From Active to Agile: The Journey of a Gameful Workshop

A stack of cards from the active learning game are spread out on a wooden table.
By Nick Noel, Instructional Designer

As part of MSU’s Serious Game Certificate, I had been tasked with prototyping a game that solved a problem that I saw in my work. As an Instructional Designer, the concept of Active Learning is near and dear to me, so I chose to create a game that challenged players to develop active learning strategies that incorporated technology. I called it Active Learning Land (you can find it here). It’s… fine.

After the class was finished though, I was still intrigued by the concept, and I wanted to see how it would perform in the real world. So, I contacted some colleagues, and they attempted to play it. It did not go well. But it didn’t go well in a very interesting way. While the players didn’t progress very far in the game, they did seem interested in the concept.

A few days later, one of the players, Maddie Shelgren, who is, like myself, a lover of games, approached me about the concept. She had been thinking about the game concept as well, and wondered if would be possible to translate it to a large audience of T.A.’s. I told her I would think about it, and I tried, but I came up with nothing.

However, instead of giving up on the idea, I pitched it to the Hub. To my surprise, the game was accepted as a project. I vaguely remember panicking a little bit at this point. It’s fine to talk about an idea, but to actually have to make it seemed daunting.

The talented team that was brought together for the game, really helped to put my mind at ease. To start the design process, we had to find some common ground. So, our first exercise was to list  the types of game, or professional development, experiences we had gone through before, and list out the things we liked about them. From that list, we looked for commonalities, and discussed what aspects we would like to see in the game.

A stack of cards from the active learning game are spread out on a wooden table.

Over the course of several weeks, what emerged was the idea of a card game. Card games, like poker or UNO, usually involve some level of strategy, and Magic the Gathering, another card based game, involves strategy as well as narrative. In addition, we could set up periods where the players discuss what they are working on. We knew it was at least possible to achieve our initial goals.

The game starts with three randomly-assign cards dictating class topic, format, and size. For this play through, the player was assigned to a history class being taught online to a class of 20 students.

The game starts with three randomly-assign cards dictating class topic, format, and size.

It was also at this time that some of the team members attended the Going Gameful conference at U of M. This was extremely useful, as it helped solidify the type of experience we were creating. Something I had been wrestling with was that the prototype we created didn’t always look like a game from the outside.

For the entire design process, we had been calling what we were making “The Active Learning Game”. However, it was during this discussion, when we were all able to articulate our thoughts on our creation, that we noticed that the focus was really on asking teachers to respond to challenges, and think creatively; in essence, to be agile when it came to their teaching, and prepare for unexpected things. We also saw that we had elements that could be remixed or adapted in different ways, depending on who was using them. So, it was really more of a workshop kit, than a defined game.

Different cards occupy the game "board" under different categories. Each card represents a different conditions the player must follow to complete the round.

A simulated play-through of the game.

So, that’s where we stand with The Agile Teacher: A Gameful Workshop Kit. We went from a board game about active learning, to a workshop about the experience of teaching. Our next steps are to provide some ideas on how the kit can be adapted from it’s basic structure. We are also continuing to solicit feedback from people, looking for advice on how to adapt it, or even just stories of how people have used it. You can check out the workshop kit here, feel free to use it, and please tell us what you think.