Monday, January 30, 2012

135 Hours

Last Friday marked three weeks at the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry. The students and I have been working together in roughly an 8–4 schedule. In the first week, I ran a workshop on games and learning, and the next two weeks were run as a Scrum-style sprint. At the end of these three weeks, the students have produced some good prototypes, sufficient for us to have chosen three to carry forward; more importantly for the learning process, they produced many, many more prototypes that are not being carried forward.

The students worked roughly nine hours a day for fifteen days. Given that a fifteen-week, three-credit course should involve nine effort-hours per week, the students' effort has been equivalent to a complete conventional three-credit course. Unlike a conventional course, my students have had practically limitless space, budget, and mentor availability. The only structural benefit that a longer class would have is more calendar days to consider the concepts, but I posit that the number of distractions that occur in a longer period far outweigh the benefits. Therefore, the result of my students' effort on Friday in terms of both understanding and artifact production can be considered the best one could possibly hope for in a three credit-hour course. Yet, we still feel like we have barely scratched the surface of the conceptual space: the prototypes we created are still very rough and will require significant iteration prior to engaging in final production.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who understands game design and learning: it's only been three weeks! One would never expect that after a three-week intensive study, a novice would transform into a great painter, or be able to work as an architectural consultant, or to commercially compete in any creative design field. Three weeks of intensive study just gets you to the point where you can start to understand how far down the rabbit hole goes, how much there is to understand and how much practice you will need to advance.

This stands in stark contrast to the pressures of immersive learning, in which we faculty are asked to guide students through a process to create useful products for or with community partners. Keep in mind that I am an advocate of immersive learning, having written several papers and a book chapter on its benefits to Computer Science and interdisciplinary education. However, I also know that if we had taken any of these prototypes and started production halfway into our three weeks together, it would have been painfully premature. It's true that we could have made something by switching all our resources to production rather than understanding, but it certainly would not have resulted in anything academically substantial. We know that we can make a Bejewelled clone and slap a quiz on it, and many people will applaud this as "educational game design," but we're trying to do something much more significant.

I am eager to see how the team advances through this next sprint, as our focus narrows and we collaborate on three design. The goal is that two weeks from now, one of these will have risen to the top, and we can move into production, with executable releases every two weeks thereafter.

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