On September 3, 2020, at 5 p.m., the Faculty of Law invited its students—as well as gamers and curious members of the University community—to attend the inauguration of a virtual Fauteux Hall. While attending in person to socialize isn’t possible, the lawyers of tomorrow are invited to gather at the Faculty of Law... in the game of Minecraft.
At the height of the lockdown, Thomas Burelli and Alexandre Lillo, professors in the Civil Law Section and co-holders of the Faculty’s new research chair in teaching innovation, set out to virtualize the hall—essentially, for the fun of it. The two professors laid the first stone in mid-April, and the vast construction site has just been completed, thanks to assistance from students Rami Halawi (construction and interior design) and Simon Garceau (coding and technical support). Rumour has it that the daughter of the dean of the Civil Law Section also had a hand in the project in the beginning.
The game of Minecraft is well known in educational circles. Its creator, Mojang Studios, offers a free version of the game for educational purposes. However, since this version of the game is limited to small servers and cannot accommodate the underground level of Fauteux Hall, the virtual architects used a paid version to bring their project to life.
To unveil their masterpiece, professors Burelli and Lillo (aka “Prof Bubu” and “Lillaw”) were asking the public to participate by guiding the character in real time on a tour of the building and controlling its interactions with key figures in the life of the Faculty. The event was recorded and made available for later viewing.
Stimulating social interaction
In light of the pandemic, the project would take on an unexpected dimension at the start of the academic year. “One of the main university experiences is seeing people, meeting people, making friends,” says Professor Lillo.
In addition to visiting every nook and cranny of the hall (or almost), students will also be able to meet others who share their interest in law and video games.
“There’s a common belief that gaming isolates people, but that isn’t the case, particularly with games that are increasingly connected and have an online multiplayer component,” adds Professor Burelli. “We hope that this experience will create bonds that will last throughout students’ time at University.”
Potential worth exploring
While the project obviously has a playful side, it also holds intriguing educational potential. Now that the virtual construction of Fauteux Hall is complete, a wealth of virtual components could be added to take the adventure even further.
For example, the integration of online discussion platforms would allow users to communicate in real time, through live voices or by chat, with other students and professors present in the virtual faculty. And since the professors intend to make a copy of their virtual world available, more creative options, such as a virtual remodeling of the interior and exterior of the building, could be possible.
The professors will, so to speak, hand over the keys to the hall to the University community, so that members can make the space their own and give their imagination free rein.
“Our wildest dream would be to have other people at the University decide to build their own faculty, or even the entire campus,” said Burelli. “It’s a mammoth task. Now it’s up to the students to play.”
In the long term, if the project were to generate sufficient interest, the University could consider linking this potential virtual campus to various University services, provided that user privacy is properly protected, of course.
A unique chair
Last May, professors Burelli and Lillo were awarded the first-ever chair in teaching innovation at the Faculty of Law. Their mission: to transform the teaching of law at university by leveraging the power of games as a learning tool for the lawyers of tomorrow.
The co-holders of this chair have been working for a long time to raise the profile of games in academic settings. “Whether you like card games, board games, or video games, we’re all gamers,” notes Lillo. “There are simply different player profiles and different responses to the various types of learning through play.”
The professors argue that games can be powerful tools in experiential, dynamic, student-centred learning, as well as catalysts for the social interactions that are essential to training lawyers in the 21st century.
They believe that this year, the Faculty will need to do a lot to prevent students from becoming isolated and to keep them engaged. Along with introducing a new community dimension to life off campus, increasing the opportunities for game-based learning could be a great way to break up the monotony and rally student body around highly interactive initiatives.
“The idea isn’t necessarily to replace lectures, but to introduce other ways of learning,” notes Professor Lillo.
The Educational Gaming Group (EGG), the University of Ottawa’s game-based learning community of practice, recently launched a recipe book to help professors correctly integrate this kind of experiential learning into their courses. The book features escape games, cooperative games, and even speedruns to help students learn to think fast; it’s a valuable resource for professors seeking inspiration.
It’s back-to-school time. Ready, set, play!