6 Reasons You Can’t Design Great Learning Games without Teachers

April 11, 2019   |   By Field Day Lab

From Medium | April 11, 2019

Want to know the secret ingredient that all great learning games have in common? Great teachers.

Teachers know the standards and requirements. They understand the limits of the classroom. And most of all, teachers really care about their kids.

We’ve worked with teachers from all across Wisconsin and beyond. Here are five reasons we would never design an educational game without them.

1. Teachers understand the pressures of the classroom
Let’s talk about this one with an example. Learning games need to be playable within a class period. Typical classes last 45–50 minutes. So how long do you think it should take to play an educational game?

If you guessed 40 minutes. . . well, we don’t blame you. We thought the same thing at first. Then we talked to the professionals.

According to teachers, it takes time to get organized. More time to introduce the game. Even MORE time to answer questions. And finally, teachers need to transition students out of class. That leaves 15–20 minutes for the game itself.

For game designers, this is crucial information. Without teachers, we might have ended up designing awesome games that nobody had time to play. Now, we make sure kids can play our games — or at least complete a level — within the first 15–20 minutes. That way, students feel a sense of accomplishment after playing our games, and teachers actually want to use them.

2. Teachers speak the language
Have you ever visited a country where you didn’t speak the language? Chances are, the local dialect was pretty different from what you found on Google Translate.

When it comes to the classroom, teachers are the locals. They know the vocabulary words that students are required to learn. They understand the language around certain topics.

We rely on teachers’ expertise to help us speak their language. This applies not only to in-game text, but also to website and promotional materials. Teachers look for classroom activities that match what they’re already doing. By working directly with teachers who teach specific topics, we are able to craft the language we use.

3. Teachers know the standards
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that teachers are under a lot of pressure. They need to cover the required curriculum, meet school goals, and match state and national standards.

We can try to imagine how this feels, but building games around our imaginary feelings is not a great design practice.

Instead, we listen. At the beginning of every game process, we spend a full day in conversation with teachers. They tell us where they see the gaps, the real needs. They explain what they’re looking for. This allows us to design games that will serve their needs and help them teach.

4. Teachers know kids
If you want to design a great game, you need to know your audience. What makes them laugh? What games are they playing? What do they get excited about?

Some of us at Field Day have kids ourselves. We felt like we were pretty in touch with kids’ media. But we haven’t heard half of what these teachers know.

That’s because teachers know kids. (Groundbreaking, right?) But seriously, teachers understand their kids’ age group better than anyone. They get constant insight into the depth and breadth of kids’ media.

5. Teachers help QA test
Educational games need QA testing at every stage of the design process. Luckily, teachers spend their days with the best QA participants possible — their students.

Teachers love to involve their kids in game design and testing. This gets them cool points with their students. And it gets us user data and feedback from hundreds of kids. It’s a win-win.

Kids play the game in class, and then teachers and kids fill out surveys. We look at the analytic data, line it all up, and make decisions about how to improve the game.

6. Teachers know how to teach
Learning games have a lot of boxes to tick. They need to be fun to play, and they need to teach specific learning goals. That means meeting kids right where they’re at.

If it sounds tricky, that’s because it is. Our university experts bring rich, cutting-edge content to our games, but they also have to deal with the “curse of knowledge.” (Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds.) Basically, they’ve undergone such a radical transformation in their thinking that they can’t remember what it was like to be a beginner.

That’s where teachers come in. Teachers aren’t just subject matter experts. They’re experts on the subject at the level it’s being taught.