Greenlaw Gameroom

Design Thinking


Story mode

02.24.20


A gaming-centered classroom created by UNC-Chapel Hill Teaching Associate Professor Courtney Rivard helps students reimagine the art and science of storytelling.

Story by Shellie Edge; Photography by Sarah Daniels, Innovate Carolina

Students play video games to learn during a course that focuses on the horror writing genre

Why Innovators Care

Courtney Rivard used the design thinking skills she honed during the Faculty Innovation Workshop to co-create a unique gaming classroom in Greenlaw Hall

On a brisk Friday in February, a group of Carolina students file into their literature classroom prepared to log on and learn in a way that few students have. While they’re likely to have the same supplies on hand that they used in other classes earlier that day – pens, notebooks, tablets and laptops – there’s one type of tool that they only use here. And it comes with choices: blue or red Nintendo Switch controller? Or better yet, Nintendo Switch or PS4 console?

 

The students’ chance to use video game technology to learn about storytelling comes thanks to Courtney Rivard, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor who’s innovating across the humanities with her launch of a gaming-centered classroom, the first of its kind at the University. 

The gameroom holds five TV screens and a classes of up to 25 students

The Greenlaw Gameroom is a physical classroom where faculty teach courses that incorporate gaming into the curricula. A teaching associate professor in the English & Comparative Literature Department and director of the Digital Literacy and Communications (DLC) Lab, Rivard says her idea for the game room was sparked by a conversation with graduate student David Hall, who wanted to incorporate his love for games into teaching but was frustrated at not having a way to teach games effectively because of the lack of a space that enabled an entire class of students to play together.“

There are tons of gaming labs, but the thought of a gaming classroom is new. The idea behind the Greenlaw Gameroom is that we would have this space dedicated to gaming pedagogy and gaming research,” says Rivard. “It would be a way to bring game studies into the humanities with the game room serving as the cornerstone of a larger gaming initiative in the English and comparative literature department. The hope is to create collaborations with our other colleagues in the humanities.”

When Rivard learned there was a classroom near the DLC lab in need of a renovation, she and Hall had the idea to redesign the space and launch the game room. The location of the gaming classroom next to the DLC lab is ideal because the lab is a hub for innovation and hands-on learning across media, creating a concentration of digital innovation and demonstrating what an English & Comparative Literature Department looks like in the 21st Century.

“The game room feels less like a classroom. It’s more enticing to lead a class discussion with state-of-the-art equipment in a less traditional academic setting,” says Jorge Santana an undergraduate student majoring in biology. “Also, the idea of playing games, something most people wouldn’t associate with school, made it more fun to go to class.

 

Rivard enjoys seeing how popular games like Halo, Assassin’s Creed, The Last of Us and God of War that are available in the classroom help students like Santana rethink their view of storytelling altogether.

“Games can disturb our notions of what stories are because you get to become a part of the story, you get to affect the story,” she says. “They shake up our traditional understanding of literature a bit in productive and interesting ways.” 

“You can think about designing games as a story. If you can make students think critically about the material that surrounds them, then they become more critical citizens and think more deeply about what they’re doing,”

Courtney Rivard
After playing the game, the students take off their headphones, put down their controllers and engage in a group discussion about the aesthetics of the game

Collaborators at Carolina and beyond

Through the help of the Lenovo Instructional Innovation Grant via the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE), together with support from English & Comparative Literature Department Chair Mary Floyd-Wilson, Rivard, Hall, and the students in the DLC were able to kickstart the game room. In applying for the grant, which encourages innovation in instruction with an emphasis on technology, they worked with the CFE to bolster their efforts around the game room. For instance, the center fostered conversations and connections among potential gaming collaborators.


“I learned how the grant would help create collaboration and iteration. That was a big takeaway for me,” says Rivard. “From those conversations, we started to build a collaborative network, including making connections with colleagues at the UNC School of Education, Duke University and NC State. I was able to work with faculty from across different disciplines – faculty I hadn’t imagined I’d get to work with on this idea.”


