Faculty Development Day: Gaming the Curriculum

Barbara A. Lawrence, Mathematics


How can instructors design and utilize games to enhance students’ learning? Faculty and staff addressed this question at the annual Faculty Development Day event on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, in the Richard Harris Terrace. The event was organized and hosted by the Faculty Development Committee: Sharon Avni, Developmental Skills (Chair); Anne Friedman, Developmental Skills; Barbara Lawrence, Mathematics (Executive Committee Representative); Jae Ki Lee, Mathematics (Secretary); Abdramene Serme, Mathematics; Zhanna Yablokova, English; Sidney Eng, Library.

After welcome messages from Provost and Senior Vice President, Karrin Wilks, and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Michael Gillespie, the presentations began, moderated by Prof. Francesco Crocco of the English Department. The presenters included Kathleen Offenholley (Mathematics), Chamutal Noimann (English), Julie Cassidy (English); Michelle Wang (Business Management), Manita Pavel (Science), and Joe Bisz (English).

Let the Games Begin

Prof. Crocco set the stage for the panelists by giving an overview of game-based learning, the grant funded research about games, and the CUNY Games Network.  Up until about third grade, Prof. Crocco noted, play is integral to the classroom environment. After that, however, “students are assimilated to a factory-style learning environment in which they are taught to sit quietly, take notes, and answer questions. For many students, according to Prof. Crocco, “this deadens their interest in learning. Down the line, this leads to poor academic achievement and poor retention.” Schools and universities are now returning to play and increasingly embracing game-based learning to tackle these problems.

Prof. Kathleen Offenholley (Mathematics), the first panelist, engaged the participants in a mathematics game, “Spread of a rumor?” The purpose of the game is to engage students in communicating with each other as they circulate to acquire and record information. Prof. Offenholley emphasized that when using games in the curriculum, “It takes trial and error to get it right. It’s worth trying a game over and over again.”

Prof. Chamutal Noimann (English) explained that game-based learning is student-centered because the learner has full responsibility for her/his learning, involvement and participation are necessary for learning, and the teacher becomes a facilitator and resource person.

Prof. Noimann described how she allows students to create their own games by implementing an instructional method “Design to Learn.” For example, after a detailed close-reading of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, she divides her students into six groups and gives them four weeks to create their versions of “Jekyll and Hyde: The Board Game.” She provides the students with instructions that include: think of a theme/reason for your game, map out the rules and directions for your game, sketch a rough draft of board design, and create the game pieces. 

Prof. Julie Cassidy (English) discussed how she includes game boards in her instruction.  She had on display some game boards her students created that were based on popular board games. Prof. Michelle Wang (Business Management) described how her students developed an “interview skills games.” 

Rigorous Fun

How does game based learning in Introductory Biology courses help enhance students’ academic achievement and motivation to learn? Prof. Manita Pavel (Science) answered this question by describing her game, “Master a Macromolecule!” Students begin at the START corner. They roll the die and move the appropriate number of spaces. If for example, they land on green, which focuses on carbohydrates, one of the four macromolecules, another player pulls a question from the stack labeled in green. If the student answers correctly she gets to keep the card. If not, the student to the right has a chance to answer the question and collect the card. The game continues with each student taking turns answering questions and aiming to collect the most cards. 

Prof. Pavel reminded the audience that while games can address the rigor needed for content area of specific courses, ultimately, “Games are fun. Having students participate in a loosely structured and a less stressful situation, they are more likely to perform better and with more enthusiasm.” 

 “What’s Your Game Plan?”

Prof. Joe Bisz (English), in a breakout activity, divided participants into groups based on their teaching discipline.   Each group selected an idea such as the “Electoral College” to design a game. After about 20 minutes of working on the game, each of the four groups shared their games. During the discussion session, participants agreed that the using games can motivate student’s learning.