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Emerson College gets playful with planning

More than 1,000 stakeholders played Boston institution's online goal-setting game
University Business, December 2014
 Students and staff weighed in on insti-tutional goals via question-based missions.
Students and staff weighed in on insti-tutional goals via question-based missions.

Strategic planning is a serious business. At Emerson College in Boston, it’s also been turned into an online game that everyone on campus can play.

The private college with 3,700 students tapped its own Engagement Game Lab to create a series of question-based missions that allow students, faculty, staff and alumni to share ideas about the goals President Lee Pelton has set for the institution. More than 1,000 players registered for the game, which began in late September and ended in early November.

“Games are a very respected way to engage with people in a serious process. But who says serious can’t be fun?” says Donna Heiland, a vice president and special assistant to the president at Emerson.

Heiland believes Emerson is the first college ever to go online with a game seeking feedback on its strategic plan priorities, which include academic excellence, civic engagement, internationalization, innovation and financial stewardship.

The questions didn’t relate to whether Emerson is achieving academic excellence or doing a good job engaging its community. Rather, players were asked to describe their greatest learning experience and to suggest organizations with which the college should partner, among other probing questions.

Responses could potentially help Emerson create new courses, enhance advising and shape its curriculum. “It’s a radically inclusive conversation,” Heiland says.

Once a player answered a question, the response became public and other players could “like” it or comment. Trivia questions could be answered to win virtual coins, which players were able to pledge to campus causes and initiatives. The three causes that earned the most coins also will receive $1,000 (in actual money) from the college.

At an upcoming meeting open to the entire campus, the ideas to advance the strategic plan will be discussed further.

The project was jointly funded by Heiland’s office and Emerson’s marketing and communications department, with the Engagement Lab dedicating some in-kind resources, Heiland says.

She adds that this kind of strategic planning has an immediate return. “A lot of people will understand the work we’re doing at a level of detail that might not have been available to them otherwise.”

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