7 Lessons from Teaching a Kickstarter Class


Kickstarter.com helps creative people and makers bring their projects to market.   If you are going to create something new like a music album, a new video game, or a movie, you need funds to pay for labor and resources.   Kickstarter.com provides a platform to enable creative individuals to share the story about their project and ask the community to help fund it.

In my professional work, we have looked for ways that our software development team can support deeper learning in higher education.   Through collaboration with Mercer University School of Engineering and the Technical communications department, our research center was given the opportunity to help mentor students.   We are very thankful for the professors and leadership of the Technical communications department enabling us to mentor students from the proposal writing classes.   While the students learned various aspects of technical writing, the professors designed their classes in a project based manner.   This was a perfect environment for the challenge we would offer to students.

Our software team had the opportunity to mentor two semesters of students.    We challenged the students to design an educational video game that would delight college students.   The games were designed to maximize fun while helping student gamers to “learn by accident.”   By co-developing the project ideas with students, we hoped to conduct research with them while also funding future internship opportunities for the students.

So… Why should we teach with games?

– We learn by doing. Student learning increases when they can immediately apply their knowledge.
– Games can be a platform for teaching systems thinking (i.e. the Sims, FoldIt! )
– Games can inspire large scale collaboration (i.e. Wold of Warcraft)

Lessons Learned from teaching KickStarter and Game based learning:

–   Learning creativity:  The students who selected the Kickstarter game design challenge utilized thoughtful creativity to draft their educational experiences.    Students explored almost every genre of gaming including social games, casual games, first person shooters, MMO’s, and other virtual environments.   Their subjects ranged from math, personal finance to history.   The imagination from the students was very inspiring.

– Learning the art of persuasion and marketing:   When I learned technical writing in college, I have to confess that it was very dry.  I really enjoyed seeing how the teachers shared the craft of writing with the students through proposal writing.    The students had to learn to share their visions and scope with written and visual clarity.   The project proposals considered needed to address planning concerns of cost, schedule and scope.   By developing a Kickstarter proposal format, the students also learned the craft of engaging the community by sharing a clear vision of why their proposal can benefit education.

Leadership and working as a team:  Drafting a proposal that inspires leaders and the community to care about a cause is very challenging.   The teachers of the class organized the students into project teams.   Through this process, the teams selected leadership and organized the various phases of the project:  letter of intent, requirements drafting, story board drafting, drafting budgets, and video recording.

– Building high level requirements for programmers:  To help keep the students organized in communicating with our software engineering teams, we mentored them in creating user stories for their ideas.    User stories are a light format for documenting software requirements.   Through this process, the students learned to prioritize their requirements and focus their product designs so they have a minimal viable product that is more likely to be funded.

– Estimating budget:  Students worked with a software engineering team to scope and estimate a budget for their project.   Using the user stories/requirements the students created, the software team treated the students as customers.    The programming team offered potential implementation ideas, offered coaching on having a clear elevator pitch, and making sure the students considered all the design elements required for a game.

  • What’s the objective of the game?
  • What are the rules of the game?
  • Why would I play?
  • How does the player receive feedback about progress? (scores, badges, visual space)

– Introduction to game based learning:  I really enjoyed seeing the students share their final presentations.    Game based learning is a relatively new concept in educational technology.    It was exciting to see these undergraduate students propose new ways of teaching using gaming.

– Story telling using video: To conclude the proposal process, some students created draft videos in the “Kickstarter” style.  During this phase, the students drafted their video messages using an outline or story board.

My team and I really enjoyed our opportunity to serve as mentors in this technical communications proposal class.    During the closing presentations, I realized that we had transformed these student teams into teachers.    The students were passionately advocating for their idea that can help enhance student learning and make it more fun.    To be honest, some students were more engaged than others.      I, however, enjoyed the process of mentoring these students in creativity, planning, and communication using our mash-up of Kickstarter and project based learning.

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