Intro to Open Education – “The Game”

Winter semester I’m teaching a new version of the Introduction to Open Education course here at BYU. I’m as excited for this course as I’ve ever been for any – partly because the course has been completely redesigned as a massively multiplayer role-playing game. From the Syllabus:

Instructional design faculty are frequently criticized for delivering information about innovative new pedagogical methods to their students in the form of traditional lectures – for talking the talk but failing to walking the walk. Setting positive examples is important for people in every field to do.

There are two ways to describe the design of this course, and both are equally valid. On the one hand, this course is a mix of direct skills instruction combined with project-based learning and collaborative problem solving. The course employs a progression of increasingly complex problems with supportive information, and requires students to synthesize hundreds of pages of literature, interview data, and their own design intuition to produce meaningful artifacts both individually and as part of highly inter-dependent teams. The idea of teach-reteach (characterized so well in Gong’s description of the Three Person Problem) is at the heart of the students’ day-to-day learning experiences.

On the other hand, the course is a massively multiplayer role-playing game in which students select a character class, develop specialized expertise, complete a series of individual quests, join a Guild, and work with members of their Guild to accomplish quests requiring a greater breadth of skills than any one student possesses.

One need not look very far to find indications that the genre is extremely effective in promoting informal learning – see the work of Constance Steinkuehler and John Seely Brown as examples. Despite the impressive work of Constance, JSB, and others, to the best of my knowledge no one has ever designed and implemented a university course as a massively multiplayer role-playing game. In addition to helping students gain a working knowledge of the field of open education (i.e., knowledge they can actually put to work), this course is a design experiment exploring the effectiveness of running a university course as a massively multiplayer role-playing game.

Visit the syllabus to learn about the four character classes, the specifics of the quests, and other information. I’m still inserting links to some of the readings, but the course structure is complete and I would love any and all feedback (including negative feedback) on the course design.

The course will be open again this year, meaning anyone, anywhere is welcome to participate. And yes, I will print and mail completion certificates again for those who earn and want them. =)

7 thoughts on “Intro to Open Education – “The Game””

  1. This is very exciting! Intro to Open Ed 2007 was a seminal experience for me, and I have no doubt that this will rock a lot of worlds as well – I am forwarding to some of my friends, who might benefit.

    It is a bit unclear in the curriculum how open participation will happen, for example there are a lot of mentions of “oral exam” – are those restricted to people in the paying cohort? Is there a place for people to sign up who want to do this independently? Is this based in WoW or another MMORPG?

    Keep innovating!

  2. Outstanding approach! Very intriguing. I have a question/suggestion on grading. Since most RPGs (MMO or otherwise) use an experience point (XP) system to track progress, have you considered grading the same way?

    This would be simple to accomplish by translating a percent grade into some XP number. For example, 92% becomes 1840 XP, where 2000 XP would be the max available for a particular quest. When a participant reaches a certain XP threshold, they “level up.”

    There are several advantages to this approach.
    1. A participant could take on a higher-level quest before reaching the equivalent level, but the inherent implication is that they may not be “ready,” lacking mastery of the lower-level skills necessary to accomplish the quest.
    2. If a participant is behind in XP due to poor performance in a particular section, they could have the option to garner additional XP through additional “side-quests” which would bolster their ability in whatever they are lacking.
    3. This would allow a more flexible final grading approach. Rather than the final grade being based on completion of quests of a certain level (0-4 = C), participants would be graded on the final level they achieve. If a participant barely skated through all six quests and gained XP (grades) to only achieve level 4, they would receive a grade of C for the course. Those participants who performed stellar work throughout and accomplished all quests would gain enough XP for an A.
    4. Who doesn’t like to get XP?

    The trick would be scaling the XP to accomplish the intent of the course. This should be a relatively simple matter of weighing the importance of each quest (assignment) and assigning points accordingly. Then take a step back and see how it all fits together, evaluating how failure to complete one section would impact the rest, both in terms of preparation/skill acquisition and XP gain.

    It looks like a wonderful and potentially fun approach to education. I look forward to seeing how it works!

  3. This is a fantastic idea. In working on moving my how-to-manage-computers course online, my student who’s been helping got the idea to reframe the course as a game. I hadn’t quite thought it through. You did.

    I have copied your syllabus to my course and will, with my student’s help, go through and change the characters (though they may be pretty close to what I need) and quests to fit my content. (Right now it’s still your stuff. —

    I still don’t quite get this whole “open content” thing, but I’m getting closer. Perhaps next spring I’ll teach your Intro to Open Education course for credit at my university myself. They say that the best way to learn something is to teach it.

  4. This looks like a very interesting class. How can I sign up to take it so that I can translate the experience into something I can use for my EFL classes. It sounds like a lot of fun. Please send me enrollment infor. Thanks!!

  5. Check out the new book

    Open Education and Education for Openness
    Edited by Michael A Peters & Rodrigo Britez
    Sense Publications

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