Philosophy of Teaching:
Gaming as Allegory for Teaching and Why Teaching Is Too About User Experience.
As an allegory, the game can texture the meaning of writing pedagogy and, more importantly, the goal of teaching itself. I would like to now briefly explain this allegory and touch on the individual aspects of gaming relevant to my personal philosophy of teaching. Starting with a discussion of narrative and end in a discussion on the importance of the user experience, I have the hope of showing my philosophy of teaching as “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence” within the purview of the Virginia Tech classroom and with respect to my vision of writing, teaching, and the methods that pertain to each.
Games have a start and an end as well as diegetic and non-diegetic components just like a classroom. They are meant to teach. But really, games are meant to be fun. The draw of the game being that the choices and actions one must take to resolve a conflict also introduce and draw the user (or student as I am using it in this allegory), into the diegetic world of the game in media res with a quick yet steady tempo. As a teacher, I see myself as the game’s designer. I must make the game do what I want but with emphasis on the player’s expectations, desires, which like the student are all variable to some degree.
Teaching is hardest at the beginning of the term much like how the game is hardest to play at the start. At the start, there has to be a sense of entering a world both rich and expectant that is the job the narrative has to fulfill. Meanwhile, from the perspective of the game’s designer, there are immense technical challenges to overcome all at the beginning of the game in a relatively short time because of the diminishing attention span of the players and the relative weakness of the narrative so early in its arc. The configuration of the buttons and rules and dramatic action of the game (non-diegetic components) must be learned and integrated into the game seamlessly without calling attention to themselves as mere requirements necessary to continue the game and, furthermore, without frustrating the user (student) nor removing him or her from the diegetic experience of the game. To handle this task, my first informal in-class assignment will be writing an artifact into existence that describes the student as an individual but also follows the form of the artifact they create (e.g. it can be a letter they received from their future self or a page or two excerpt from the best paper they have not yet written or it can even be a chapter in a book they have, for the purposes of fulfilling the assignment, they made up; the importance is adherence to the form of the artifact and the rule that it must convey along with the individuality of the student writing it).
Diegetically, that is, in terms of the narrative of the class, my assignment serves the purpose of introducing the student to me through writing borrowing from whatever form they think best suited to do this. Non-diegetically, it is really a test of their creativity, enthusiasm, writing ability, content knowledge, their ability to work under pressure, their ability to follow direction and rhetorical awareness while also being a barometer by which to gauge the students personal stake in class much less how each will interpret future assignments. It puts them in the middle of things by creating an urgency that is less stressful than it is fun.
I then have the appearance of being both challenging and playful. These are two aspects of a teacher’s personality one wants to feel as a student entering their first day of class. That first day everyone is trying to get a sense of the experience of the class, of the professor, as well as for their (the student’s) place in it. This assignment does not try to fight those natural impulses and in fact harnesses them for me to use without being boring or too affected. In short, it works. I use it here as a model from which to extrapolate the benefit of using gaming as an allegory for teaching and more specifically, how I think of teaching. For the purposes of brevity and in order to give one a glimpse into what I mean when I say I use gaming as an allegory to inform my philosophy, I will conclude now with a short statement on the importance of user experience to me as a teacher.
Because it is the student who is the at the heart of the class and who is meant to learn and because it is my job to teach them, meaning to —“ show or explain to (someone) how to do something”—I believe gaming as an allegory for teaching is strong, then, precisely because the entire design of the game is predicated on the user’s experience of the game. As we all know, a game can be too pedantic, too slow, have too many rules, be oversimplified, or too hard to set up, which all cause the user to stop playing. One plays a game. In the best games, how one learns to play the game is a part of the game itself for though it is vital to the outcomes of the game—participation and fun—that one learn to play, what is more important is the user’s experience of the game. Teaching has an obvious responsibility to specific knowledge and specific outcomes, however, the game helps disarm the anxiety of the new and the real seriousness of the task, which is in this particular case with myself here at Virginia Tech is to teach students how to compose a written piece from sources so that they may do so on their own as better writers. Teaching is like game designing, or is best approached that way. Game design considers intuition alongside tempo and narrative continuity, which are all elements common to teaching. The user is the student. The game seeks to show and involve in the activity of play, no mere end in of itself.
Now pedagogically speaking, there are well argued theories that a writing class should focus on just writing (in theory and as the course’s subject) or that writing should be, or rather is a social act, or that writing is a medium of communication insofar as it is concerned with its audience, its message and its voice and how they are projected outward from the writer. Although these theories are of use in keeping writing and its pedagogy from being intellectual Rorschach blots, they only serve to frame these weighty and difficult topics and do not, cannot, tell one how to apply them. There is magic in the application. In the transition of teaching from a noun to verb that aesthetic coherence gaming as an allegory for teaching allows me to see, it is invaluable. Teaching has to strive mime the aesthetic experience of a game because games are virtual as well as active, qualities so much liken to those of learning they are hard to ignore. What makes a classroom alive is the narrative and energy. Together they work as kind of raw electric potential whose synergy at its best can lead to the material expression of a shared, collective vision of what that class should and could be. The game is always caught up in media res as a continuum of events as they are experienced with respect to the larger vision and win conditions and personal choice. Above all else, gaming is about user experience. In my philosophy, teaching is too.
 Educational gaming is becoming more and more prevalent; special consideration should also be made for its expanding role in lieu of the growing role educational technology plays in school, specifically as a teaching tool. Think of it as educational te(a)chnology.
 Source: Oxford English Dictionary