Academic Minute Podcast

Christopher Jeansonne, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – Gameful Learning

On Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Week: Can games be a useful component of learning in the classroom?

Christopher Jeansonne, lecturer of communication and media, says yes.

Christopher Jeansonne is a media educator, a media maker, and a scholar focusing on critical media pedagogy. His research involves practical and theoretical investigations of pedagogical methods that help students explore how identities are established within and articulated through media. His teaching and research often center on popular culture media, including film, television, comics, games, and transmedial genres such as superheroes, science fiction, and horror.

Gameful Learning

Gameful Learning is an approach to education that applies cutting-edge principles of game design to the design of learning experiences. In a sense, academic courses are already a kind of game: they set victory conditions in the form of grades, and they specify the rules that students should follow in order to achieve success.

Likewise, most games teach us something, whether we realize it or not; a classic example would be the board game Monopoly, in which players compete to bankrupt each other through a simulation of rentier capitalism. Recently, there has been a surge in cooperative board games, in which players work towards a common goal; research has shown that cooperative games can foster very different habits of mind than competitive ones.

Traditional course design is based on outdated principles that tend to encourage students to memorize facts and regurgitate them on tests rather than actively engage with that knowledge. Students are often able to do well on a test, but then find themselves unable to apply their knowledge in new situations.

Gameful learning pedagogy is not the same as the approach called ‘gamification,’ where elements of video games like badges and score boards are applied to classes in an effort to jazz-up an otherwise boring class structure; gamification uses tokens of gaming, but at its heart it just incentivizes the same old test-driven learning game.

The field of game design has come a long way in recent years, and gameful learning seeks to harness those advances in an educational context in order to increase engagement, motivation, and joy in the learning process. Students should not just absorb knowledge, but learn to manipulate it, and, yes, to play with it, in the sense of creatively re-conceptualizing how it can be used to solve as yet unimagined problems.


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