When I first heard about what Lee Sheldon was doing in his college course, by way of a viewing of Jesse Schell's DICE Convention talk (distributed by TED), I looked for more info. Using XP to grade? How would this work? My gut told me that it was worth investigating further, so I poked around...and discovered that this textbook was about to be published, a scant week from my investigation. TIMING!
Having placed my order for a copy, I scoured TED for relevant talks (and found several), and began some cursory plans for my classroom.
When the book arrived, I put all planning on hold and read it. It proved to be a quick read, in part, no doubt, because the author had been/is a writer (for TV shows, notably Star Trek: The Next Generation; and for some of the best computer games out there). He knew how to keep the info engaging. One small example: Instead of chapters, the book has levels.
The Multiplayer Classroom offers a sturdy skeleton for a rethinking of your classroom content delivery. It shares the youthful history of using a gaming overlay in education step by step, as it evolved, and unashamedly allows for the criticisms of such restructuring to be voiced as well as the praises. (The latter easily overshadow the former.) The book explains the mechanisms games use to engage and entertain the player, and suggests how to use those same mechanisms to facilitate learning. And, it shares concrete examples from real-life applications.
Now, I will tell you straight up: There is content in this book that feels like filler. There are several tentative case-studies, reports of initial experiments that teachers at various levels in various disciplines have attempted. Not all of these have solid, decisive conclusions to share.
But why would we expect otherwise? We are talking about a true paradigm shift here: An entirely new way to cast--and consider--the content in your classroom. Very few educators have even heard about this possibility. Even fewer have tried implementing it.
I used to tell students when they entered my classroom for the first time that they had a clean slate. The implication? An "A+" was there, waiting for them to maintain. Now, I plan to go into this coming school year with the opening line Lee used: "Good morning. Welcome. Everyone in this class is going to receive an F." To be followed, after a pause, with, "Unless...."
More importantly, I am now working to intertwine my content (in my case middle school English) with a compelling story line, with surprises and rewards for the player (ie, students) along the way.
And I'm changing the terminology that will be used in the classroom. Why "write a free-choice paper" when you can "adventure"? Why "do a project" when you can "go on a quest"? And who'd prefer to "take a quiz" when they might "be inspected by an official from another province" or "take a test" when they might "tame a beast"? Words are amazingly powerful, and the connotations that certain terms bring can instantaneously engage or disconnect a reader/listener. In my class, students will unlock achievements, discover treasures, and battle illiteracy....
There is no change in content. My curriculum maps are still my guide. State-mandated standards are intact. What's changing? My delivery. The way I FRAME the content.
That's what this book is all about. It's cutting edge, and largely untested. But it's based in logic, in common sense. Its premise, in a nutshell: Using, in a classroom, those strategies which make games compelling...will make the classroom experience more compelling.
I'm creating my plans for the coming school year with both a confidence and an excitement I have not felt in years.