Towson University

College of Education

ISTC 674

Digital Game Based Learning

Fall 2011


Instructor:                Dr. Qing Li                                        Location: HH207

Telephone:               410-704-4631                                                      email:                    

Time:                        Mondays: 5:30-8 pm                       Office Hours: T: 2-4 pm or as required via email/phone


This course is an introduction to the use of digital games and gaming for instruction and learning. In it, students explore the theories; possibilities, considerations and constraints related to the design of instructional games, and the use of learning and commercial entertainment games in classroom and out-of-class settings.



Gee, J. (2007), What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. NY: Palgrave




1.        Salen, K. (2007). The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning, MIT Press. Full text of this book can also be found free at following website:


2.        Edward Castronova  (2007), Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun Is Changing Reality, NY: Macmillan


3.        Colella, V., Klopfer, E., & Resnick, M. (2001). Adventures in Modeling: Exploring Complex, Dynamic Systems with StarLogo. Teachers College Press.


4.        Klopfer, E. (2008) Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Mobile Educational Games. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.


  1. Spore and/or Sim3, and/or StarCraft II (Wings of Liberty)
  2. An active email link (preferably account not HOTMAIL) from which you can receive and send attachments (e.g., PDF, Word, HTML, etc.);
  1. Adobe Acrobat Reader installed [On-line]. Available:  Adobe’s PDF format allows for cross-platform document sharing and enables us to avoid Macintosh and Windows-based conversion difficulties.


1) Analysis Paper & Case Study (15%)                                          Due: Sept. 26

This paper will require you to research, summarize and evaluate three digital games, and conduct a mini case study. You can work individually or with a partner. 

·          Develop a rubric to evaluate the games focusing on how it can be used for educational purposes. For each game, write a 200 word summary and evaluation of the game. You will also present this work to the class.

·          Design and conduct a mini case study around one of these games. Decide on the criteria and instruments, conduct the study with an appropriate audience. This study should combine elements of usability, evidence for enjoyment and evidence of learning (e.g. analysis of dialog of players, interviews, self-assessment). Your methodology and findings should be backed up by related literature. (~4 pages, 1.5 spaced, 12 point font)

2) Unit plan/ Training module (10%)                                               Due: Oct. 10

Having used Spore and Sim3 you have developed some experience in playing these games. How would you use these games for learning and or training (could be for school students, informing policymakers, informing community members, etc.)? Develop or modify a unit plan or a training module that you would use Spore, Sim3, or other Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) games to help people learn. You need to consider:

·          how you would introduce the software to the class?

·          what activities you would do?

·          what you would expect people to learn?

·          what timescale you would do this on?

·          how you would assess what people have learned?


You need to include the following basic elements: unit/module overview, learning objectives, activities, assessment, resources. This should be presented as an approximately 5 page paper

3) Profile of a gamer (15%)                               Due: Nov. 7

Designing a case study of a gamer describing their habits, preferred games, style of play, preferences, and reflections on their own learning. Creative forms (e.g. video, online interactive photo essay) can be used for this case study but it cannot be a paper or PowerPoint.

Choose a gamer to observe, interview…to uncover:

o     Why they play?

o     What they play?

o     What they’ve learned?

Your gamer profile will be shared in class.

4) Digital game design document/paper prototyping (20%)                                    Due: Nov. 21

Working with a partner or individually, you need to develop a design document describing your criteria for the production of a game that you will contract out to a professional programmer. Free yourself from thinking about the code, but do think about what you have learned about the strengths, weaknesses and possibilities of games. This document can be a combination of both texts and sketches.  This document (~ 10 page) will be posted on our BB shell.

You need to include



  • Name of your game


·          Rationale for your design (e.g. based on what theories? What design elements incorporated? What are learner experiences you’ve considered?)

  • Goals of your game
  • Educational objectives of the game
  • The audience for your game
  • How it maps to curriculum (e.g. Alberta Education Program of Studies, NCTM standards)
  • Estimated length of playing the game
  • Design constraints
  • The game rules
  • Ways to use it for learning

NOTE: Thinking about some of the design principles from the Hewlett White Paper might be helpful.

Following websites provide you some ideas of game design:

Following examples may give you some ideas:

5) Major Project (30%)                                                                           Due: Dec. 12

For this project, you can again work with a partner or by yourself. Using Scratch or other platform (MS Kodu, StarLogo TNG, Java, Flash, etc.), you will develop the game that you proposed in your design document. You may want to narrow down the feature set to what is feasible and useful, considering that someone can use it for learning. The game need not stand on its own, but it can be supported by a facilitator and extra materials (need to be provided along with the program as a part of the written portion of the project).

Written part:

·          The assumptions that you made

·          Background information

·          How the game works

·          How someone would use it

·          “User testing” that provides informal feedback of the game

·          Supporting documentation and materials.

6)              Class participation (10%)                                  

Your active participation in classes is vital for the successfulness of the course. It constitutes 10% of your final grades.  This constitutes your participation in face-to-face sessions and your regular contributions for our BB discussion.

Final grades will be based on the following percentages. 
Please note all assignments must be completed in a satisfactory manner in order to receive credit for this course.

92 – 100%










67% and below



Tentative Schedule



General Topic

Assignment Due

Week 1




Week 2

9 /19               

Theoretical Foundations



Week 3


Guest speaker – Dr. James Gee, Arizona State University

Evaluation/case study paper

Week 4 (online)


Research on games and education


Week 5


Games and education




Week 6


Learning from games

Unit plan/ training module

Week 7 (online)


Learning and doing


Week 8 (online)


Board games and digital games


Week 9


Game design and learning as building

Gamer Profile student presentation

Gamer Profile

Week 10


Game design prototyping


Week 11


Ecology of Games (Students’ Presentation)

Game design document

Week 12


User Feedback

Play testing prototype


Week 13


Culture, social and other aspects


Week 14


Final project presentation, game showcase

Final game project

Week 15(online)


Optional exam




Academic honesty

All students are responsible for maintaining the highest standards of honesty and integrity in every phase of their academic careers. Students are expected to maintain a high standard of academic integrity. Inappropriate classroom conduct, cheating, and plagiarism are unacceptable and are grounds for a failing grade in this course.  Students are responsible for adhering to the Towson University academic integrity policies described in the Towson University Graduate Catalog.


Computing policies

Students are expected to adhere to the Towson University policies for responsible computing, which can be found online at the following locations: TU undergraduate catalog: and OTS University Guidelines for Responsible Computing:



If you have a documented learning disability, please contact me the first week of class to discuss accommodations in the class. The following is Towson University's policy on disabilities taken from


Towson University is committed to providing equal access to its programs and services for students with disabilities, in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  Disability Support Services is the office designated to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities.  Students seeking accommodations must identify themselves to DSS, request an appointment to discuss their needs, and provide DSS with up-to-date and complete documentation of their disabilities.  DSS determines what accommodations are reasonable on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the student’s disabilities and needs, nature of their learning task, course standards and essential requirements of the program of study, and educational environment.  Students are encouraged to register with DSS as soon as possible after admission to the University to ensure timely provision of services.