A great education text is easy to read but takes forever to get through because you have to keep stopping to highlight and write down ideas. I’ve found this level of engagement with a handful of books on education over the past few years, including Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This and Kylene Beers’s When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do.
In a previous article giving a brief overview of the state of gamified classrooms, I linked a text called The Mutiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game. This article is a review of that book.
Lee Sheldon is a writer-turned-teacher who has worked in the gaming industry. His book begins with his history as a game designer and follows multiple iterations of this multiplayer classroom in a chronological narrative sequence. He labels his chapters as “Levels,” and whether he means levels as in stages of a game with a goal and obstacles or as in ranks of character achievement, I really can’t say.
The book is choc-o-block full of ideas to get you started on your multiplayer classroom. The concrete examples are numerous. I tend to find that it’s easier to develop new and innovative ideas from specific examples, rather than vague concepts that are hard to imagine in practice. Sheldon brings in examples from multiple iterations of his class game as well as the games of other educators. We get a look at how this concept is not only effective for teaching game design, but also history, education, and STEM subjects.
Sheldon proposes that any subject matter, theoretically, could be taught with a gamified class model. He doesn’t place limits on what you can teach with these methods. He also does a good job of warning against the standard pitfalls: using too many extrinsic motivators, being deemed an unfair Game Master, and forgetting to balance work with rewards.
One of my favorite parts of this book is the way that Sheldon shows very little incorporation of technology. We can’t all have ELMOs and SMART Boards and iPads in our classrooms. Sheldon emphasizes that game development doesn’t need technology. Sure, it’s cool to have a system like Classcraft, but we have more freedom to adapt when we’re not limited by the structures of someone else’s software.
Sheldon’s book incorporates a few case studies that show other implementations of game elements in the classroom. At times these are really inspirational, like the story of Denisha Buchanan, a high school science teacher who used questing for XP and “bucks” to gamify her classroom. Other case studies don’t shine as much. One particular case study on a US History course was filled with all sorts of data about the program’s efficacy, but left me scribbling in the margin at the end, “But what did he do?”
And then there’s the lack of diversity: has he considered any format beyond the RPG? Sheldon suggests that not all types of games will be suited to certain subject matter; he goes on to explain how an FPS would be a terrible framework for an Agatha Christie game. But all we ever see from the case studies and experiences Sheldon shares are how the classroom would function as an RPG. For all of his talk about the diversity of gaming, I never saw one suggestion of how someone might make a government class into an RTS game, or how someone could use math to simulate a puzzle platformer. Without explicitly saying so, his book seems to implicitly suggest that a fantasy RPG might be the only game format suited for educational purposes.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide how you want to format your classroom. Sheldon’s book is a great jumping off point for anyone looking into developing a classroom game system. Perhaps someone reading this article today will one day have their own case study included in a future edition of The Multiplayer Classroom.
Need more ideas? Visit the TED search results page for “games.”