Course Syllabus

Course Description

The potential of digital games to improve education is enormous. However, it is a significant challenge to create a game that is both fun and educational. In this course, students will learn to meet this challenge by combining techniques and processes from both game design and instructional design. Students will also learn to evaluate their games for fun, learning, and the integration of the two. They will be guided by the EDGE framework for the analysis and design of educational games. The course will involve a significant hands-on portion in which students learn a design process to create educational games, digital or non-digital. They will also read about and discuss game design, instructional design, learning and transfer, and the educational effectiveness of digital games. They will learn about and play existing educational games and discuss their analyses with their peers.

Intended Audience

The course is geared to graduate and advanced undergraduate students in HCII, CS, ETC, Design, Psychology, and students interested in education or psychology research. Graduate students will be expected to complete the coursework at a level commensurate with their greater experience, and will be graded accordingly.

Course Prerequisites

One course in HCI, game design, computer science, or cognitive/educational psychology, or instructor permission.

Course Staff


Erik Harpstead

Office Hours:

Wednesday in NSH 4602 3:00-5:00PM

or by appointment:

Teaching Assistant 

Nabeeha Fatima

Office Hours:

Mondays in NSH 4602
Saturdays in NSH 4602

Course Meetings

About 50% of the course meetings will be devoted to lecture and discussion of reading materials. The rest will be devoted to discussion of homework assignments and hands-on work for assignments and projects. The hands-on sessions will be opportunities for you to discuss progress and open issues on class matters with the course instructors. During the first few weeks, however, the class meetings will primarily consist of readings and lectures while hands on content will be introduced more as the course progresses.

The course will meet in Tepper 1308.

Course Communication

Most official course communication will take place through this Canvas and repeated in class. I use the Announcements feature of Canvas often so make sure it isn't getting caught in spam filters or anything. We will setup an informal channel of communication based on your responses to the pre-course survey.

Tools for Digital Game Development

This is NOT a course about the development and programming of games. That being said, for the project portion of the course you will be asked to create a full-fledged educational game from scratch. The choice of whether to create a digital game or a non-digital game (e.g., a board game or card game) for the final project is left up to the project team. The choice of tool is also left up to the project team. Some help will be offered in getting started with one tool for creating digital games (Unity). We will organize a brief workshop around mid-semester to help you get started; and can provide some assistance with tools thereafter but this should not be the primary focus of office hours.


Homework assignments will give you practice in analyzing, designing and implementing educational games. You will also learn cognitive task analysis techniques for better understanding students thought processes and difficulties, which is helpful in the design stages of an educational game. For most assignments, we will require that you create non-digital games, so as to keep the workload in check.

Readings, Watchings, & Playings

Before most course meeting there will be a collection of readings, watchings, or playings that will introduce course content and setup discussion. Each set of readings will have some required pieces and some optional ones. You will be expected to read the required pieces before the class session that they are assigned. Readings will be shared with the class (either posted to Canvas or emailed) at least a week before they need to be read. There are no required text books or other such sources for this course, all readings will be supplied by the instructor.

For each required reading, you will be asked to submit a post to the course discussion forum on Canvas by noon on the day of class. Posts submitted after noon will not receive credit. These posts can be about:

  1. a question you had about the reading, something important you did not understand
  2. an idea inspired by the reading
  3. an interesting connection with something you learned or did previously in this or another course, or in other professional work or research
  4. an on-topic, relevant response, clarification, or further comment on another student’s post.

Critique Assignments

The critique assignments will help you get a sense for what kinds of educational games are out there and develop a sense for what makes an educational game good. In these assignments will seek out and play existing educational games and then make a blog post or video that considers the game in terms of concepts we discuss in the course. These critiques will be due every 3 weeks throughout the semester. For more information see the first critique assignment write up.

Individual Assignments

In the first half of the semester there will be a series of individual assignments that each target a different stage of the educational game design process. The targeted assignments will allow you to practice with the various subskills of educational game design before integrating them in the final project.

