Student feedback and instructor comments on the second iteration of the classroom as a multiplayer game (Spring 2010):
1. Due to the weighting of the midterm and the final project (both were worth significant amounts of XP), students felt the reward of leveling up sporadically, most of it occurring late in the semester, lessened the pleasure of leveling. Students expected the level gains to be spaced out through the course of the semester. They also wanted some sort of recognition for leveling up that didn’t violate their privacy.
- Suggestions included a leader board listing only avatar names; a “ding” in class for those who had leveled; or a private “ding” perhaps on the class webpage that only the student could see. The instructor intends to try the third approach in the next iteration of the class.
2. Students really liked knowing the point values of each assignment. They felt they could “game” the class and figure out where to put in the effort (and where they could slack a little bit) to get a good grade. Once the expectation of points was set up though, the students wanted to get XP for every assignment and were disappointed when a few things (like the final verbal presentations to industry professionals) weren’t for XP.
3. People really liked the idea of avatars, but felt that we didn’t use them enough. One student who was unfamiliar with MMOs before the class felt that it provided him with “cultural immersion.” The instructor realized belatedly that the difficulty in having to learn 40 student names is only compounded when they also have avatar names, AND they move from zone to zone throughout the semester. He has worked out a variation on a standard seating chart in a Visio file that allows him to easily move guilds with both real names and avatar names displayed. This should help immensely.
4. People liked being in a guild, feeling like they were “a part of something.” Several thought setting up the class in this way helped those new to multiplayer games understand their structure.
5. Reading exams were handled in two different ways. Both were guild-oriented, not solo. The first format was giving the exam before the presentation of the material in the form of quests. Each of six guilds answered one of six questions determined by die roll. The second format was interspersed between presentations. First, one section of the material was presented by a student or guild, then a question was asked about it. This “forced” them to pay more attention. They liked this approach much better. Of course it meant they didn’t need to read as long as they paid attention in class. But the end result was they did learn the material better than if they’d skimmed it the night before.
6. There were only six reading exam questions due to the instructor being lazy. In non-game classes he had prepared six questions for each student to answer in a regular written exam. What I should have realized was that having six questions (5 regular and an extra credit) where an individual student could get anywhere from 0-60 pts. is much different from a one question per guild pass/fail approach. I tried to mitigate this by giving 25 XP to every guild member who showed up and 25 more XP if the guild got the question right. But students wanted more questions. Giving each guild 6 questions would mean more work for me, but would be much fairer and I will follow this format in the future.
7. Students really enjoyed the open book midterm prep as a competitive game between guilds. Each guild was allowed to have one copy of each of the two books used in the class. When a question was asked they raced to find the answer, but had to close the book before actually signaling they wanted to attempt to answer the question.
8. The emergent game behavior in the midterm prep was exciting to watch. They started by the person holding the book closing it and answering the question. However some of the questions called for lists of several items; and the person answering often couldn’t remember all of the items in a list. The first improvement in this strategy was a guild who had each member memorize an item or two on the list. Those using this technique won the next couple of rounds. Then another guild started winning by copying the answers on to a piece of paper, and reading from it after the book was closed. This technique lasted a few more rounds. Finally a guild simply used the camera in a cell phone to photograph the page the answer was on, and one member then read it aloud from the cell phone after the book was closed. Just as in an MMO when players learn to defeat a boss by making mistakes and trying again, each guild would pull ahead in the competition by trying a different attack. And the class as a whole did significantly better on the midterm than in previous classes when the prep was a general discussion on the subjects to be covered.
9. Players doing quests (presentation of material from the reading) generally worked well. Students were more attentive when their peers presented as opposed to a single instructor droning on and on. However the following points were brought up during the post mortem:
- Some presentations dragged on beyond the suggested time limits. Students felt time limits should be strictly enforced.
- While the instructor did interject comments, clarifications, corrections and additional information, students felt there were particularly difficult concepts they would have liked him to deliver personally, particularly when their peers had difficulty understanding and presenting them.
10. Students would have liked to play an MMO outside of class in a computer lab, where the instructor could offer commentary on various aspects of the game design as they played. They were willing to do this ad hoc without a set “lab” time.
11. Students would have liked more guild meetings in class to work on the final project.
12. Overall the students were uniformly enthusiastic about the class as game approach. Many wished that other of their courses could be taught the same way; and thought the techniques could be used with just about any subject matter.