We try really hard to come up with new and innovative ideas at eCollege. It's actually even more creative around here since Pearson took over. We get to flex our academic muscle against technology and financial viability on a regular basis. We talk about CBL (confidence based learning - basically where competence and confidence meet), we discuss programatic and institutional data mining (correlating, comparing, and contrasting grade data, completion metrics, user activity, etc.), and much, much more.
A lot of this has gone relatively unnoticed by the general population. Purdue University recently made a splash on CBS about how they are finding ways to get data across the institution out of the LMS and how it's leading to actionable, data-driven decisions. We've actually done that for years...
But one area that our academic training & consulting team first talked about at a conference 2 years ago is starting to get some traction. It's the notion of alternative reality games for education - ARG's for short.
I happen to get Wired magazine - I highly recommend it! A few years back there was an article about Nine Inch Nails lead singer Trent Reznor and how he created an ARG to market a new album, as well as to try and enlighten folks about the government, global warming, and other things. Without repeating the whole article, the group essentially had thousands of players engaged in a game that they didn't know they were playing. It started with a shirt that had bolded letters on it which spelled out a website and ended with people coming to California to get on buses with blacked out windows and head to a "rally" that turned into a N.I.N concert. But the idea stuck with me.
Why couldn't teachers create games for their students with the students having no idea they were playing? I started by creating a list of learning objectives in my class. Each starting letter of the list was a corresponding letter of my personal website. To my surprise, several students found it, went to my site, and got a small bit of extra credit! So, I started trying other things. I placed "hot spots" on my pages - white text that blended into the background - the when rolled over sent students to a YouTube video. Some students found it. Meanwhile, other students found a puzzle that I created and, upon solving it, found their way to a wiki. There were 4 sets of students working the game from different angles and they didn't realize it until they were well into the game. But here's the cool part...the game was all about the educational stuff I was teaching normally!
Yep - these same students who complained regularly about not having time to dedicate to my class, became entrenched in a game that forced them to learn specific concepts in order to "unlock" puzzle clues. By the time they were into my alternative reality of speech communication, they were already learning! So, my team and I created a game for our user's conference that incorporated many of these same elements.
Fast forward 2 years. At our last user's conference a teacher explained how he played a game of educational clue with his students. He was really just testing the theory - replicating the action to see if it worked. And you know what? It did. He said that students got involved immediately. Students were engaged from start to finish. And he was able to teach them important concepts through the game.
The bottom line is that there are several types of games you might play with your students. But the ramifications are real. Games work. Just Google, "Serious games" and see what you find. You'll find research, data, comprehension statistics, retention numbers, etc., all of which illustrate the power of a game in an educational setting. So give it a shot. Try creating a game that students don't know they're playing until they are in it. You'll be the clever, cool instructor who uses social networks or puzzles or whatever. They will be the enlightened students who remember the details about the theory. You both will be winners.
Jeff D Borden, M.A.
Senior Director of Teaching & Learning