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

Instructor

Erik Harpstead: harpstead@cmu.edu

Office Hours:  Wednesdays 13:00 US Eastern or by appointment: https://erik-harpstead.youcanbook.me/

Course Meetings

All course content will be delivered entirely remotely this semester. Live class sessions will take place via Zoom at 14:30-15:40 US Eastern time. Live sessions will often involve in-class discussions and interactive activities so live attendance is highly encouraged where practical given time zone limitations. Recordings of sessions will be made available via Canvas as soon as possible after a session ends but may be posted up to 24 hours after a session at the latest.

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.

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.

In addition to formal announcements through Canvas we will be using a class Slack Channel for informal communication coordination between classmates.

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) and tools for creating tabletop games virtually online (Tabletop Simulator, possible Tabletopia). Help with these tools will be provided through optional prerecorded lectures and walk through activities outside of regular course time. Beyond that we can provide some assistance with tools thereafter but this should mainly be relegated to office hours.

Assignments

Homework assignments will give you practice in analyzing, designing and implementing educational games. You will also learn knowledge elicitation 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 encourage 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.

You will be asked to submit a post to the course discussion forum on Canvas at least 1 hour before the start of live sessions (13:30 US Eastern) on the day the RWP is assigned. Posts submitted after noon will not receive credit. These posts can be about:

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

Critique Blog

The critique blog assignments are designed to expose you to the existing landscape of educational games and will help you develop a sense for what makes an educational game successful or not. In these assignments you 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. Graded posts will be turned in every 2 weeks, though you are free to play and critique games more frequently if you would like.

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 prior familiarity with the technology you are using, 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.

Grading

Given the inherent creative potential of game design grading will have a degree of unavoidable subjectivity. In order to make 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
5x

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

4x

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

3x

Ok Work

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

2x

Flawed Work

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

1x

Not Missing

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

0

Missing

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

Readings, Watching, and Playings

10.00

Discussion Board Posts for RWPs

 

Educational Game Critique Blogs

20.00

Game Critique Blogs

 

Individual Assignments

30.00

Knowledge Elicitation

Prototyping and Playtesting

Final Project

40.00

Scoping Proposal & Pitch

Progress Documentation

Final Presentation, Report, and Deliverable

Total

100.00

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 be assessed a 5% penalty for each day past the deadline they are turned in late.

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 4 flex days. These days allow you to reduce the penalty assessed on an assignment by the number of days you apply (e.g., using 1 flex allows an assignment to be turned in up to 1 day 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 4 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 5% per day penalty. 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 (particularly if it is caused by timezone related issues) please reach out to us as soon as possible and we can work something out.

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 become gravely sick, are hospitalized, you have attend to a family emergency) that prohibit you from submitting your assignments on time, please let us know and we can work something out.

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.

Accommodations

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 access@andrew.cmu.edu.

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 http://www.cmu.edu/counseling/. 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.

Schedule

The schedule below outlines the rough direction of the course and is subject to change (particularly in the latter half of the course). If the date on a Canvas post or assignment differs from what you see here, trust the Canvas date but please let me know.

Note that the final project showcase is currently to take place during finals week. Whether we do a live virtual showcase or not is still being determined but plan any end of semester travel accordingly.

Topic Assignments Critique Posts Final Project
Feb 2 Intro & the EDGE Framework
4 Instructional Design
9 Game Design
11 Learning Science
16 Ed Game Design Process Post 1
18 Knowledge Ellicitation Assignment 1 OUT
23 No Class
25 Transfer
Mar 2 Integration and Alignment Post 2
4 Ideation + Player Experience Assignment 1 DUE, Assignment 2A Out
9 Prototying + Playtesting Assignment 2A DUE
11 Systems and Mechanics Assignment 2B OUT
16 Spectrum of Evaluation Post 3 Begin Team Formation
18 Spectrum of Evaluation
23
25 Peer Feedback & Pitching Assignment 2B DUE
30 Pitch Presentations Post 4 Scoping Proposals Due
Apr 1 Pitch Processing
6 [Special Topic]
8 [Special Topic]
13 Check-in 1 Presentations Post 5 Final Project Check-in 1
15 No Class
20 [Special Topic]
22 [Speical Topic]
27 Check-in 2 Presentations Post 6 Final Project Check-in 2
29 Check-in 2 Processing
May 4 [Special Topic]
6 Last Lecture
TBD Finals Week Final Project Showcase + Final Project Turn in

Course Summary:

Date Details Due