Design Educational Games

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 Canvas

The most recent version of the public Canvas page, including access to published assignment specifications and other pages beyond this one, can be found at:, prior years back to 2019 can also be accessed by appending the year to the url, for example: is last year's Canvas with all content published. Course content has generally been similar year on year but there will be some significant changes this year in the first half of the semester. Note that all of the redirect links with the domain used throughout the course must be accessed using http:// not https://.

Course Staff


Erik Harpstead:

Office Hours: Thursdays at 11:00 am ET in NSH 2614 or virtually at, or at other times by appointment:

Teaching Assistant

Hayden Stec:

Office Hours: Tuesdays 11:00am ET in NSH 2602K or virtually at, or at other times by appointment (email or slack to schedule)

Course Meetings

Regular Class sessions are scheduled to take place at 14:00-15:20 US ET in Wean Hall 2302.

Sessions will be conducted as in-person expected. In-person sessions may also be recorded if its practical in the room, with recordings being made available on Canvas. Remote access to sessions can be arranged in the event of illness or other extenuating circumstances. We will continue to monitor University guidance related to remote and in-person teaching formats.

Live sessions will often involve in-class discussions and interactive activities. 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 also use a Slack or Discord channel (To be determined based on intro survey) for information communication and 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 can be offered in getting started with one tool for creating digital games (Unity) and tools for creating tabletop games virtually online (Tabletop Simulator, possibly Tabletopia). Beyond that we can provide some assistance with tools thereafter but this should mainly be relegated to office hours or in-class work sessions.


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 individual 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. 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 for this course, all readings will be supplied by the instructor. Many readings will be provided as links to eBooks available through the CMU library, which may require VPN access to read when off campus.

Each set of RWPs will have some pieces marked as required and some marked as optional. 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 (13:00 US Eastern) on the day the RWP is assigned. Posts submitted after that time may 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.

If the RWPs for a given session are optional (as labeled in the name of the discussion) then you may choose to make a post or not. While all RWPs appear as required within Canvas, if you make a post on an optional RWP you will get credit and if you do not make a post you will be marked as excused in the grade book. This is the best way I've found to make optional assignments within the Canvas context. Note that these optional RWPs DO NOT function as extra credit (i.e., you cannot use them to get more than 100% on RWPs), they simply smooth out the average for prior missed RWPs.

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 3 weeks, though you are free to play and critique games more frequently if you would like. You will also be required to read and comment on other students' blogs.

Design Assignments

In the first half of the semester there will be a series of design assignments that will provide you with practice at each target a different stage of the educational game design process as well as designing for different kinds of learning mechanisms. The targeted assignments will allow you to practice with the various subskills of educational game design before integrating them in the final project. The Design Assignments offer an option to be done collaboratively with prior notice.

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 ~5 students you will design an educational game informed by knowledge elicitation and evaluate whether a game you made is effective, meaning that it achieves its learning goals and creates 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.


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 most 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


Ok Work

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


Flawed Work

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


Not Missing

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

Readings, Watching, and Playings


Discussion Board Posts for RWPs


Educational Game Critique Blogs


Game Critique Blogs


Design Assignments


Game 1 - Memory & Fluency Building

Game 2 - Induction & Refinement

Final Project


Scoping Proposal & Pitch

Project Check-ins

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 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, particularly given the current challenges of a hybrid learning environment, 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 Critique Blog or Individual 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 RWPs or 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 to 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.

Use of Generative AI Methods

Over the past year there has been an explosion of generation AI techniques that can convincingly reproduce the abilities of people in creating art or text. Our stance is that given their pervasiveness and limitations of detection tools there exits no equitable way dictate how generative AI can or cannot be used in this course so they are tacitly allowed.

The nature of most of the assignments in the course are likely to be difficult or not worth doing do with generative AI systems. That being said if you do use generative AI for any aspect of any assignment we would ask that you acknowledge the use. Additionally, if use a generative AI for an assignment that is primarily written (ex: an RWP or Crit Blog post) we ask that you include you prompt along with the generated text.


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. Even if an existing accommodations may not seem to apply directly to the structure of the course (e.g., having more time on tests when there are no tests), I am open to working with you to figure out how the course can best serve your needs. 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. Our continually evolving hybrid existence has taken a toll on everyone's physical and mental health. I encourage you to be mindful of your own well being throughout the semester and make your health a priority among your various commitments.

Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising or otherwise remaining active, 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.


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 us know.

Note that the final project showcase, which involves an in-person presentation component, is currently TBD and may take place during finals week so be sure to plan any end of semester travel accordingly.

If you do not see an embedded spreadsheet below you can also view the schedule on Google Docs.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due