Gaming in the Classroom
We were happy to welcome Roger Travis, Associate Professor of Classics to the Bass Library on Tuesday to speak about how and why he uses video games in the classroom. Professor Travis first walked us through his side project, the Video Games and Human Values Initiative. This organization started from a base of doing traditional scholarly work on the connections between adventure video games and the Homeric epic a little over four years ago. They are, as their name suggests, hoping to move the conversation about video games in a more humanistic direction. Roger and his collaborators at the VGHVI find that, unlike studies of other media such as film, video game studies has seen insufficient humanistic discourse. As part of this effort, they and other organizations such as Games, Learning, and Society at Wisconsin and Meaningful Play at Michigan State University are exploring issues around what video games are doing to and for us.
Professor Travis proceeded to structure his talk around his personal narrative, describing how he came to study games and what he has done with them professionally. After casually gaming in childhood and at college, Travis had a breakthrough in playing the Microsoft game Halo for the XBox. His experiences with this game and the kinships he saw with Homeric bard competitions led him to turn a course into an augmented reality game, or, more properly, into a role-playing game in an augmented-reality game wrapper. The 1:1 mapping he used for learning objectives and play objectives led him to coin the term practomime from praxis and mimesis, that is, a doing and representing.
Another important point in Travis’s timeline came when he attended the Game Education Summit and saw James Paul Gee’s 36 learning principles (discussed in Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy) as well as Ian Schreiber’s chemistry–Pkémon comparison. The former lays out in detail the argument in his book’s title, suggesting new directions for learning (or at least new ontologies for learning) based on studying video game players. The latter discussed resistance among students to learning data from the periodic table of the elements when they had already learned a greater amount of data in the Pokémon universe.
Students in Professor Travis’s first iteration of his practomimetic course were taken aback at first, confused by the overlay of a game onto the course with little or no additional explanation. However, by the end of the course, disorientation gave way to engagement; he saw excellent student work in the ARG framework and positive and constructive evaluations. He explained that students in his game-world courses perform equal to their peers on traditional assessments, and motivation in his courses tends to run quite high. As an example of this, he mentioned students expressing a desire to compose in Latin, something he never saw in his traditional courses. Students also appreciate the aggregative grading method Professor Travis uses, in which students earn points for their assignments that build up, in toto, to their final grade. One instructor remarked that this seemed like a more motivating way to grade than the common method, which only allows a decrease in grade standing over a term.
For full coverage of this session, please click the video below (note a slight delay upon initial playback):