Final Project

Your final project will be to design and implement an educational game using methods and tools learned in the course. As part of a group of ~4 students you will design an educational game informed by cognitive task analysis and evaluate whether a game you made is effective, meaning that it achieves its learning goals and engenders compelling game play. You will be required to try out the educational game that you develop with players from (ideally) the actual target population. You may choose to make a digital game or a non-digital for the final project. In the event that you do create a digital game, it is highly recommended that you have some familiarity with the technology you are using (Game Maker, Unity, for instance), as technical issues can get in the way of game design and quick iteration. Your group will submit and present a project proposal, make a project pitch, several project check-ins and turn in a final project report along with the finished game itself at the end of the semester.


In order to make the grading as systematic and equitable as possible we use a standard rubric structure across all assignments. Each assignment rubric lists 6 levels of quality for each dimension of the assignment:

Points Level Description

Impressive Work

You cover all the important aspect of a dimension and your take on it is a particularly insightful or compelling treatment of the concept


Good Work

You adequately covered the important aspects of a dimension to a level we would expect from a student of your level without missing anything obvious


Flawed Work

You mostly cover the important aspects of a dimension but might have missed something obvious or applied a concept incorrectly


Seriously Flawed Work

You cover a dimension but your treatment of it has several major flaws or is substantially incomplete



Coverage of a dimension is at least present but lacks any substance



We cannot find anything we could attribute to the dimension

Converting group grades to individual grades

Group homework and project grades are closely tied to individual grade. For example, if the group grade is 25 points, each individual member is likely to receive 25 points. The instructors reserve the right to make adjustments to individual members' scores based on our observations of relative effort with input from other group members.

Grading Breakdown

The high-level breakdown of the course follows this weighting.

Activities and Deliverables

% Total



Discussion Board Posts for RWPs


Educational Game Critiques


Game Critique x 4




Assignment 1: Prototyping and Playtesting

Assignment 2: Cognitive Task Analysis

Assignment 3: Evaluation

Final Project


Scoping Proposal & Pitch

Progress Documentation

Final Presentation, Report, and Deliverable



Late assignments

Turning in submissions in on time helps us provide you with timely and organized feedback, which in turn helps you to learn. All late individual assignments will lose 10% per day from the day we start grading them. In general, we will start grading assignments the morning after their due date (most assignments are due at 11:59pm on the posted day).

We recognize that everyone at CMU is incredibly busy and over programmed and we understand that sometimes you need more time. In these instances, you may use your allotted 3 flex days. These days allow you to submit an assignment late without penalty. You can use these days for any assignment and for any reason. You do not need to provide us with the reason. They can be used all on 1 assignment (e.g., turning something in 3 days late), or distributed across assignments (e.g., turning in 1 assignment 2 days late and another 1 day late). In general, penalties and flex days will be applied automatically (and balanced to your benefit if you have several late assignments) but it is always nice to have a heads up if you know ahead of time that you plan to use one.

Flex days cannot be applied to elements of the final project. The schedule of the final project is such that this shouldn't end up being much of an issue but if a group fails to turn in an element of the final project on time it will receive the same 10% per day penalty from the day that it was originally due. The presentation portions of the final project cannot be done late. If you anticipate that your group will have an issue maintaining one of the final project deadlines please reach out to us as soon as possible.

This policy is meant to apply to common delays to submitting assignments (e.g., the occasional cold or overloaded deadline). If you experience extenuating circumstances (e.g., you are hospitalized, you have attend to a family emergency) that prohibit you from submitting your assignments on time, please let us know. We will evaluate these instances on a case-by-case basis.

Plagiarism / Copying / Stealing

Plagiarism in any form is not permitted as an ethical or professional behavior and will not be tolerated. That said, we strongly encourage you to seek out all sources of information in approaching problems. A true professional does that. You will find even your most original ideas have often been thought of before and noted on the web; you should check as best you can. We will reward you for citing similar work and penalize you for being ignorant of it. You should cite any help you have received, even if it seems marginal. It is the best defense against appearing to copy. We may tell you that you relied too much on help, but will never raise plagiarism issues if you cite the help.

