The Multiplayer Classroom

In 2010, Jesse Schell gave a talk at DICE titled, “When Games Invade Real Life.” It’s a great talk – tongue-in-cheek about the much-hyped ‘gamification.’ During this talk, Schell mentioned Lee Sheldon, an Associate Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who at the time was using game design principles to re-think the college classroom. His book, The Multiplayer Classroom has been on my shelf since the beginning of 2012 and I have finally got around to having a read. It’s an interesting approach and Sheldon gives examples of it being successfully used in everything from game design, high school mathematics & history – basically the class is designed as a multi-player game.

Class time is divided between fighting monsters (tests, exams), completing quests (presentations, analysis, research) and crafting (essays, assignments, reports). The class is split into Guilds (small groups) and each member of the group takes on a role – Mage, Ranger, Warrior, Healer or Necromancer.

Everyone on day one is a Level One Character. Through Quests, Missions and Raids, characters from Guilds can level up by gaining XP, according to the following XP levelling chart.

Students are given the syllabus at the start with all requirements clearly given. Sheldon gives some examples:

·      Solo: Craft your own game proposal. (Written, 50 pts.)

·      Solo: Sell your game proposal to the class. (Extra credit. 25 pts.)

·      Raid: Guild reading presentation (75 pts. each person, 1 of these per guild)

·      Pick-Up Group: 2-Player reading presentation (150 pts. each person, cannot team with fellow guild member) OR

·      Solo: Craft 3 page analysis of MMO-based research topic (Written, 100 pts.)

·      Solo: Defeat Five Random Mobs (5 written reading quizzes, 250 pts. total, 1 extra credit question per quiz)

·      Solo: Defeat Level Boss (Midterm Exam, 400 pts.)

·      Guild: Craft Final Project: Video Game Concept (Written, 400 pts.)

·      Solo: Class attendance (300 skill pts. total, 10 to start. 290 additional pts. at 10 pts. per day of attendance)

·      Solo Camping: Glossary Building (Extra credit. 1 pt. per entry. 50 pt. cap per player. First come first served. Each mob only spawns once.)

·      Group: Peer Review Secret Ballot (Extra credit. 0-100 possible XP as follows:

1.     Guild Leader 100 pts.

2.     Raid Leader 75 pts.

3.     Solid Guild Crafter 50 pts.

4.     Needs Rez 25 pts.

5.     Leroy Jenkins 0 pts.

It’s a pretty novel approach. And I like it. Sort of. But saying to everyone when they enter class for the first time “You are all going to get an ‘F’ for this class, unless…” – isn’t that the same idea that all teachers give students? Classes have always been games if we use this idea. I mean, unless the student completes the work a teacher sets, to a certain standard, then they are going to get an F. (They start at 0%, complete assignments that adds ‘points’ to their cumulative score…)

What I would like to see instead is that on the first day of a new semester you wrote on the board,

“During the next 20 weeks you have the opportunity to become [expert/high-ranking game character/whatever] specializing in [subject area]. How you get there is up to you.” 

Now, that would be novel.

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