Feb. 23, 2015
Living in a virtual world stealing cars in Grand Theft Auto or running through castles as Mario the plumber can be a popular activity among students when they are not busy with classes and homework.
In sociology professor Zek Valkyrie’s classes, students can have similar experiences. He has developed a new style of teaching which allows students to not only create game characters but also progress through the class like they would a video game.
“Students create their player names and are given a secret ability unique to them. With each correctly answered question in class or on homework assignments, students earn coins which could be used to upgrade their character or purchase new skills,” Valkyrie said.
In order to track his students’ progress, Valkyrie created a leaderboard, a bar graph that depicts how far a student has progressed compared to the other “players” in class.
“This way students can receive immediate feedback on how well they are doing in certain areas as well as what they could improve upon,” Valkyrie said. “This also spurs competition amongst peers to see who can earn enough coins to dominate the leaderboard.”
Valkyrie believes he is the only professor who has implemented this style of teaching. He thinks his efforts are having a positive effect on his students.
“Making the class like a game changes a student’s perspective on mundane class assignments. By earning coins for completing tasks and upgrading characters to one’s preference, the student gains a sense that his or her hard work is being rewarded,” he said.
He noticed how many students struggled with the stress of maintaining a good grade. As a result, many students would give up on their course work.
“I want my students to realize that they have so many opportunities to improve and different courses they could take within the game that may be better suited to their learning preferences,” he said.
“I’ve done research on online gaming worlds and how they made us do so much work in such short amounts of time, but made it fun. [Similarly], learning should be fun but we got it in our heads that it’s not, and that’s just wrong,” Valkyrie said.
Since it is such a deviation from past techniques, Valkyrie admitted this style might not be for everyone.
“Many people’s initial reactions were excited and eager to learn more. Then, when I started talking about the technical aspect of actually getting this system in place and functional, people began to get discouraged,” he said.
There are some classes he advised would not benefit from his style.
“Programs that focus on more hands-on training I don’t see benefiting by playing games in virtual worlds. Plus, I feel that graduate classes don’t need to provide extra motivation for their students since the people taking those classes are already interested in that field of study,” he said.
Valkyrie explained that he doesn’t have one set format for this technique. He hopes teachers will remodel and improve upon his ideas to accommodate different themes.
“For example, a culinary class may tailor their game to be featured in a restaurant and the students determine how successful the restaurant is based on their progress in the homework and tests,” he said.
“Teachers can play with the incentives they set in the game and find creative ways to incorporate their material into a game.”