Putting a Face on Theatre
I'm a gamer; I'm not ashamed to admit it. I play table-top strategy and tactics games. I play table-top RPG games. I play online first-person shooters. I play online MMORPGs. I love gaming--I'm part of the generation raised with Atari 2600, the first NES, Donkey Kong, Q-Bert, and Mario Brothers. (Remember when Mario was saving Pauline, not Peach?)
One of the things you figure out about video games, pretty quickly if you're any good at them, is that they teach you how to play while you're playing. Earlier levels are simpler than later levels, usually with challenges designed to demonstrate the core movement controls and game mechanic. Sometimes, these early levels include non-player characters who provide guidance and insight. As you progress, the difficulty of the challenges increases in tandem with your ability to play the game (and with any "upgrades" or "powerups" you achieve during game play); consequently, the game is usually just as challenging in later levels as it was at earlier levels, though it is likely more complex.
This is true of role-playing games as well; you never fight a dragon when you're a level one ranger in Dungeons and Dragons. If your dungeon master is any good, you're fighting dire rats or kobols--beasts that are scaled to your abilities. But these encounters teach you about your party members, about the world of the game, the mechanic of combat and movement, and the way the DM structures his story.
I've considered for a long time that this scaled-difficulty, scaffolded-guidance structure mirrors what I've read and tried to apply in my teaching. It is, in many ways, the *perfect* analog to constructivist models of instructional design: instruction in procedures and methods and mental models situated within actual situations in which they need to be called upon and utilized, which increase in complexity while the learner receives decreasing levels of assistance and guidance.
Because of this, I think a lot about whether my curriculum could be structured as a role playing game. Consider: you enter the grad program and take an "experience assessment," structured to result in core "attributes" for your "character sheet" (knowledge of physics of motion from a textbook boosts "intelligence"; hands-on experience building machines in an auto body shop boosts "wisdom"; innate leadership/people skills boosts "charisma," and so on). These assessments also help to develop a set of skills for each student; these would be things like "carpentry lvl 1-3," "welding lvl 1-3", "algebra," "statics," etc.
Encounters are productions and projects: each one designed to help students develop the skills needed to tackle the dragon, their final terminal project. Successful completion of projects would award "experience points," which would be tallied to allow students to "level up" as they accrue. Character sheets would be updated to reflect development of new skills and the honing of older ones.
In any campaign, there are many paths to success in each encounter--the ranger might attack one way, and the thief another. (As Spock says in the "Wrath of Khan," when Kirk asks how the recruits will fare in a battle, "Each according to his gifts.") This is true of every production problem as well; I see students more inclined toward steel than wood; more inclined to machines than people power; more inclined to pneumatics than electric motors. No path is the correct one, and each path helps develop the student (or the ranger, or the thief) into a better version of themselves.
Obviously, I have a lot of work to do to make this a viable model. But I'm excited about the idea. And, apparently, I'm not the only one. Check out this video on the "gamification" of teaching, and let me know what you think in the comments below.