Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Gamification in Education: Using GameMaker to Make an Educational Game

Using Free GameMaker:Studio to Create an Educational Game

In early 2014, I began reading about gamification in higher education.

I read that it was "more than just a fad" on eCampus News.  I read on the Association of College and Research Libraries Web site that a game "motivates" students.  I read on the Top Hat blog that incorporating games into learning isn't really all that hard, and games as homework can help keep students engaged in content after classes have ended.

After thinking long and hard about how to better incorporate games into the core curriculum courses that I teach, I decided to expand on one of my specialties, sentence diagramming.  I jumped in with both feet, and for the past two weeks I have been attempting to teach myself to create a game using the free game engine, GameMaker: Studio.  Into week three, I think I have some solid advice for any faculty member wanting to attempt this, as well.

First Bit of Advice: Game Concept

The best advice I can give to a faculty member attempting this process is to first have a game concept in mind.  In order to successfully learn how to create the game, the mechanics of the game have to be visualized, and maybe even literally drawn out in storyboard sequence.  "Kinda" doing this won't cut the mustard, though.

For instance, I knew I wanted a game where students would move the word "noun" to the place on a blank diagram where the subject is supposed to go, and then they'd get some points.  Good enough, I thought, to get on with.  Not so, however.  I never stopped to think about what each moment would look like.  When the word got to the spot, what would the screen do?  How would the points appear? All of that should have been planned.  Instead, I've been getting on with it by trial and error.  I wouldn't say I'm wasting time because it's time spent learning the software, but I should have done more planning.

Second Bit of Advice: Tutorials

Learn to create a space-shooter game with Shaun Spalding.
The next best bit of advice I have for teacher-turned game developer is to follow the video tutorials created by Shaun Spalding.  They are thorough and well-paced, and his tutorials are created to be "learn by doing" lessons.  The series entitled "Making Your First Game" walks viewers through creating a complete asteroid-shooter game, which introduces viewers to all sorts of tips and tricks and bits of useful code.

And speaking of code: Don't skip those parts of the tutorials.  Write it down, if you must, because it is useful - even if a bit intimidating and difficult to absorb and makes your brain shut down.  Write it down, anyway.

Third Bit of Advice: Outcomes

The last bit of advice I have for an educator wanting to create an educational game is to stick to one of the things educators know best: assessment of learning outcomes.  When in doubt, return to the objective or outcome or goal for the game.  Focus on what it might be the student should gain from the game and how the game might influence the outcome.  Want students to be able to classify? Identify?  Solve?  Predict?  Think of ways to "see" those actions in action within your game, and work toward those actions.  Want to think in terms of "leveling?"  Think in terms of learning levels.

In the parts of speech game I'm creating, for example, the goal is to reward students who can construct a sentence diagram one part of speech at a time.  When they complete that objective, they are rewarded with points.

The purpose of gamification, from this professor's standpoint, is to help students engage in course material even when outside the classroom and outside the scope of regular ol' homework.  Yes, it would be easier to simply create sentence diagramming worksheets for students to complete as homework, but it just wouldn't be as fun - either for them or for me.

"Gamifying" sentence diagrams gives me something new to learn to do, too.

Want to read more about pedagogy and teaching?  Try

Student Engagement and Writing
Student Centered or Curriculum Centered?
A Playful Lesson for the Composition Classroom

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

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