Teaching Philosophy

As a game design educator, I teach students to create games and to understand games as a medium. However, my ultimate goal is not simply to convey information about how to make or analyze games. It is to help students become self-directed learners who can continue to work with games long after they leave my classroom, and who understand how to connect the skills and concepts I have given them to their own intellectual goals. A successful student is one who leaves my classroom better equipped to pursue the projects that matter to them by using the tools I have provided.

To become self-directed learners, students must be able to identify questions that they consider important. In my courses, I model the process of question identification and refinement. I draw on students’ own questions about the material to guide discussion, and I use interdisciplinary materials to show how their concerns connect to larger issues. Course assignments, too, build on student questions. In the Advanced Game Design Workshop, students spend an entire semester designing a game to answer a research question of their choice, or to serve as an intervention around an issue they care about. Through an iterative research and design process, students learn to refine their initial questions into ones that are meaningful yet answerable. For example, one group of students began with a general question about whether games might be of use in therapy, and ended by investigating how the process of identification with an in-game character could help children who have suffered physical abuse. In addition to conducting library research, they interviewed therapists, created a playable prototype, and proposed a research study to evaluate the impact of their game.

Students must also gain critical skills if they are to succeed as independent learners. In my game design classes, that means developing the ability to critique both games and academic theories about games. I provide students with regular opportunities to give and receive feedback from their peers, including mandatory in-class play-test sessions. During these sessions, students carefully observe their peers playing the games they have created. Then the entire class collaboratively identifies interesting game-play moments, analyzes the rules that produced those moments, and provides constructive criticism to move the game forward. Grading, too, supports the development of critical skills. Up to a third of each assignment’s grade is based on critical analysis, learning from failure, and improvement in the final product. One student group, for example, discovered that their horror-themed game was actually making players laugh. Based on what they learned, they changed their entire design approach. Although their final product was less polished than that of other teams, they had tested their game thoroughly, identified real problems, recognized the radical changes needed to fix those problems, and incorporated what they learned into their new design – all of which counted toward their grade.

Finally, I work to ensure that all students, regardless of race or gender, have the opportunity to pursue projects related to games. I personally recruit female students and students of color, particularly from departments that might not otherwise advertise a course in game design, and I actively solicit participation from them in class discussion. I lower barriers to entry, such as technical requirements, without lowering my expectations – a technique demonstrated to help women and students of color achieve. I grade all assignments blindly, to avoid unconscious bias. Using these strategies, I have consistently attracted more than fifty percent female students and thirty percent students of color to my classes – far better than the percentages in the game industry as a whole – and found them well-represented among my best students.

I have received excellent reviews for all of my classes, and I have advised both masters students and early-stage doctoral students on their work. However, the truest reflection of my teaching is not what I have achieved, but what my students have. One group of students won a Robert Wood Johnson Health Games grant to develop their class project. Another group produced a game for the New York Hall of Science, which was piloted at the museum to great success. Several students have won national awards for projects created in my classes, including second place in the Hidden Agenda learning games competition. Others have joined doctoral programs in order to pursue the ideas introduced in my classes in an academic context. These are all examples of students following the ideas introduced in my classes far beyond the classroom, using the skills I gave them on projects I never imagined.

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