December 16th, 2008

Rules of the Game


We get a lot of submissions to the newsletter describing various and sundry games that faculty have devised to help students review, gain confidence in dealing with new vocabulary, apply material they have learned to different problems, and get involved and engaged with content. Some of the games follow popular TV shows like Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Others mirror other forms of cultural entertainment like speed dating, and some are totally unique.

Games are great—they can be used to accomplish the objectives above, plus others. But games should be a means to an end, not the end themselves. An article describing a creative game developed for use in a marketing class contains a list of five characteristics of effective games. The characteristics were derived from the literature and are a great reminder of what is necessary if games are to move beyond entertainment and become substantive learning experiences.

  1. “The game must be closely tied to the learning objectives and the connection between the game and the objectives must be clear to the student.” I think most faculty do pretty well on tying the game to the objectives, but I wonder if we are as clear as we need to be on the second point.
  2. The game needs to be understood quickly and easy by both the professor and the students. If it isn’t, setting things up takes too much valuable class time.
  3. “The game should not become more important than the learning it is trying to develop.” That advice challenges us to examine the motivation behind using the game. It can’t just be a cool activity that successfully dissipates boredom. It can be cool but the point it’s intended to drive home must be the central focus.
  4. “The game should motivate students to higher performance levels via rewards.” Another good reminder: if the activity has merit, it helps students master material or gain confidence about some aspect of the learning process.
  5. “Students should be debriefed to provide focused feedback to the instructor.” I would say this feedback should be about how the game went, but, more importantly, students should be able to articulate what they learned from and through the activity.

Find this list on p. 63 of this article: Vander Schee, B. A. (2007). Setting the stage for active learning: An interactive marketing class activity. Marketing Education Review, 17 (1), 63-67.

—Maryellen Weimer