No Takers For Civilization 5

Our social studies department rarely has elective courses to offer our junior high students. I don’t know why, but ever since I’ve been at my school, most of the “unique” elective courses go to other content areas, such as phy. ed and language arts. This year was different, however. All departments were asked to submit ideas for new elective courses. Since I’m always looking for more ways to incorporate technology, increase student engagement, and because I myself enjoy video games, I proposed a class titled: Civilization 5: A History of Empire Building. Here is the description I wrote for our school’s course catalog:

Why do countries make the decisions they make? How do nations relate to each other? What types of resources does a country need to achieve its goals? These are essential questions all nations face to varying degrees. The answers to these ideas and others will be explored using the video game Civilization 5. This class will use Civ 5 as a way to look at common issues all nations face. In addition, students will look at primary source documents and interpret statistical data from around the world. Projects and assignments will be posted on blogs, forums, and class websites.

The intent of the class is to critically analyze how historically some nations rise, and some nations fall. The centerpiece of the six-week class would be based on Sid Meier’s Civilization 5, an extremely popular (it is the fifth one after all) computer game. Great idea. Except for one thing: not enough people signed up. Not enough kids = no class. Bummer.

Since I was the one who proposed this class I was obviously chomping at the bit to teach the class, and I we disappointed in the lack of response to it. But what I am most curious to figure out is why there was a lack of response. I thought for sure, that in a school with at least 900 students in it, I could easily get at least 25 7th and 8th grade students to sign up for a class that not only allows you to play a computer game, it encourages it. And, it’s not as if computer hardware was going to be that much of an issue because the way I had the class structured, gaming would have taken place during class hours.

So I’m curious.  Did I overestimate student’s desire to use a computer game as a tool for learning?  Are students wary of the idea because they’re so unfamiliar with that concept?  Are parents scared off by that idea because they don’t think it’s rigorous enough?  If I propose the class again in the future, how can I make it more appealing?

I’d be interested in getting some feedback from a teacher or school who has successfully pioneered a class that uses gaming as an instruction tool.  If that’s you, drop me a line.


3 thoughts on “No Takers For Civilization 5

  1. Hey David,
    The questions you have posed are very good ones? Sometimes as educators that promote video games in the classroom I think we can take for granted students’ desire to play these games in school. That is not to say they dont want to play them, but they have to be reassured they are going to be actually “playing” games…not just studying them.
    As far as the parent concern, I think that was probably your most prominent opponent in this case. Parents, unless they are very video game savvy themselves are often very wary (especially with students that age) of dedicated time at school to video games when so many of their students spend time at home with video games. Seems counterintuitive, I know, one would think with so much motivation outside the classroom, they would be thrilled to have their students that motivated inside the classroom.
    There are several other factors in your school that I can not speak to…however I know I faced the challenges of finding time in students’ busy schedules for elective classes, finding administrative and departmental support throughout your district, and finding the support of the parents you mentioned earlier.
    As a whole, I am surprised you were unable to fill the class, as there is almost always great attraction to classes that are based around games…my only recommendation is keep at it! Keep promoting the class if admins will let you, or try to run it as an after school club to build attention. It seems like you may have gotten a good idea caught up in a bidding war with other electives! Good luck! The class sounds awesome!

    1. Hey Gerry,
      Thanks for the feedback. What games have you implemented in class, and what kind of success have you had with improving student learning?

  2. I encourage you to try again. This time, prepare a letter that would go home to parents that espouses the educational virtues of the game and how it uses higher-order thinking skills to problem-solve gameplay. Plan a Q & A session for fellow staff members and parents that offer them a chance to pick your brain on the thinking that prompted you to come up with such an innovative course. I, too, am an educator and plan to offer this game up to my building principal for use in two of my classes. I intend to do all of the things I mentioned above and then some. Please think about including the “hot seat” feature that Civ V has included in the June 2011 update that allows up to six (I think) human players to play the game from the same computer. I am taking advantage of this feature and plan to sit down with my admin team in the next week or two and have them try the game using that model to bring them on board. Keep at it. Best of luck.


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