Giano Academy teaching gig

I’m not quite as cool as the fire guy in the picture, but almost, perhaps. This week brings in the last sessions of the five-session courses I’m teaching for Giano Academy (see the banner item at the top right). This time it was two sections of the same course, “Introduction to Design.”

For whatever reason, coolness or who knows, I’m now scheduled for a new round of courses, beginning two weeks from now. I made a little video to share what they’re about and what they’re for.

These courses are open to anyone, at any location – you don’t have to be registered in any way with an Italian institution, or a citizen of Italy or the EU, or anything. You deal directly with the Academy for the tuition.

So … (I’m bad at spitting this kind of thing out), I’m recruiting. If you click on that banner, you go to the course list, and you click on one of mine. It would have to be Introduction to Design because I’m designating that as the prerequisite to the others. That one begins Wednesday, February 24, for five weekly two-hour meetings.

If you’ve been active here at Adept Play, you have probably run into one or more of the main concepts I’m presenting in that class. However, modestly, I claim that I have finally managed to nail some effective pedagogy for these things, including activities and exercises, and also to keep the focus on design. And it would be pretty great to bring any expandable topic from a class interaction right back here to Seminar.

Check out the video, ask any questions.


11 responses to “Giano Academy teaching gig”

  1. Idle Curiosity, as I don’t have the time to commit to a course

    How important is it that participants have an actual game design they are working on, even if it only exists as 10 pages scrawled in a notebook? Particularly with regards the exercises / activities I can imagine someone getting a lot more out of such things if they were applyed to an actual work in progress rather than starting each with "if I were designing a game it would be…"

    • I ran into that as a minor

      I ran into that as a minor issue as a couple of students didn't have anything on hand, and I kept referring to "your own design" as a feature.

      Two things come to mind, and maybe the second makes the first a bit nicer and easier.

      • If you're taking a course called "Introduction to Design," I don't think it's expecting too much that designing an RPG has at least crossed your mind being signing up for it.
      • I specify right away that a few sentences and a procedure with a question mark next to it definitely counts as design, as long as you feel some kind of charge that this imagery and/or activity might be fun to try.

      I also think that the content I'm presenting works very well for rudimentary or preliminary notions, certainly better for those than for "just about ready to Kickstart" edited and laid-out manuals.

      So my plan is to be a bit more explicit in the next round for this class that if you don't have something on hand, then come up with something authentic to your own interests, even if it's totally sketchy and not more than a glance toward actual rules. In fact, I'd rather that people do that instead of the voluminous text (read: white whale) or their already pretty much done and packaged product.

  2. Experiences

    I'm interested in knowing your perspective on how it is to teach a game design course like this. Apologies if these are too many questions at once.

    • How did you prepare for the lectures, and what kind of material did you bring?
    • What kind of interaction did you have with the students? Was there discussion? How much of it?
    • What kind of practical work did the students have to do?
    • Did remote teaching affect the lectures, and if so, how?
    • What was handled by course organizers vs. by you, and how?
    • How was the experience for you, personally? Is there anything that you've learned?
    • Is there anything that you would do differently in the next round?
    • Reply 1 (of 2) The real

      Reply 1 (of 2) The real question is whether course is truly value-added in terms of design. Are the students better-equipped to continue with a current design, so that they find it both easier and more challenging, i.e., in the right way? Are they better, or on the starting path to being better, at judging what to do next, as their game evolves? Are they able to maintain enthusiasm and love for the work, rather than relying on social euphoria and sacrificial determination? If they were not embarked on design, are they more likely to try, or rather, be less inhibited to do so, if and when they want to?

      I kept all of these absolutely front in my mind before, during, and (now) afterwards. It is impossible for me to answer them, indeed, absurd. We’ll have to find out. One encouraging moment occurred when a student went “boink” after the first session and actually produced a game idea which he then worked on throughout the course, which he said he would have abandoned (before taking this course) because it was too fun and too personal, rather than being hot-topic and obviously fandom-friendly.

      The tough part for me is that I think it’s not a great idea to start with design. I’d rather teach a course about play as such (think of this as anatomy and behavior), then a second course on the phenomena of play (think of this as physiology and genetics), and only then move into design as an activity. This course necessarily had to be about play and phenomena more than its short-form structure could really hold, and so I really had to strategize the placement of design issues and also perhaps bring them up before I would have chosen to, given the sequence I’d rather use.

