Thursday, September 3, 2009

Operation KTHMA: Day 2

Yesterday the operatives (students) began their training on the TSTT (TextoSpatioTemporal Transport) System. At the start of the class-session, the Demiurge asked them to divide into their class-teams, according to the classes (for now just known by number) into which they'd been sorted on the course web-site. Much good-humored confusion ensued among the operatives.

All the previous day I'd been assigning them to these classes, and then watching as they found their way to the Hall of κλέος and posted there; when they did, I gave them their name, 22XP, a title, and a piece of gear; depending on how they'd posted, I occasionally awarded "rare drops," like the nerf bat I gave to a student who's declared that he's going to "win the game." (He's a wonderful student, and very rarely says anything unironically.) I'm hoping to establish firmly the idea that progression (which I've now decided is going to be measured on three separate scales, Level, Rank, and Stage-rating) brings game-rewards including a better grade for class-participation, and it seems to be working already for the students who are paying attention.

The issue of students who aren't engaged is starting to surface, though fewer of them than I thought would be the case have raised a protest about the game idea itself. Several students haven't spent much if any time on the website, where the game is really getting played. After some careful consideration, I've realized that in every course I've ever taught (and this includes several honors sections, and even more upper-division courses where I'm at my most engaging and fascinating, though I say it as shouldn't), a sizable percentage of the students have failed to engage. Early, early returns seem to indicate that I may be in the process of bringing that percentage down significantly with Operation KTHMA.

So yesterday, when they had rearranged themselves, they looked at the first paragraph of Herodotus, in Greek (the vast majority of them don't even know the Greek alphabet), projected on the screen, while they had their translations open to the same passage in English. The Demiurge first led them through the passage, going over the pronunciation of some of the Greek letters and diacritical marks. That's information I'll be repeating again and again, because it's essential to the course-play that they be able to draw the connections I want them to draw between Greek words. Because that in turn is the only way they'll attain advancement, I'm banking on them learning the Greek alphabet without noticing it, the same way my son learns the attacks of the various Pokemon.

I flipped to a slide with Greek words closely related to the ones on the first slide, and then led them towards making some connections between the themes behind the words.

Then the course-play really began. Some of them had seen the class-briefing documents I'd put up, which describe their class' basic worldview and their first skill. For example, a Class 1 Observer (Level 1 of that class) has the skill Connective Insight, because he or she sees strange, fundamental connections between things in the world. In-game, that skill will have the function of rendering insights about the situation (more on this to come, obviously); in the TSTT (that is, looking at Greek passages), Connective Insight demands inputs from Class 1 operatives that have to do with the forces that govern the universe, and the connections between them. By contrast, Class 2 Observers have the skill Objectivity, which demands that they try to filter out the bias from an account of events.

At the end of the class meeting, I broke the class up into its teams, and went around explaining their skills, while they looked at the text of Herodotus and tried to use their particular skill upon it. Our session ended at that point, and today, on the website, they're in the process of collaborating in teams to make the connections that will, finally, send them to ancient Athens. Can you tell that I, at least, am feeling rather engaged?