Jeremy Bushnell: The Flow Channel & Gaming in Courses

Can you turn a course into a game? Jeremy Bushnell teaches Writing Skill classes at Boston University and North Eastern University, and has a fascination for games. He asks his students to play video games, and write reflections on them during his course. He noticed that their engagement was much higher then when they had to reflect on novels. So he challenged himself by experimenting  with  the same principles used in games in his class (Read more in this article). The most important principle is called the Flow Channel “Get the challenge that matches your  present skill”.   

It would be great if the thousands of hours of engagement online could be simply copied in our working and even personal lives. No more trouble with my manager about my salary, because I give him a golden star when I get a raise. All discussions with my girlfriend about doing the laundry will vanish into thin air when I tell her that the dryer is the “End Boss” of the washing game. Could it all be that simple? When talking with Jeremy about his lessons learned so far in his experiment, it turns out that there are some bumps on the road that need attention like…

  • People love playing games because they’re trivial, but when things are real (like a course at BU)… people take things obviously very serious. With as a result that they don’t like it to fight four or five times with the Boss – Exam before they can get to the next level.
  • If you tell your students which skills you want to see during the course, and give them a lot of freedom in when to do so, some of them will wait until the last week (I would do so…). This makes playing and experimenting impossible. Most students are simply not used to this kind of learning environment.
  • Suggesting that a situation can be seen as a game may offend some people. The word Game can therefor be treacherous if the other is not acquainted with the gaming principles.
So, have we lost the game?
Yes, let’s go back to our old friends ‘Management’ and ‘Leadership’…;)
Or… we can learn from this really interesting experiment (and others): It could be very helpful to break a complex problem into smaller bits that match the skills of the person. Create easier games, and call them differently so people feel that they are taken seriously. Most managers are for instance really afraid to play “Tag, you’re it” in public. Not because they don’t know how to play it, but for other more personal reasons like afraid to be laughed at doing silly things. So break “silly things” in more easy challenges like “shake hands with somebody you don’t know”.

It is not only the participant who has a challenge in this game of life, but also the facilitator. Would life not be really boring for facilitators / trainers / teachers / managers / etc. if they would not be challenged? When you look at situations as a playground, everybody is a participant, and everybody is a leader. Let’s play with your group and get to the next level, or you will become that horrific “Boss” that is stuck forever at the end of  level 2…

Video: Jeremy Bushnell about the Flow Channel