Should any student be found guilty of plagiarism on a homework or project, at minimum a zero grade will be recorded for that particular item. Depending on the circumstances, and at the discretion of the instructor and the Department Head, the student may be failed in the course and may be expelled from the University. In any case, the University will be notified of any case of cheating or plagiarism. A repeated occurrence of cheating will be treated as an automatic failure and expulsion from the University. When individual work and thinking is called for, group thinking and/or work is entirely inappropriate and is a form of plagiarism. In any case of cheating, the student may request a review of the instructor’s decision by the department head, who will then make the final decision for the department. The student, of course, can appeal any faculty decision to the University Committee on Discipline.


If you have a disability and have an accommodations letter from the Disability Resources office, I encourage you to discuss your accommodations and needs with me as early in the semester as possible. I will work with you to ensure that accommodations are provided as appropriate. If you suspect that you may have a disability and would benefit from accommodations but are not yet registered with the Office of Disability Resources, I encourage you to contact them at

Take care of yourself

Take care of yourself.  Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep and taking some time to relax. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress.

All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is almost always helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412-268-2922 and visit their website at Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.

If you have questions about this or your coursework, please let me know. Thank you, and have a great semester.

Classroom Study

For this class, I am conducting research on how teams of students process large volumes of peer feedback on design projects. This research will involve providing different scaffolds for structuring feedback processing and collecting in-class behavioral data from feedback processing sessions and team documentation. You will not be asked to do anything above and beyond the normal learning activities and assignments that are part of this course. You are free not to participate in this research, and your participation will have no influence on your grade for this course or your academic career at CMU. Participants will not receive any compensation. The data collected as part of this research will not include student grades.

As part of the research, I may want to make audio or video recordings of one or more class period during the semester. Digital recording of any class period will not be done unless all students in the class agree to the recording. At the beginning of the semester, I will step out of the classroom, and an Eberly Center representative will ask the students to sign an consent form indicating whether they agree to audio and/or video recording of the class. If one student does not agree, I will not conduct the recording. Even if all students agree, you will be able to opt out at any point in the semester if you change their mind. To maintain your anonymity, you will be able to opt out by using the following form: and indicating the class session(s) which you no longer consent to video and/or audio recording.

Data analysis of coursework will be conducted after the course is over and final grades are submitted except in cases where it would benefit students to do a preliminary data check in advance. The Eberly Center may provide support on this research project regarding data analysis and interpretation. To minimize the risk of breach of confidentiality, all data will be analyzed in de-identified form and presented in the aggregate, without any personal identifiers.  Please contact me at if you have questions or concerns about your participation. You may also contact Dr. Chad Hershock of the Eberly Center at with any additional questions or concerns.


The schedule (particularly in the latter half of the course) is subject to change. In the event that this schedule conflicts with what an assignment or discussion on Canvas says trust the date but let us know.

NOTE: The Final Project Showcase will take place some time during finals week with date currently TBD, this date may change but plan end of semester travel accordingly.





Critique Posts

Final Project



Intro & the EDGE Framework






Instructional Design






Game Design






Learning Science






Ed Game Design Process

Assignment 1 OUT





Prototyping + Playtesting












In-class playtesting


Post 1




Guest Lecture






Assignment 1 DUE

Assignment 2 OUT











UX and Ed Games



Begin Team Formation



The Spectrum of Evaluation







Choose Your Own Adventure


Post 2




Peer Feedback & Pitching






Quick Intro to Unity

Assignment 2 DUE


Scoping Proposals Due








Spring Break; no class






Canceled due to COVID-19






Discuss about going forward






Final Project Pitches



Final Project Pitch



Pitch Feedback Processing






[Special Topic? Other TBD]


Post 3




[Special Topic? Other TBD]





Check-in 1 Presentations



Final Project Check-in 1



Feedback Processing / in-class work session






[Special Topic? Other TBD]






[Special Topic? Other TBD]





Check-in 2 Presentations



Final Project Check-in 2



Feedback Processing / in-class work session






[Special Topic? Other TBD]


Post 4




Last Lecture






Final Project [Something]



Final Project [Something] and Final Deliverable


Course Summary:

Date Details Due