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John Fallon is an English teacher at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, CT. John has designed Dolus: Finding the Journal of Odysseus an immersive ARG (alternate reality game) designed to augment his students’ exploration of Homer’s Odyssey.
He also co-designed Blind Protocol with Paul Darvasi, an inter-school ARG for his 9th-grade students that instructs on research skills and privacy-related current events. He has also developed lessons to teach commercial games, like Her Story, as literary texts.
His game-based learning work has been featured on National Public Radio’s MindShift, Edutopia, several books from Carnegie Mellon’s ETC Press and Peter Lang Publishing, BAM! Radio Network, and District Administration magazine.
A regular day for John starts with getting his daughters ready and to school. If it’s a normal teaching day, this is then followed by John teaching. There he tries to bring in as many games into this as possible. When John is finished with work, he returns home and spends some time with his daughters and if there’s enough time at the end of the night John likes to spend an hour so of reading or playing a game of some type.
A story of John’s favorite fail comes from a time when he was using gamification in the classroom environment. He finds all these experiences are failures to a degree as you’re never going to know entirely how it pans out. He finds a particularly interesting aspect of gamification is that you’re going to have to iterate and constantly tinker with it. One specific example of this is when John was working with Paul on Blind Protocol, they had an entire phase set up around research. However, when it came to it, things didn’t pan out exactly as planned because of the way people are used to conducting research. This was a wakeup call for John that things that might make sense on paper won’t make sense in front of students.
A challenge that he turned into a big success came from teaching his class Her Story which is a narrative-focused game, he wanted the theme to be around unreliable narrators. He realized he could do this by using the game mechanic of leveling-up that has been around in games forever, gradually increasing the difficulty. Turning this learning experience into a game itself, in John’s opinion, made a huge difference and is the best thing he teaches. He explains in a very detailed way how he has done it with this game and for his learning objectives.
When John is approaching bringing games into his class, he first looks at the skills he wants to bring to his students from this point he can then look at games that can build those skills. If John can see an engaging and authentic writing experience, then it’s what he will look at to build an authentic and fun learning experience out of it. In the example of Her Story, he came across a review that said it had a complex narrative. Being an English teacher this is the kind of thing that captures his attention. When playing it, John realized it required him to use skills that he already wanted his students to be using, therefore, he had to use it and bring it to the classroom and ended up building a whole unit around it.
A best practice for John when looking at which games to bring into the classroom, and the thing that made Her Story such a good choice, is the length of the game. Her Story was only 3 hours at a maximum which was perfect, not that a longer game wouldn’t provide the same benefits it’s just a case of having the resources to bring it to the classroom especially with a large class. In John’s opinion, we will start to see shorter game experiences that have 5 hours or less playtime due to things like Xbox game pass. John also found it useful using review sites to find games, he is a personal fan of Polygon because they pay more attention to the lesser-known games and this is where he can find games that fit the requirements to bring into the classroom. As well as this John thinks it is a good idea to try to play as many games as you can until you find one that you think will work.
A book that he would recommend related to game-based learning is Game-Based Learning in Action: How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches with Games by Matthew Farber as he thinks it does a good job at cataloging how teachers put things together. He would also recommend reading books that are interesting to you where characters have to solve problems, he finds often when he is designing games he takes a lot of inspiration from clever protagonists in novels.
His favorite types of games are collectible card games such as Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone, he would recommend the game Gwent which is a spinoff from the Witcher games that is now a fully-fledged CCG that in John’s opinion is fun and strategic.
John would say a mentality he has that is beneficial for him, especially as an English teacher, is looking at games as texts. When looking at games as what themes and skills they provide it’s easier to see how you can import them into your classroom.
We had time for the random question and it has to do with rubrics and learning, check it out on the episode! You can find John in many different places, like thealternateclassroom.org, his Twitter @johnCfallon, we can also check out him out on The Good Game Podcast, on Twitter @goodgameedu and on Facebook.
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