Inside Rensselaer
* Multiplayer Classroom
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Professor Offers Educational Lessons Taken From Game Design

In Lee Sheldon’s “multiplayer classroom,” each student is a player who starts the semester game with zero “points”—a level that corresponds to the letter grade “F.” With each move they make, the students rack up points, and their grade goes up. Rather than fret about losing an A, as the semester progresses in Sheldon’s classroom, the grades only get better.

The grading scheme is one example of the fresh perspective games offer in the classroom, according to Sheldon. A pioneer in applying game design to education and co-director of the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences program, Sheldon describes the benefits to education in his new book, The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game, recently released by Cengage Learning.

“This is a different way to approach the classroom. It’s not about video games in the classroom; it’s not about technology in the classroom. It’s about how game design techniques can be used to engage students.”—Lee Sheldon

“This is a different way to approach the classroom,” Sheldon said. “It’s not about video games in the classroom; it’s not about technology in the classroom. It’s about how game design techniques can be used to engage students.”

His book is the first detailed guide to teaching classes—from middle school to universities — based on principles of video game design, specifically multiplayer game design. Written for teachers and the general public, the book introduces game concepts and vocabulary, and explains how teachers can incorporate the techniques in their own classroom.

Sheldon’s book draws from his own experiences as professor in four multiplayer classrooms, as well as eight additional case histories of multiplayer classrooms in a variety of subjects from math to history.

In the multiplayer classroom, students start the semester with a clean slate and gather “experience points” or “XP” as they complete tasks.

Much of the students’ work is completed in teams, or “guilds,” and the accomplishment of any given member of the guild, according to Sheldon, often boosts the overall score of each individual member, building camaraderie and respect for efforts within the group. Many of the assignments involve presenting material to other students; their success assures mastery of the material, with Sheldon sitting as judge or “game master” of the process.

The results from his own experience, Sheldon said, speak for themselves. “The average class grade went from a C to a B, using the same materials,” Sheldon said. “Attendance is now near perfect. People come early and work — even if they don’t have an assignment — on various quests before the class.”

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 12, August 26, 2011
©2011 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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