Former colleagues of mine, Robert Prince and Owen Guthrie of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, developed a journalism course wherein the professor constructed the lesson plan to mimic the internal organization of a struggling newspaper. The students in the course were new hires looking to climb the professional ladder he’d constructed for them, from intern all the way up to Editor-in-Chief. Students covered different subjects and wrote articles in a variety of forms in order to fulfill the obligations of their current position at the paper while, at the same time, meeting certain requirements for promotion. At the end of the course, student success was evident in how high a position at the made-up newspaper he or she had achieved.
As was covered in a previous post, one of the principal ambitions of gamification is to design professional and educational processes with heightened consciousness of what motivates engagement. The models for engagement are drawn, with good reason, from games. Games are entirely focused on engagement, and the craft of game design and all the analytics coming out of the multitude of successes and failures in this huge international industry have resulted in a science of engagement. Just how does EVE Online inspire so many people to pour hours into a game that largely plays out on spreadsheets and income ledgers is a mystery that Accounting Profs need to solve.
Of all the angles of engagement coming out of gaming right now, role playing has probably the largest profile when it comes to education, and teachers are experimenting with many methods and to different degrees how to implement role playing into their lesson plans. Mostly, role playing in learning manifests as discrete exercises lasting the length of a single assignment or activity. But some are experimenting with more immersive role playing infrastructures, searching for a course structure that will be as compelling as it is educational.
It was not my project, but I worked with these (great!) guys quite a lot, so I was around for a lot of discussions surrounding its design and execution. An interesting challenge arose:
Promotions had to be made in private or else their representation of a student’s success (or lack thereof) threatened to break FERPA regulations. Students could share their current or past positions with their classmates, of course, and I believe they were even encouraged to do so. However, the inability to require that they do so made collaborations between students of separate roles difficult to design.
The course was a success, I believe, but even more than that it was a lesson in how innovation abuts unpredictably with constraints. One of the principal advantages to creating an organizational model within a course in which students earned roles that defined their contribution to the organization is the opportunity to create dynamic collaborative activities – Editors assigning stories to Staff Writers and Copy Editors heading up peer review, for instance. By many trains of thought, creating organizational simulators within courses that are preparing students for professional placement within the type of organization being simulated is a logical extension of the gamification movement. However, the inability to require that students be public with their roles within the organization, which, in the case of the course detailed above, reflected their relative success within the organization and thus grades within the course, did not allow for that structure.