The Multiplayer Classroom | Lee Sheldon

Summary of: The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game
By: Lee Sheldon


Enter the world of The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon, where traditional teaching methods are transformed into engaging learning experiences that capture the essence of commercial video games. In this book summary, you will discover how Sheldon creates immersive, multiplayer classroom environments that appeal to diverse age groups and genders, bridging the gap between the old and new generations. Explore the balance between education and entertainment, as well as the strategies and principles behind successful gamification of coursework. Get ready to revolutionize your understanding of blending game mechanics with education for increased motivation, attitude, and performance in today’s tech-savvy world.

Gaming: for all ages and genders

The popularity of commercial video games has surpassed its stereotype as a leisure activity for teenage boys. The average gamer is 34 years old, and gamers older than 50 constitute 26% of the total. The proportion of female gamers continues to rise and currently stands at 40%. Although game makers do create games specifically for women, the most successful ones appeal to all genders and ages. Some teachers recognize the potential for incorporating games as a tool for learning and design edutainment software. However, striking a balance between education and entertainment is crucial because overly educational games can be dull, and fun games may not convey any knowledge. Big names of commercial games, such as Civilization, Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, and World of Warcraft, offer both kinds of experiences. The increasing proportion of players interested in gaming shows no signs of slowing down.

Gamifying Education

A college professor’s innovative approach to teaching turns his course into a game, with quests and guilds, that ultimately leads to the creation of video games by the students.

Sheldon, a former TV writer and producer, started teaching at Indiana University in 2006. He set out to bridge the gap between traditional teaching methods and the interests of today’s students by gamifying his 300-level telecommunications course on game design. By turning the course into a multiplayer online role-playing game, students engaged in quizzes, exams, games design papers, video game concept documents, and presentations to fight monsters and complete quests, all in the pursuit of levels and XP points that translated to letter grades.

Each guild had a designer, writer, producer, tech lead, art lead, and marketing person, and every guild chose its own name. Sheldon’s new approach to teaching addressed a prevalent issue of students today being more interested in their smartphones than academics, breaking the common pattern of disengagement. The grading system under this approach turned points into, in Sheldon’s words, “a game mechanic that was used to represent the student’s state in the game.”

The game mechanics enabled students to create avatars, pitch game ideas, and vote on winning games. The best game became the project for the student teams, which then produced a 30-page video game design proposal. Sheldon added a “peer review secret ballot” to punish possible lazy guild members who received zero points.

Sheldon’s gamification approach was an accomplishment in bridging the gap between outdated teaching methods and a new generation’s interests in technology and gaming. The students were fully engaged, resulting in projects that combined game design, social networking, and academic content, leading them to rethink their learning experiences.

Multiplayer Game-based Learning

The Multiplayer Game Design class redefines the traditional classroom experience by incorporating gaming terminology and mechanics into the syllabus. The shift from losing points to accumulating points improves student motivation, attitude, and performance. Students work three times harder than before, without complaints, in completing quizzes, analyzing research, and crafting longer analyses of MMOs. Guilds and smaller groups promote community and collaboration, as members share XP and solve problems together. The class prepares students for future game-based professional environments by honing gaming and problem-solving skills. PvP sessions serve as preparation for the midterm exam, the “first boss raid.” The class instructor helps guilds find innovative ways to deliver presentations, avoiding bullet-point recital. The curriculum allows students to blur the line between game and reality, with plausible potential for gamers to apply their newfound knowledge to design better multiplayer classrooms.

The Power of Video Games

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) professor, Jesse Schell, leverages the reward system of video games to create effective teaching techniques. Schell’s focus was to study the schism in the video game industry between “casual gamers” and “hard-core gamers.” Sheldon created a beginners’ course, Introduction to Game Design, for first-year students at RPI. Sheldon also integrated video game concepts into his lessons, created a fantasy or role-playing game in which student guild roles were renamed, and raised the number of XP students had to earn to achieve the next level. By leveraging video game techniques such as buffs, expansion packs, and XP, Sheldon was able to create a more engaging learning experience for his students. In the end, students learned because they wanted to, not because they had to.

Designing Interactive Characters: A Creative Game Design Class

Follow Sheldon’s quest to teach sophomores the art of character development and storytelling in the class of Designing Interactive Characters for Digital Games. The class features a unique method of grading with 20 levels and a distinctive approach to NPC or non-player character controlled by the game program. The students learned how to create detailed backstories for their avatars and guilds, discovering the importance of character motivation in gaming success. The class also introduces students to metagaming, a term that means exploiting the game’s design to outplay the game. Sheldon sets assignments that require students to seek out characters, deliver them to a certain location, and even kill them. The final exam features a boss raid where students engage in PvP guild assignments and mini-quests. With high attendance and participation, Sheldon proves that players don’t want to read rules—they want to play! The class ultimately conveys the value of audience reach.

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