT, but this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAclLDAHWfk

is a kind of brilliant dissection of the design choices made early on in Portal and the way it helps the player understand the rules of the in-game universe without a formal tutorial. Might be fun added viewing for the class!
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This class has continued to go quite well! So days of class discussion have been more muted than others, but in comparison to other undergraduate classes (and even graduate classes) I've observed, the level of engagement is well above average.

We've also completed all of our in-class boardgame playing. I think Captain Sonar and Codenames were the two crowd favorites.

This week, we pivot from mostly playing to mostly designing. This Thursday, students will jam on games for their final group projects. Their specific challenge: to rapidly design as many different games about their chosen topics with as many different central game mechanics as possible.

I've published a few, but not many, tweets with more minor updates along the way, starting with the syllabus: https://twitter.com/JoeWasserman/status/950392440082649088

coolpapa wrote:
This may be a little OT, but this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAclLDAHWfk

is a kind of brilliant dissection of the design choices made early on in Portal and the way it helps the player understand the rules of the in-game universe without a formal tutorial. Might be fun added viewing for the class!

I watched the video a while ago, but neglected to comment. It is really neat how focused the level design is on teaching players the game mechanics in preparation for the single, full-mechanic encounter in the game!
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I've just graded the wargames produced by students in my conflict simulation seminar this term. You'll find pictures of the final products here: https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2018/05/04/mcgill-gaming-semin...
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RexBrynen wrote:
I've just graded the wargames produced by students in my conflict simulation seminar this term. You'll find pictures of the final products here: https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2018/05/04/mcgill-gaming-semin...

Their prototypes look excellent, and the central ideas seem sound! Getting my students to prototype and playtest early was also a challenge for me, but it helped that I built in some time into the class for playtesting.
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