      In pedagogic terms, this topic also includes several angles or intersecting concerns which need to be examined separately, for example, whether what I’m saying is true, but also, is it something I am merely advocating for, instead of providing sufficient perspective for them to judge it.

    • Reply 2 (of 2) Regarding your

      Reply 2 (of 2) Regarding your questions. Fortunately all of these are already answered on my mind, as they’re the same critique or reflection that I consider necessary whenever I teach, among other things. All I have to do is turn scribbles or the edits I’ve made to my slides into sentences that someone else can read.

      I used PowerPoint slides and shared them into the Google Meet space we used. Fortunately, science training strongly discourages fancy formatting, and I’m experienced in making slides work in a teaching situation. The key is that the slide does not replace what needs to be said or discussed, but only acts as a prompt. (Incidentally, this also means that the slides by themselves are unhelpful or ineffective, so don’t ask me to post them.) I also put some of the images or lists into the course’s Discord chat as we went along, so that students wouldn’t have to squint at the slide. So you get the proper idea, each 2-hour session used only 12-15 slides.

      I don’t know how one teaches without interacting with students; I say this firmly, having taught hundreds-strong lectures as well as 2-person tutorials. As I mentioned above, the slides acted as prompts either for my intended spoken points or for something for us to do together, and a couple of the sessions included fairly intensive group work using documents I provided in the chat. When I asked for questions or for them to provide examples, I did not just move on after waiting 10 seconds. I told them in the beginning that they were expected to ask their own questions at any point they needed, although in each section, the students took a couple of sessions to relax enough to do so. When someone asked a question, I addressed it right away, or finished a current point and returned to it, or identified it as off-topic to be followed up individually if the student wanted.

      In addition to the in-class activities, students received homework assigments each session. The start of each session after the first included a generalized review of the homework performances, presented in a way which did not call out anyone specifically. I also provided individual time for anyone who wanted to go over their assignments afterwards, and several did this throughout the course.

      The remote teaching forced me to abandon a lot of my preferred methods, for example, putting the students into small groups for different specific activities and then comparing them, or arriving at written work which then gets used as content for the next step. In fact, I typically don’t use slides to teach at all, preferring big white boards and lots of writing on them during class, by me and by students – so that was lost. We didn’t experience any dropped connections or sound problems, and I asked everyone to gesture broadly instead of just using the little hand-app (which I never notice). I’ve learned a lot from the Adept Play seminar and play via screen, so perhaps I was better prepared than most teachers using the screen for the first time.

      Here’s one downside for sure, though. I usually allow myself range for spontaneous humor or at least asides, which does not work well through the screens with multiple participants. People miss what it is and struggle to process it as notes of some kind, and others are prone to grab onto it and run down a rabbit hole. I also did something wrong – I can get a little forward (challenging, funny, whatever) in a course’s later sessions toward students who’ve already stepped up, which in person works out really well and encourages others to do the same, but when I tried that here just once, it backfired because I’d mixed up one student for another, which never happens in person. So, note to self, drop that technique entirely.

      The course organizers, or more accurately, the academy’s administration, handled all the registration, tuition, and other logistics. They provided the Google Meet logistics, including the URL, as apparently they want all the courses done using exactly the same routines (probably a good idea). Since this is the first course taught in English, each section also included an assistant who acted as translator, especially for students’ questions as we didn’t want people to have to translate themselves at the same time as they were working out what to ask. Sometimes questions would start in English, then go to Italian to find the precise concept, and then (obviously, for me) go back to English. I don’t mind taking the time to do things like that.

      I really liked doing this, of course. Teaching is a primary passion for me, or rather, the educational interaction which includes teaching. All the work that goes into it, the experience during the coursework, and the follow-up reflections and interactions are basically a job which I enjoy thoroughly.

