Thursday, November 22, 2007

Community in a Game Development Curriculum

Millennials (those up to about 27 years of age) thrive on community (myspace, facebook, MMOs, etc.). They expect to work together, and to share experiences, even simple things like the high scores they get on video games. Furthermore, unlike older generations, millennials have no "presumption of virtue" about institutions. We older folk assume that a school exists to educate, or a hospital exists to cure people. Millennials suppose the school (or hospital, or government unit, or other institution) has hidden agendas, that education (or medicine, etc.) is not its primary purpose. Teachers and schools have to earn the trust of Millennials in the way we never did with Baby Boomers or Gen Xers. A lack of community, a lack of effort to build trust, inevitably contributes to poor education and poor retention rates.

Here are some things I try to do to foster community:

Game Club. It would be astonishing that a school that has a thriving game development program has no game club. I got students interested in one when I arrived at my current school, and we have meetings twice a week. Paperwork went in last week to become an officially recognized school club. This is one of the best venues for an instructor to get to know students, of course, and vice versa.

I've found that the best time to schedule a meeting is right after a class full of interested people. The situation would be different at a residential school rather than a community college.

Right now we meet in a classroom without computers, but half the students own laptops, so electronic games are played as well as boardgames (prototypes that I've designed) and collectible card games. We've also met in the lab that is devoted entirely to game development, but it is usually occupied by classes.

Bulletin board. You need a large (4 by 8 feet) *unlocked* bulletin board outside the most commonly used classroom, where students can communicate with one another and faculty can communicate with them.

Listserv. Require all the students to sign up for something like Yahoo Groups (which is what I use). It is sometimes amazingly difficult to get students to actually sign up, even via invitation. Ours is an announcement-only listserv, so there is little traffic compared to a discussion listserv. Some faculty think that posting notices to Blackboard serves this purpose, but that is awkward and unreliable, but most of all, many students never read Blackboard.

Web site. Here teachers are severely constrained by school support, and that support appears to be quite poor in some cases. Often the site is out of date and dysfunctional. The listserv Web site can be an alternative up to a point. And I maintain my own site that is primarily links (school rules prevent more).

Surveys. I use Surveymonkey's free service to create surveys, then show students the results. The free version can only have 10 questions and 100 respondents per survey, but that works OK for my situation (about 100 new students this year). Some questions are just curiosity, many are related to recruitment and retention.

Blog. I like to run a blog for each class that students must check every day. This is much more intimate and immediate than Blackboard (which is poor software in any case that has nothing to do with the real world). School rules may prevent a blog for a specific class that can be seen by people not members of that class. Many schools do not support limited-access blogs. Nonetheless, I maintain this blog, and the general game design blog I've written for some years, and ask students to read this one at least.

Forum. Some people think an online Forum such as one implemented with phpbb is excellent, others think it isn't much help. To me, current information gets lost in the threads, compared with the listserv; but it may be easier for students to find information about common topics in a forum. I have not started one.

School support. Some schools encourage student communication, others don't. As an example, at many schools, if students want to publicize a new club, it is easy to put up some signs and in other ways let people know about it. Yet at other schools there are no such avenues. For example, the bulletin board in the student lounge requires permission from the Dean of Students before you can put a notice on it. Only small bulletin boards exist at doorways, and these are "official" and locked.

Impressions. The impression conveyed by some schools is that they want all the students to shut up, do what they're told, and get out of the way when they're not in class. Yet this doesn't work with millennials. If millennials don't feel that they're a part of something, they're much more likely to quit. The building where the game development classes are held, for example, must provide the right signals. If it reminds one of a prison rather than of a pleasant place to learn, how will students react? It cannot be "antiseptic" and "faceless"; it should be warm and inviting, "homey".

I'd say this is all common sense, but there are many, many schools that do not support, or even prevent, some of this from occurring.


Ian Schreiber said...

I've also known some teachers to use Facebook for their classes instead of maintaining a public blog. This has a few advantages.

Facebook is already popular with students; the old "oh, I never check Blackboard" excuse doesn't fly when I can see full well that you logged in to Facebook yesterday, made five new friends, updated your profile and beat my high score at Tetris :)

It also has security controls, so you can make a group that is invite-only. This should allay the fears of most "OMG, what if our course content can be seen by people who aren't paying us?" administrators.

It has bboard and blog-like functionality, so it supports both class discussion and official professor announcements without either one getting in the other's way.

It doesn't have out-of-the-box support for things like Blackboard's gradebook. But if you have Blackboard anyway, you can just include a link there. There might also be some Facebook apps written by third parties that have this kind of support built in.

Anonymous said...

Hi im TotalWierdo75,

Im new here so im just saying hi, and heres a few things you should know :).
i am 25 years old,
i am employed as a programmer
i [b]love [/b]community chats :)


[i]Nice meeting you all :)[/i]

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