Elizabeth Lawley: “Just Press Play” — Adding a Game Layer to the Undergraduate Experience

I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t aware of Professor Elizabeth Lawley. Ten years ago, there weren’t many tenure-track academics who were also active bloggers, avid gamers, and social media researchers. Now Professor of Interactive Games and Media at Rochester Institute of Technology, Lawley has chaired the annual invitation-only “Social Computing Symposium” sponsored by Microsoft Research since 2006 — before the term “social media” emerged. In 2004, she founded RIT’s Lab for Social Computing, which Lawley says was “the first interdisciplinary academic lab centered on social computing.” But social computing per se wasn’t the topic of our recent video conversation. I was interested in her leadership of an experiment at RIT that is “adding a game layer to undergraduate education.”JPP4

Like many who are experimenting with game mechanics in education, Lawley disavows the term “gamification.” Although she isn’t opposed to the idea, the “Just Press Play” program Lawley initiated at RIT isn’t just about making academic courses more fun. What she has in mind is the entire undergraduate experience, a rich and intense cultural adventure that most people remember for the rest of their lives, but which has been almost entirely free from pedagogical intervention. Dr. Lawley’s intention in devising “Just Press Play” was to “provide students with a clearer sense of their accomplishments in various areas (academic, social, and creative) of their college experience and provide them with tools to reflect on their range and balance of activities” and to “increase students’ awareness of activities and opportunities outside of their academic coursework, from wellness to collaboration to knowledge of the campus and city and inspire them to sample a range of experiences.”

Fun was definitely integral to the plan. Lawley wanted to “provide students with a sense of fantasy, whimsy and playful abstraction in dealing with the stress and growth associated with the transformational nature of undergraduate education.” How does it work? Watch this 12-minute video interview with Lawley, with her description of “Just Press Play” illustrated by her slides of the game itself.

Banner and second image credit: Courtesy of Elizabeth Lawley