Understanding Video Games is back, bigger and better

Popular MOOC promises even better experience the second time around.


(Edmonton) Last year, when the University of Alberta launched its second massive open online course (MOOC), “Understanding Video Games,” nobody could have predicted just how popular it would be.

The course, offered through the Faculty of Arts, attracted more than 27,000 online learners from 154 countries, as well as 364 U of A students from a variety of faculties and disciplines.

“I really wanted to take the course because I heard great things, and I thought having it online would be really convenient,” says Zak Turchansky, a student in the U of A's Faculty of Science. “It was the first online course I’d ever taken and I thought it was really good.”

This fall, the MOOC is back. Registration for both the online course (STS 351) and the blended option for U of A students (STS 350) officially starts March 16. The course is once again available free of charge to the public through the online education platform Coursera.

“The course proved enormously successful; we were very surprised and pleased,” says arts professor Sean Gouglas, who teaches UVG along with computing science graduate student Leah Hackman. “We’re excited with how many signed up the first time and we’re excited now to do it again.”

Exploring the interplay behind the gameplay

The course explores how video games capture and examine the interplay between the designer, the player and the game itself. It also challenges students to consider what video games can tell us about society’s views on issues like gender, sex and violence in a series of weekly modules on the topics.

“Learning about race and class in video games was unexpected, and I hadn’t thought about that in games before, so it challenged me to think about them in that regard,” says STS 351 graduate and biological sciences student Jaclynn Wong. “It was really neat to compare some of the Dungeons & Dragons races to real-life races.”

Both Wong and Turchansky agree the UVG course sets students up for success. Turchansky—who humbly admits he got an A+ in the course—says despite the class taking place in the online world, there were several real-life resources to take advantage of.

“There were office hours available, as well as forums to chat with other students and the profs online,” he says. “It really is structured well, and the flexible schedule is the best part for sure.”

In the next instalment of UVG, Gouglas says, students can look forward to even more resources and an enhanced partnership with BioWare, the world-renowned game developer based in Edmonton.

“The course will definitely be bigger and better this time around,” says Gouglas. “More interactive, more videos, more BioWare collaboration, more games, more fun.”

UVG is taught through a series of short instructional videos, pop-up quizzes and required readings, and is supplemented by an online forum for students to share their experiences.

U of A students can earn three credits for the course, giving them an alternative to the STS 350 in-class course, which is part of the curriculum for the U of A’s Computer Game Development Certificate.

Students in any faculty or department can register for STS 351 on Bear Tracks, and the general public can sign up on Coursera.