      As for doing things differently, it’s easier to list things that I’m not altering in some way. The first time one teaches a course is always best considered a very rough, naïve effort which requires both forgiveness and stern revision. A very short glance at changes, certainly not a complete list, include shifting a fair amount of content off the slides (a hazard of using this method is for them to fill up) and into handouts for easy reference; identifying overruns of content per time in the session, which fortunately only showed up once, as I’m good at estimating teaching-times; and including more activity/exercises now that I have a better idea of the venue and the students’ perspectives. The course can be passed, i.e., not passed, but as always with a first-time course, the standards were necessarily a little bit permissive and vague. Now that I’ve done it once, I can come up with a real grading scheme – still only pass/fail, but concrete and understandable, and students can get a look at how they’re doing or did, as I see it.

      I’m a little sad we don’t have an students’ assessment process, i.e., by the students toward the course. Ideally it would be carried out a fair while afterwards, as in-class evaluations tend to be murky. I’ll try to get something implemented.

  3. A question about methodology.

    As I mentioned on Discord, as someone who's got no background in teaching or educational sciences, the discussion about the Patreon post and the gameplay examples left me with one big question.

    When teaching game design, the goal is to build a knowledge base of existing games and procedures to draw from or to use as "stepping stones", or there's a technical level where the end goal is teaching how to use X to achieve Y? Deductive vs inductive, so to speak. Or both. Again, it's probably a fairly dumb question but I'm really out of my element here.

    • I appreciate the question!

      I appreciate the question!

      To be stated and understood:

      I don’t consider this topic at a general level, e.g., “when teaching game design” as if it were a task/job that is widely understood or should be, or “the goal” as a self-evident or common thing across classes. There isn’t any shared or acknowledged pedagogy for RPG design.

      So I can answer for this class specifically as its own thing.

      Deduction and induction (anyone sane can probably skip this, but insofar as they were mentioned …)

      As you might expect from a scientifically-trained person, I think of either deduction and induction in periodic reference to the other and I think both must be held in constant critique. (This drives metaphysicians crazy, but I also think the tree is still behind me when I’m not looking at it, so to them, I’m already a lost cause.)

      For example, I do state principles – ideas, positions, whatever you want to call them – and proceed to “therefore we may construct rules like X, Y, and Z.” That’s the deduction. But those ideas were themselves produced through induction on a few people’s parts (and a zillion people conversing and arguing), so they didn’t come from any well of truth or mystic matrix of pure-logic. At the same time we’re applying the principles-based concepts to design, we’re also re-evaluating the principles based on the range of available design and experiences.

      My stab at doing this coherently is to alternate: here is an idea or principle which would suggest particular rules or framing notions for rules; next, here are a bunch of existing rules and experiences, which may look either like they confirm that principle or like they call it into question; and now, here is another idea or principle, either following upon the heels of the first or posed as an alternate; et cetera.

      Perhaps disappointingly, the course cannot be a technical protocol of “how to design,” or as I tell the students, Ron’s magic locker of secret ingredients and recipes. Nor can it be a noble tome of truth which can always be consulted and discussed in order to find out what to do for a given game design. In terms of course goals, I do not offer a telephone booth for people to enter and to exit wearing a skin-tight suit with “D for Designer” on their chests.

      Plain language (thank God)

      Keeping it all oriented toward the activity of designing is my guide. Fortunately, this is right here in front of us, not least in the urges and interests of the people who have signed up for the course. We don’t have to ask “why do we” or “why should we,” or even “what is it really.” it’s happening and it’s ongoing.

      So I’ve got my own range of experience of play and design, but each particular class group brings their experiences and observations of play and design too. That’s a good mix of reality-checking or compared impressions to work with. We can proceed from who these students are and what they want to do as our continued baseline. For example, I can say, “since the point here is not to throw 800 ‘coulds’ at you, we can more easily look at what inspires and excites you about how you’ve already played, and work from there. And if I can add to it or provide context for it, I will.”

      Let me know if that makes any sense.

    • It definitely does – oddly

      It definitely does – oddly enough, the part of not-so-sane people expecially.

      I wonder how much of this process of creating, playing, analyzing and then creating more is based on the fact that this activity only becomes "real" when it's performed (ie, played). Reading the play reports on Ribbon Drive made me think about that; the expectations we may have when reading an RPG text are one thing, but we only every understand how and where it works (or perhaps when it doesn't) by doing it. 

