Video game MOOC boasts new mod: online exams

Understanding Video Games course goes fully digital—and becomes a tool for prisoner rehabilitation.


The University of Alberta is gearing up for the second instalment of the successful MOOC (massive open online course) Understanding Video Games—and its creators say they’ve levelled up when it comes to the digital experience.

Last year, the Faculty of Arts teamed up with Edmonton-based game developer BioWare to produce the online course, available to U of A students as STS 351 and free to the public through the education platform Coursera.

Aimed at challenging gaming culture and exploring violence and gender issues, UVG proved widely popular. Nearly 30,000 online users from 154 countries took the course.

But the credit component of the course remained an in-person exam, and UVG professor Sean Gouglas says it was a limitation the course’s developers were determined to overcome.

“We had students last year who would have liked to take the course for credit, but they would have had to travel to the university to take the exam,” explains Gouglas. “But now, we’ve devised a system where any student, anywhere in the world, can take the course and get university credit for it.”

The process is simple—those interested will be able to register in open studies at the U of A and sit the exam online, with the help of a proctoring service.

“They’ll take the same exam our U of A students will take, online and closely monitored by a proctor,” says Gouglas. “We’re not the first on campus to use this service but we are the first to be using it on this scale.”

In the world of gaming, cheats and hacks are a common occurrence. But there won’t be any way to get around studying for UVG’s exam.

“The students will be monitored via a webcam during the exam, and their keyboard, desktop and Internet connection will be closely watched,” explains Gouglas. “We’re really excited to see more students able to take the course for credit and to provide a fully digital experience. ”

Going the extra mile for The Last Mile

That’s not the only news for UVG this year. The Last Mile, a prison program helping to bridge the gap between incarceration and freedom for prisoners in California, has added the course to its educational curriculum.

“The Last Mile is part of a rehab program to prepare inmates for release, and they take it in the last stage of their sentence,” explained Gouglas. “We think it’s awesome. It’s a testament to the course’s quality and demonstrates the importance of MOOCs and other universal digital learning opportunities.”

Without Internet access, inmates won’t be able to access the MOOC as a typical learner would. Instead, course content will be preloaded to tablets and computers and used in a blended-learning environment.

Learning how the screen mirrors society

Student and public registration for UVG opens Sept. 1, and Gouglas says he’s looking forward to teaching a new crop of video game lovers.

“Students who take UVG get a better understanding of how games are made and the biases within them,” he says. “We learn about serious cultural and societal issues within video games. But we also have a lot of fun.”

Last year, the simple act of creating a UVG avatar turned into one of the most exciting aspects of the course for students. Gouglas says users went above and beyond, creating artistic and comedic versions of themselves and each other, and discussing their choices in the course’s online forum.

“It became a remarkable thing, because it was silly and fun but became great fodder for game study within the course,” he explains, noting that at one point the students decided to make Professor Gouglas avatars. “Some of the students made me—really inventive stuff—one even put me in a dress, which I loved. It was very fun.”

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