'Gamification' Draws Interest at Conference


Philosophy professor Dr. Gerol Petruzella is part of the first wave of educators to develop a new way to teach, and he's sharing that knowledge with others. He recently returned from the South by Southwest (SXSW) Trade Show in Austin, TX, where he presented some innovative curriculum surrounding gaming education.

The technology-infused "trade show," described as a launching pad where intellectual and creative thinking spark new ideas that carve the path for the future, attracted such innovators as Bill Gates, a keynote speaker at the conference.

For his part, Petruzella presented "Dungeons and Discourse," his course-as-a-game curriculum, on a panel with two colleagues from other institutions who are developing similar projects. The audience's response to the presentation was immediately positive.

"We said at the beginning at the presentation that we'd hold questions until the end, but they didn't," he laughed. "They jumped in."

After the presentation, "I picked up a whole lot of followers on Twitter that afternoon, and people really started to show up at the Facebook page for this project. And, I've had e-mails from colleagues, so the impact seems to have been strong," Petruzella said.

Gamification - gaming and education - was one of the major topics at the conference of interest to people, according to Petruzella.

"While a fair number of presentations at the conference centered on that topic, a lot of other participants were speaking in generalities - talking about principles and how might we apply this. My session was different because I wasn't talking hypothetically. I was saying, 'Look, I've done it. Here's a case study of a project that works.'"

His "Dungeons and Discourse" is introductory philosophy course reconfigured as a semester-long game.

Built inside the campus' Learning Management System, "It involves a whole lot of multi-media interaction. It draws on a whole lot of Web 2.0 interactivity, so I'm integrating the students' scores with Google documents and Twitter and augmented reality stuff.

Petruzella has his students act as "travelers" through various regions that represent the major divisions of philosophy in the fictitious land of "Sophos." In addition to being a computer game, the students meet twice a week in the classroom.

"We call that face-to-face interaction the 'marketplace,'" Petruzella explained. "As these students travel through the land, battling creatures and undertaking quests, twice a week they take a break and we stop off at the 'marketplace' to talk to the 'merchant' - that's me. We have conversations about the 'scrolls' they've been reading, and their job is to ask me good questions. They earn 'gold' that way ... so they can keep playing."

Not only has the students' response to his course been positive, they are learning as they play the game.

"Students in my class are experiencing what it's like to really care and get enthusiastic and fired up about something that, in another context, might be deadly dull," he explained. "They're given the opportunity to play with sometimes really difficult and intellectually challenging course material. It's really valuable in its own right, because those are the habits that they can take with them when they come out of my course."

The principle of using gaming to teach a class is not limited to philosophy.

"The general principles of gaming education are broadly applicable. These work just as well for a biology class or a business administration course. The principles are the same. The content can change, but any discipline where it's important for students to get engaged and enthusiastic about content is a context where gaming can work."

He added, "I think that we are seeing the early days of something that will stick around. The incorporation of game principles into well-designed education is something that will persist, and will become main stream."

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