Many people may not see the common tie between gaming, literature and storytelling. But the interconnection creates powerful learning experiences for students.


“You can think about designing games as a story. If you can make students think critically about the material that surrounds them, then they become more critical citizens and think more deeply about what they’re doing,” adds Rivard. “What’s neat about games is that they all have stories. The difference between a good game and a bad game is ultimately the story you can tell and how a player can affect the story.”

Design thinking for a digital space

In designing the look and feel of the game room, Rivard applied lessons on design thinking she took away from attending the Chancellor’s Faculty Innovation Workshop.

 

“The workshop was attentive to considering everyone’s ideas. I came in with a critical eye for design and space. How do the different pieces of furniture, colors and props facilitate or encumber effective learning and outcomes?” says Rivard. “The workshop was dedicated to thinking deeply about your idea. That doesn’t happen often… to have other smart people think deeply about your idea and really consider it in a powerful, passionate way. It allowed me the opportunity to be in the same room with a lot of different people from fields I never would have otherwise encountered,” she adds.

 

The workshop is an annual, invitation-only event for UNC-Chapel Hill faculty sponsored by the Chancellor and hosted by Innovate Carolina. Nominated by deans, workshop participants are invited based on the promise they show toward innovative and entrepreneurial thinking.

It’s a forum that also helped inspire and spark new ideas for Rivard around incorporating design thinking into her teaching.

 

“I saw how much design thinking resonated with composition and rhetorical theory. I think a lot about how to teach students how to write, how to structure ideas into a coherent piece of work and how to communicate that to an audience in an effective way,” Rivard says. “It helped me think about similarities in the theories I use to teach, especially at the ideation stage.”

Visually, the Greenlaw Gameroom is exactly what a gamer wants. Designed to look like a cozy space where friends and family might gather, the space has upgrades like new paint, new floors and five large screens complete with PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch consoles that allow for simultaneous play for up to 25 students. Rivard wants the room to be a place where students are free to come up with crazy, wild ideas.

 

“It was hugely important to make the space look like home. From the design thinking workshop, our takeaway was to recognize the importance of making the space feel calm, comfortable and as flexible as possible,” says Rivard. “In addition, I wanted the space to reduce hierarchy among students and bring people from different backgrounds together to encourage the application of brainstorming and design thinking techniques.”

Participants in the Faculty Workshop learned how design thinking can enhance their teaching, research, and other projects
Rivard with Provost Bob Blouin at the conclusion of the workshop
Rivard sharing her ideas at the workshop

“It was hugely important to make the space look like home. From the design thinking workshop, our takeaway was to recognize the importance of making the space feel calm, comfortable and as flexible as possible,” says Rivard. “In addition, I wanted the space to reduce hierarchy among students and bring people from different backgrounds together to encourage the application of brainstorming and design thinking techniques.”

Courtney Rivard

A growing list of gaming enthusiasts

The game room is rapidly gaining fans – both students and faculty alike. Courses using the space include digital storytelling, horror literature, film studies and first-year writing courses. One of these new first-year writing courses, designed by Hall, focuses on using gaming for storytelling across the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.

 

“The Greenlaw Gameroom created an enriching experience for our Horror class,” says Myklynn Lapoint, a Carolina undergrad. “Being able to play the games in groups during our scheduled class time allowed us to have immediate discussions afterward to analyze the experience and content.”

 

Rivard is excited about her ongoing innovation journey with the Greenlaw Gameroom and encourages others who have a creative idea to take the next step.  

 

“The University is so huge and so powerful in resources and people. However, with the size, it is easy to get siloed, and it becomes difficult to connect,” she adds. “But talking, having coffee with people from different disciplines, different ways of teaching… that helps me think about new possibilities.”

To learn more, visit the Greenlaw Gameroom website.

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