The Multiplayer Classroom: Collaborations
The Multiplayer Classroom: Game Plans, published on April 30, 2021, is a companion to The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game, now in its second edition (March 2020) from CRC Press. Whereas the first book now covers a decade of classes I have designed and taught as games, the new book covers four of the multiplayer classroom projects where I designed classes in fields outside my own expertise.
Like my classrooms, they were not computer games, but alternate reality games played in the real world in real time. They were funded by grants or institutions, and were collaborations with me, as writer/designer, and subject matter experts in various fields. I will walk attendees through the collaborative process with its inevitable ups and downs, giving details on how such classes are designed and how to enjoy a successful collaboration whether you are the subject matter expert or the writer/designer.
The subjects are eclectic and particularly relevant in this day and age: physical fitness, foreign language instruction (Mandarin), cybersecurity and especially an entirely online class exploring culture and identity on the internet that went significantly beyond lecturer and a green screen. The games all follow popular genres such as science fiction, mystery and thrillers full of challenges and surprises.
The physical fitness game, The Skeleton Chase 2: The Psychic, funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, required teams of students to compete and cooperate to not only solve puzzles and the central mystery, but to race all over the Indiana University campus and the surrounding town of Bloomington trying to uncover a threat that might destroy the school and the town. Jeanne Johnston, the subject matter expert, reported “the highest number of steps by one student in a week was 94,346 (47.2 miles). The highest number of total steps by one student for the seven weeks: 485,307 (242.7 miles).”
The Mandarin game, The Lost Manuscript, funded by a university seed grant, took students to China without leaving a classroom on the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute campus, requiring them to learn the language as they searched for a first edition of a classic Chinese novel. At the end of the semester the subject matter expert, ShihChia Thompson, told me the students had learned more of the language in eight weeks than a full fourteen-week semester in an ordinary language class.
The cybersecurity game, The Janus Door, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, required two sections of forty first year programming students at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California to battle a hacker on the Dark Web who is intent on exploiting a backdoor to the computers at the nearby Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power plant. The subject matter expert, Zachary Peterson, wrote in the foreword to the book that the game is “an effective vehicle to motivate course activities and provide an authentic context for cybersecurity work. I look forward to continuing to develop and offer The Janus Door to our incoming freshmen, as well as modify it for other venues.”
At Excelsior College, a non-profit online university, Secrets: A Cyberculture Mystery Game, financed by internal development funds, challenged students to explore the internet and choose between two visions of humanity’s future by foiling a plot to reconstruct human DNA. David Seelow, the subject matter expert told me that class reviews were overwhelmingly positive with one student saying, “This has been one of the most unique educational experiences that I have ever encountered in my life.” The class was repeated multiple times.
These are the often-suspenseful stories of how each game was designed with its unique challenges, thrills and spills; of how the resulting multiplayer classes evolved once students were added to the mix, and the pedagogic results of each experience.