Game-based teaching relies on basic principles of games to design learning. Students are led on a path to discovery — presented with challenges that allow them to build on previous experience and learn from mistakes to gain new knowledge. With game-based learning, students are actively immersed in the curriculum, just like they would be in a game. (7 Things You Should Know About Games and Learning.)

As a middle school teacher, Dr. Janna Kellinger, realized that students were going home and spending countless hours playing video games and learning a variety of new content and skills willingly, which they were not doing with her traditional homework. This realization led to her to the epiphany that she should learn from video game designers and convert her course content into games. Research around this topic contributed to her writing the book, A Guide to Designing Curricular Games, which emphasises the steps she takes to design her courses as games.

Janna describes the process of converting traditional homework and at-home knowledge building activities into a game-based model in the following video. Below are the key points and links to some of the tools Janna uses.

Convert Your Course

Janna blueprints a model for converting a traditional curriculum into a game based model which is split into two parts. Firstly, thinking about how to create a game. And secondly, creating, rendering, testing and teaching the game.

Game Design Blueprint from A Guide to Designing Curricular Games by Janna Kellinger

The Groundwork

In order to think about how to create the game, Janna advises instructors to take a step back and think about the story behind the content of the course. According to Janna, instructors can reframe thinking about content by thinking of the content-story as a system. She starts by focusing on the following two questions:

  1. How do different parts of curricular content interact; what drives the system?
  2. What are the obstacles preventing system’s driver to achieve their goal?

Once an instructor can answer these questions they are ready to build the games.

Making the Game

Making the game relies on pedagogical tools such as learning from mistakes, discovery, mastery, and experiential learning, and getting students in their challenge zone as the scaffold to forming the game.

Blackboard and other Helpful Technology

Janna has converted five of her online courses to fully game based content using Blackboard as the Learning Management System. Games can be delivered through some of the tools and features available in Blackboard. The key feature in Blackboard for managing these game-based elements to online courses is adaptive release. Adaptive release allows instructors to program the Blackboard course so that certain assignments are unlocked for the students only after they have completed or tried certain other assignments.

To help learner engagement by balancing the need for grading and learner advancement Janna relies on question pools — a function that allows students to attempt quizzes multiple times and have different questions within each attempt; “assignment lakes”, a model in which multiple assignments are simultaneously open within a section of a course; “assignment rivers”, a model in which students can access two tracks of assignments within one class.

Other online tools Janna uses for forming games in her courses include: Scratch, Twine, PowerPoint, and Tellagami. Types of games Janna has successfully made and incorporated into her course include: mystery, detective, choose your own adventure, and interactive quizzes.

Getting Help

Janna is happy to advise faculty interested in exploring game-based teaching in their courses. Write to her at  Members of UMass Boston’s eLearning and Instructional Support are also available to work with instructors to convert their courses into games. Contact eLIS at