Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Retrospective of SISTA's Game Design Workshop

As I mentioned last month, the University of Arizona’s new School of Information: Science, Technology, and Arts (SISTA) has been organizing a Game Design Workshop for kids. The workshop was a one-week summer program that aimed to teach kids about game design and development, and I was lucky enough to have been hired as a teaching assistant for it. There was one other TA, as well as three instructors, which meant we were a team of five teachers in total.

Our biggest challenge was the fact that this was a brand new workshop being run for the very first time, so we essentially had to design it from the ground up. The bulk of the work was done by the instructors, while we TAs were given specific tasks to learn Stencyl, take notes on our experience, and design some lessons for it. During the several weeks before the workshop started, we were mostly working remotely, using online tools like Google Docs to collaborate. During the final week of preparation, we all met up to bring everything together and to "test" the design of the workshop so far by running through a mock version of it. The workshop then ran for two sessions, where each session lasted for one school-week (five days), and then end with a big playtesting event, where all of the parents and relatives could come in to play the students' games.

So was the workshop a success? Many of the people involved—from the kids, to their parents, to the rest of the SISTA faculty—were blown away by how amazing they thought the workshop was. The positive feedback was pretty consistent across both sessions, and it’s been immensely satisfying to read through the anonymous surveys that we’ve been collecting.

In this post, I’ll point out the various aspects of the workshop that I thought made it work so well, while also pointing out the various problems that we failed to avoid. Even though I found the typical postmortem format to be pretty useful when writing this, this is more accurately described as a retrospective. I'm not really in a position to be able to speak for the entire team, and since part of the goal of this post was to critique my own performance as a TA, I've added a few self-evaluation sections as well.