Saturday, June 13, 2009

Topic for Discussion: Beating a Course

Recently, someone wrote me about my book, claiming they had finished all of the challenges. I'm not sure if the person was serious (there are over 300 of them, after all), but it got me thinking about books and games, and the difference at the end of each.

It struck me that when most students finish a class, there is a sense of relief. "Finally, it's over. Now I can sell my textbook, throw away my notes, and forget all the stuff I just spend three months cramming into my brain." We approach games very differently. Maybe you just beat God of War 2 or Bioshock or Fallout 3 or whatever, and there is a sense of closure there... but there are also a bunch of locked Achievements, secret levels, more intense difficulty modes, different character classes or progressions, all kinds of other things that give the player incentive to keep going after it is "over".

What would classes be like if they had this kind of incentive system? Where students voluntarily chose to go back and read the chapters that weren't covered during the main course (the way they would explore optional levels after completing the main storyline of a game), do all of the end-of-chapter exercises that weren't assigned (like optional sidequests), write their own material summary to help other students (like writing a FAQ or Walkthrough of a game), or discuss the class and some of their ideas about the material with their friends?

"I just beat the final boss in Vector Calculus yesterday. But I was thinking of going back and collecting all the secret bonuses in each chapter, building up my Trig skill, and maybe going through the book again on Hard Mode and unlocking the bonus chapters on Differential Equations at the end. And I'm totally pre-ordering the sequel class, I hear they're releasing it in the Fall." It sounds ridiculous, but really, why not?


Rasmus "Pixelgameninja" Boserup said...

If only such a thing could be implemented!

But i guess that one of major factors in this is time. I mean, as a student you have to do X amount of classes in Y amount of time. So actually spending all that extra time would be almost impossible unless it counted for something in the "classes to completion" equation.

But yes it would be pretty cool to have teaching be like that. I would go back and unlock the secret levels, thats for sure :-)

Zedd M. said...

Many course I have taken incorporate a "hidden achievement" along the way mechanic with techniques like:
-Optional Reading
-Challenge Questions or Challenge Conditions

One mechanic that I enjoy in my engineering classes is the high score mechanic. For example, comparing the power and performance of a circuit design among the class to find a "winner".

Even Challenges for Game Designers includes opportunities to make a specific challenge more challenging.

Though honestly I have only ever returned to old material to study for qualifying exams or to prepare for the next class in the sequence (playing some Halo 3 to get ready for ODST).

thk123 said...

Surely we're missing the obvious here... The reason we all go back to games is because we enjoyed them to the point that we don't want it to be over.

If the same were true for education, people would go and read the other chapters just the same. Indeed, I often read after the end of the text book if I am interested in the subject.

Ian Schreiber said...

Rasmus: It's true that time is a factor during class, but I'm talking about after a course is over. You only have X amount of free time, but a lot of people still spend some of that time playing a game they've already "beaten"... even when there are new games to play.

Zedd: I agree that optional reading and extra credit are the course equivalent of "unlockables"... but when I was a student, I habitally translated "optional" to mean "ignore". I don't do that with games, though. Why?

thk123: It's certainly true in a lot of cases that we return to a game we've beaten because we like playing it. But at the same time, I know some people that don't particularly like a game and would rather do something else, but they play it anyway just to get the unlock. A great example of this is getting the Golden Chocobo in Final Fantasy 7 -- you have to do a ridiculous amount of repetitive, non-interactive racing cut-scenes and breeding just to get this thing, you can easily win the game without it (just sink the time you would have spent into power-leveling instead), and it doesn't even unlock an Achievement because Xbox Live Gamerscores hadn't been invented yet. There's absolutely no reason to get it other than Because It's There, but an awful lot of FF7 players did it anyway. Not because it was fun, because it was pretty tedious. Not because it was particularly useful, either in-game or in the real world. Why, then? And if for that, why not for a class?

David said...

One problem is the time constrait of courses, especially having multiple courses in different topics in a single semester each with it's own demands and goals. One solution to that problem might be an interdisciplinary, studio type class using a problem-based format. Students tend to be more invested when trying to solve problems instead of being fed solutions. This would require a reworking of the curricula at a fundamental level though, and in most institutions of higher ed that I am familiar with, the silos are too well fortified. In higher ed, we're always talking about creating lifelong learners, but the institutional committment necessary to rethink old ways seems missing.

Maybe this is where teaching game design comes in? Using the back door to slip into academia ? I think most interdisciplinary programs can begin to point out the way like that

Brian Shurtleff said...

I have on at least a couple occasions voluntarily read through chapters of textbooks we didn't have the time to cover in class.

It was generally stuff though that while I was still in the class I was disappointed to learn we wouldn't be covering it.

I don't know how that fits into the class-to-games metaphor you're going for, though.
Maybe as a matter of advertising that the 'sidequests' etc. are actually there?
If students didn't flip through the textbook (or hell, even opened it at all) they wouldn't know what they were missing and so won't miss it?

Steven Egan said...

That last paragraph really caught my attention. The reason is that I think it CAN be implemented, and that I'm heading in that direction in my designs. If resources are in blocks with versions of difficulty, jargon and other things, the opportunity to create such a learning game environment is possible, IMHO. I can dream, and I dream big.

Loktofeit said...

You described my grade school experience. In 2nd grade (may have been 3rd, too) there were these Scholastic Reader cards in a box at the back of class. They had a few paragraphs of information or story on one side and questions on the other. They were also color coded for difficultly level. I remember Aqua and Gold cards but cannot remember the other colors. During breaks or snack you could go in the back and take a card, do the work and hand it in. The teacher kept track of how many cards we did and had it posted on the front board using stars next to the names for each one completed satisfactorily.

It was only maybe a handful of us that used to regularly do them but I remember setting goals with them... trying to beat the number I did the week before, trying to get more 100%'s than the week before, and also trying to be at least one of the top 3 people on the list.

I don't remember if there was an award or not, but I do remember being excited when I was in the top 3 or went all week getting 100% on all of them.

I think something like this could carry over to college as well. Simple small tasks or exercises with some kind of measure (other than stars on the blackboard :) ) that encouraged personal goal setting or competition with the fellow classmates.