A Breakthrough Game Design for Student Success

By: Victoria (Tori) Mondelli

2010 was a good year. Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) was founded as an education reform initiative, and I discovered the value of learning games from my colleagues in the CUNY Games Network.  

Fast-forward to the summer of 2014, and I find myself positioned in a fantastic foursome charged with re-imagining pathways to student success at an institute created by EDUCAUSE and NGLC called the Breakthrough Models Academy. It just so happened that all four members of my team were employed at federally designated Hispanic-serving institutions, and we decided to make that fact our rallying point to think through improving college completion.

License to Ill

Forward thinking about student success is a hallmark of each of our home institutions: Mercy College, Oregon State University, Eastern Washington University, and South Texas College.  From the beginning of the Breakthrough Models Academy, therefore, we felt empowered to explore potential avenues of engagement and academic experiences that had not yet come into the mainstream, and/or still needed to be studied and tested. Here was our “license to ill,” (i.e. our space to be creative), and to do so collaboratively.

A Structure of Adaptation

This past July, we had many extraordinary thinkers and change agents present ideas to us in Cambridge, Mass.  For me, Dr. Eliott Shore (Executive Director of the Association of Research Libraries) sparked a revolution in my heart. The work he and his colleagues have been doing for ARL is future-building. Dr. Shore’s core message puts a “System of Action” at the center, and that system ought to be understood “as a structure in perpetual transformation and change, and a structure of adaptation according to circumstances.” 

“What if?” I thought, “What if student life, academics, and the future of higher education could be conceived of in this way?”  Whatever our team would propose for our project, I knew that day, that I wanted our breakthrough model to be future-building, too, and that student success and college completion might look and feel very differently if we committed to a structure of adaption.

Who says you cant play video games in college?

Reality is broken, says bestselling author and futurist Jane McGonigal. For a growing number of earth-dwellers, game-play is a much more rewarding environment than real life. This generation and the next generation of college students spend hours upon hours playing digital games. Like McGonigal says, my team and I saw great opportunity in harnessing the power of play, leveraging it for college completion and other productive good works. How can this opportunity tie in with helping Hispanic students to get the most out of college, and finish successfully with a degree?

El Viaje (The Trip)

Active and collaborative activities contribute to the social glue that helps students persist through a degree program. It helps them to break the ice and make friends. Hispanic students—and all college students, especially those commuting to college—need ample and robust opportunities to connect with peers. Without friends on campus or online, the sense of attachment to the educational experience is drastically reduced.

Our team determined that we could build a multi-player, interactive game for students who are new to the institution that would embed them in a compelling ‘gamescape’, intended to keep them coming back for more meaningful interaction. We call it El Viaje, and it will be a cooperative video game with customized, institution-specific challenges that students need to rely upon each other in order to “level up.” Optimized for mobile devices, we want commuting students and distance education students to connect with their peers, too, and to increasingly blend their social lives with their academic lives. The digital game El Viaje can do this for and with players.     

For future-building, educational technology is not about the technology. It’s about the way in which we leverage it to connect meaningfully with one another, and to grow the future, together.

For more information or to help in supporting this project, please contact me. Special thanks to my colleagues from Team Embark:  Dr. David Dean, Dr. Jose (Joe) Sanchez, and Ms. Amy Theis.

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Dr. Victoria (Tori) Mondelli is the Executive Director for Teaching Excellence & Engaged Learning at Mercy College, with campuses throughout New York City in Dobbs Ferry, Manhattan, The Bronx, Yorktown Heights. In her current role she directs faculty development for teaching and learning, and raises awareness for best practices across the curriculum and in the disciplines. She is passionate about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), educational innovation with technology, Open Educational Resources (OER), and classroom techniques to check the students’ “pulse” on learning. Follow her on Twitter: @vlmondelli.

 

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