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If you haven’t yet, read part one of this post here, which outlines the way I draw parallels from the video game Celeste to positive attitudes, active learning, and metacognitive techniques in the classroom. This post focuses on parallels between the game and teaching strategies in introductory courses specifically. 

I am not an experienced video-gamer myself, so I started playing the game with a huge disadvantage compared to my friends who have been playing platformer games like this since childhood. Before ever picking up the game myself, I’d watch them play and I never imagined that I could make it past the first level. When I did decide to play, I found myself dying hundreds of times on screens that they were able to get through with fewer than 10 deaths. We often see this in our large introductory courses, where a small population of students begin their college coursework at a disadvantage compared to their classmates due to lack of resources or opportunities in their high schools. What can we do as instructors to help close this opportunity gap? How can we support these students and boost them up to a level playing field with the rest of their classmates? 

One feature Celeste offers is an assist mode that players can activate to get extra practice while equipped with infinite jumping power or immunity to falling. Assist mode in the classroom may mean providing opportunities for students to get extra help, which could take the form of extra problem sets with easier problems occupying the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. This sort of resource allows students to practice and hone skills in a low stakes environment, so that they can catch up with their peers.   

The main challenge of the video game is in the levels called “A sides,” which players need to complete to beat the game – just get to the top of the mountain. However, there are also collectable items scattered throughout the levels that players can go out of their way to grab. They’re not required to complete the game, but they serve as an extra challenge and help players build skills. Players whose only aim is to “survive” try to make it to the summit without putting in the extra work, while players who take the time to hone their skills and collect all the items “thrive” in the game. We can encourage our students to “thrive” in courses, and not just “survive,” by creating smart learning objectives for the course and effectively communicating them with our students. For example, instead of setting the following goal for students in an introductory chemistry course: 

By the end of the course, students will understand the basics of chemical equilibrium,” 

we can be more specific about our high expectations for students with the following goal:

By the end of the course, students will be able to use qualitative and quantitative routes to determine which chemical reactions will occur and to what extent.” 

Let’s challenge students to gain a deep understanding and intuition of the subject they’re studying, starting by defining quality learning objectives that push students to thrive. 

Players can also search through the A side levels for hidden cassette tapes that unlock B sides and C sides levels in the game, which require fine-tuned skills and finesse to complete. These next, more challenging, chapters require players to apply what they’ve learned in the A-sides to new situations, much like introductory gateway courses are meant to provide a foundation of skills for students to be successful in more challenging upper level courses. Including “challenge problems” on homework assignments or problem sets gives students opportunities to push themselves without having any extraneous stress of completing assignments for credit. This type of work allows students to build solid foundations for future courses. 

Finally reaching the summit leaves you with the feelings of relief, achievement, and pride – A similar feeling to passing a difficult course, graduating from a program, or in the case of 2020, finishing this wild semester.   

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