      It's not that surprising or unusual, after all; if we look at sports, despite the wealth of scientific study and millenias of practice, we've been high jumping in Olympic games for 150 years before Fosbury figured out that by jumping backwards you could jump 2 feet higher. Our "problem" is that the act of performing this activity is done in recreational, noncompetitive terms, across so many different tables/screens, between so many different people, with no way (or perhaps interest?) in figuring out who is "doing it right". That probably makes obtaining data that could be considered the base for a pedagogy or referenced as such incredibly hard. 
      I think it's noticeable how in the roleplaying space there's a certain reverence for the opinion of those who are demonstrably good at writing games; my impression hanging around Adept Play is that getting a portfolio in playing games well may be equally valuable. To the point that maybe the two activities may be sides of the same coin.

      Am I spouting nonsense?

    • I would much prefer that

      I would much prefer that regard & reputation would arise from play-activity rather than designing and especially not from publishing.

      It is rock-solid for me to insist that the following three things are a nested set, in descending or inwards order.

      • Playing, with subset of discussing or reflecting upon it
      • Designing, with subset of discussing or reflecting upon it
      • Publishing, with subset of discussing or reflecting upon it.
    • I just realized I’d forgotten

      I just realized I'd forgotten to reply to the most important part of your reply.

      Our "problem" is that the act of performing this activity is done in recreational, noncompetitive terms, across so many different tables/screens, between so many different people, with no way (or perhaps interest?) in figuring out who is "doing it right". That probably makes obtaining data that could be considered the base for a pedagogy or referenced as such incredibly hard. 

      If pedagogy means "doctrine," to be confirmed and conformed to by all designated experts going forward, then this would make sense. It is tied to the notion that "doing it right" is a matter of orthodoxy, which is only possible when we also have some body of judges for who is and isn't designated as orthodox enough to be a designated expert.

      However, and speaking as a literal professional pedagogue, that is not how I see the concept at all. I can't apply the term "problem" to your accurate description of the situation, not even in quotes. What I see is rather different, and at the risk of revealing some idealism, mighty.

      Perhaps it will help to say something I say in the course, that I reject the notion that one becomes an RPG designer, and upon the very framework which separates the designers (with much baggage of "professional," "author," "expert," "published") from the ordinary rabble of role-players (with similar baggage all wrapped  nicely in the term "customers"). I've stated my view many times: that an RPG designer is merely a role-player with a personality disorder called "must design," with "wants to publish it" being a severe condition or even pathology. I hold no image of "the" RPG designer steady in my mind which the students are expected to become. It's the nesting I just described which is held steady, so that I teach the students to ground their design process in their authentic experiences of play.

      This course absolutely ignores the severe condition and lets that be a problem for some future date. I'm focused on identifying and cultivating what "designing an RPG" actually is for the people who are taking the course. I'm showing them how to keep their inspiration evergreen, how to continue through the design process in the face of very predictable distractions and disruptions, what functions of role-playing may be treated as given regardless of subcultural labeling, and how to organize the information and procedures of play to meet what they think their own inspiration demands.

      Therefore my pedagogy is focused on activities, and on the questions they discover during and after those activities. That's why each class meeting after the first begins with some activity or point directly related to the homework they've done, and why the material scheduled for that meeting takes on a different tone or focus based on what they did or did not understand about that work.

      Does that help, or at least clarify my position?

    • It does. It’s scary, in a way

      It does. It's scary, in a way, because when you're a student you want to think there's a point when you've become proficient in what you're studying and there's a piece of paper to prove it, but I also think that's it's no coincidence that this particular position comes from someone with an actual background in education. 
      It reminds me of something my middle school (!) literature teacher told me (bless that man, he made me a better person). I wanted to become a writer, or journalist, so I would pester him asking if he could teach me how to write. He told me he couldn't, and nobody could, but he could teach how to learn from what I read. 
      Isn't it kind of ironic in an age where everyone is selling crash-courses that promise to turn you into a writer/an illustrator/a personal trainer/an IT technician in half a dozen lessons?
      The more I think about it, the more I appreciate your answer.

      I've stated my view many times: that an RPG designer is merely a role-player with a personality disorder called "must design,"

      This is way too accurate. 

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