Board of blinkered course design

For around eight months, I’ve been working on a board game which will help staff in academic departments to understand the benefits of good course design. Not the most interesting of topics, I’m sure most will agree, but a necessary one if courses don’t become unweildy beasts which serve neither students or staff in the long term.

As Educational (Instructional, in US/corporate speak) Designers, we found that we were having to meet with departmental colleagues over a number of coffees/weeks in order to gradually introduce them to wider issues when creating a new course. Building on my ideas around the use of games to quickly set authentic contexts (Moseley 2010) I decided to create a short (1-2 hours) board game which would quickly bring the players up to speed with course design concepts, applied to their local setting.

The basic idea of the game is to set up a randomised context for the course (eg. a taught postgraduate course for working professionals in mainland Europe) and for the resources available for course creation (staff, budget etc.). Players then draw cards from decks which represent broad course design areas (such as assessment, pedagogy, and course administration) and try to form a simple course design which fits the context and resources. The designs are then tested by ‘events’ which affect things like intake, staff numbers or internet access; and players score higher the closer their course design is to the context and resources. Later in the game, the contexts and resources are set to the actual departmental context.

All very noble (and useful, from the rich discussion which the game encourages) but – as a game – where is the fun? The randomised elements, ability of players to influence outcomes, point scoring, and the vindictive element of playing ‘events’ on others, all add up to an entertaining, competitive and humour-filled couple of hours, in playtests to date.

Picture of board game in use

"We're over target!"

An earlier version of the board game was used with an academic department embarking on the design of a new DL course, to great effect (staff talked of having their “eyes opened” and “it generated some great ideas”); but today, in revised and streamlined form, two copies of the game were played by 16 distance learning staff (academic and administrative) at our regular DL Forum seminar. Over the course of an hour and a half, the two groups could be found in deep discussion with each other, gasping as a crippling ‘event’ hit, cheering as their points rose above the negative, and (most satisfyingly) comparing some of the game cards and situations to their own courses and experiences.

This was the big test – I feel confident now in both the gameplay and usefulness, and with a couple of minor tweaks to the events, the board game will be ready to commit to… well, board.


7 responses to “Board of blinkered course design

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Board of blinkered course design | MOERG --

  2. Thanks for writing this up Alex, have seen you tweet on the topic but good to get some details. Sounds fantastic. Would be happy to offer some testing here if you wanted to try a new audience – does it require an experienced course designer to facilitate it? Can it happen more quickly than 1.5hrs (that seems a long time to commit if you’re trying to include the game into some other meeting that everyone is gathered at).

  3. Pingback: Games at the Forum « Distance Learning Matters

  4. Hi Katie – thanks for the offer! I’m just making some tweaks and then getting it produced on board with proper cards etc., then will be in touch about a playtest 🙂
    In terms of time, it can probably be done in an hour; but the way I’ve used it so far is to include discussion as part of the game, so we cover all the topics I would usually cover in an initial course design meeting: killing two birds with one stone (and 1.5-2 hours).

  5. This looks really interesting (pointed out to me by Nic W). I’m keen to know more about your scoring system – I am using something vaguely similar which is more of a simulation than a game but this looks a lot more fun! I think it is the introduction of vindictiveness which would probably appeal…

  6. Thanks Rachel! Certainly the ‘competitive’ (/vindictive 😉 element helps add an element which spices things up, but also allows for some very interesting gameplay and discussions.
    The scoring is based on how suitable the player’s course design is to the context/budget/workforce etc. – also, the more flexible their design, the higher they will score as the ‘vindictive’ events are played.
    It’d be interesting to compare notes – drop me a line sometime and we can discuss approaches!

  7. Pingback: Of Course! Game Based Staff Development « eLearning Safari

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