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.
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.