Game-based learning in a higher ed class

fair play

I will be integrating game-based learning for the first time in my higher education teaching this semester by using the game, Fair Play by GLS Studios. Fair Play is a game where players control Jamal, a black graduate student, who must navigate past the implicit biases from characters in the game to grow in his journey toward becoming a professor.

Much of the focus on the use of games for learning has focused on issues such as game design and assessment (i.e. How do we know that learning occurred in the game? How do we know this learning can be transferred to real-life contexts?). What’s equally important is how we set up the players (in this case, students) for success before they even play the game. I feel that if I just throw my students to the wolves and say, “Play this game and learn,” that will result in a lot of problems.

The first thing I had to do was actually play the game! By playing the game, I was able to see what the students would see, and scope out any potential issues the students may run into. Perhaps even more important than this, I was able to work through the technical challenges of getting the game up and running. This allows me to share with the students how they too can forge past potential technical pitfalls.

Second, I determined my learning goal for the students – for each student to learn more about how biases effect the way he or she personally views the world. A big component of our class is how bias can affect research. Playing a game where bias is built-in as part of the learning experience seems like a perfect fit. Of course, the game itself can’t do all the work. So I took my experience playing the game, combined it with my learning goal, and came up with a few prompts for the students to think about that will help them towards that goal. I am requiring them to take notes while playing the game based on these prompts.

Third, I wrote up an instruction sheet for them. This sheet clearly lays out the technical details of the game and the directions that will turn the gaming experience into a learning experience as well (including a note about how playing a game for learning purposes is not too different from playing a game for entertainment purposes). It does not cover how to play the game, but the game itself does a great job of walking players through the details of navigating the game world.

The final component is that the students must submit a 1-page write up on their game-playing experience, and bring that and their notes to class for a discussion.

I’m excited about the possibilities here but at the end of the day, it’s all about the learning. If the game helps, that’s great. But if not, then back to the drawing board. Let’s see what happens.