Gamifying Professional Development

I have taken an excessively long hiatus from writing in this blog. A lot has happened. I’ve changed jobs and universities. We’re at the tail end (hopefully) of a pandemic. And technology has changed.

All three of those changes have enabled me innovate. The new position for the most part has given me the freedom to allocate my time how I see fit. The pandemic created an urgent demand for asynchronous professional development. And new software has made it easy for someone like me, who cannot code or work with excessively complex programs, to create interactive animations.

During the summer of 2020, I investigated software. By early fall, I had settled on Toonly, Speechelo, Filmora, and Interactr for creating animations, giving characters voiceovers, editing the videos, and adding interactive layers. During the fall and winter months, I practiced. Some of that practice went into an asynchronous training.

During Spring 2021, I finally did what I first thought of doing maybe ten years ago but didn’t have the resources or skills to accomplish. I created a faculty-development video game. The game has characters, an overarching narrative, and progressively difficult levels (only three). It takes about 30 minutes to complete.

Approximately ten years ago, I looked into hiring a company that provided a game with an interactive, animated classroom or a professor’s office. A person would play with the avatar of a professor, engage different student characters in multilayer interactions through multiple-choice options, and learn from the consequences of those decisions. I didn’t contract with the company because it offered too few scenarios for far too much money, but I loved the idea.

The product also missed what I thought was the medium’s greatest opportunity: to show faculty the students’ perspective. As my provost, Dr. Charles McAdams, said the other day, “I can show faculty the research on best practices all day, but until they see the impact from the students’ perspectives, it’s not going to mean anything to them.”

In the game I created, I had the animated character of a student narrate what he experienced when an instructor didn’t implement a best practice. Then the student explains what he experienced when the instructor did implement the best practice. I currently plan to keep that general format for games, while making improvements to it — at least until data tells me to do otherwise or the format grows stale. I do want to make more sophisticated games, though, in terms of the options provided to players.

This first game is for online courses, but I plan to create one for face-to-face and hybrid courses as well. I’m imagining a series. It could expand to leadership development as well.