There’s More to Assessment Than Grades?

So, you know the course is working if students are playing the games, right?

Well, that’s a good start, but there is such a large opportunity to learn more about what students are receiving from this course! The students playing the game shows us that they might be doing their homework of preparing for day-to-day classes, but are they understanding the underlying message of the game? Are they able to reconstruct the game to teach a different message? Are they able to teach the game in their own words with game-specific lingo?

All great questions that can be found through different forms of assessment!

Our first (and final!) form of assessment will be a pre and post test to the students in the course. This test is not actually a test, but moreso a form that students will populate with their current understanding of gaming and leadership knowledge. It includes likert scale questions that are answered on a 1 (very little) to 5 (very much) scale. It also has open-ended questions where students can choose to answer as lengthy as they would prefer, such as describing their approach to leadership. Comparing the pre-test that is given at the beginning of the semester to the post-test at the end, we are able to see any increases in comfortability with gaming and  leadership concepts, as well as personal growth in formulating their philosophies in these areas. Witnessing a student’s leadership definition go from 3 words to a paragraph long with examples supporting it makes my heart flutter!

Another form of assessment for the course is collected through in-class discussions. There is allotted times during each class session where students have the opportunity to participate in these conversations, sharing their thought processes and quandaries about the topic. We have also made available online discussion forums if students feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts digitally rather than in class. These discussions help us to see where students’ understandings are in regards to depth and clarity of the topics each week. These discussions are not necessarily for a grade, but rather to help us, as instructors, to guide the conversations and provide extra support to the students that might need it.

Speaking of grades, we will be using assignments as an addition form of assessment. This is where it starts to get somewhat tricky… Because the assignments have been completely gamified into experience points (XP) and students choose what level they want their characters to end on, we expect some students will not be as driven to reach an A+ level. Some students may be okay with earning a C in the class and only turn in that many assignments. (Thus, we have other forms of assessment to ensure learning is still happening!) The 80+ different types of assignments will help us to see where the students seem to direct their energy in completing “the missions” (assignments). Perhaps Student A submits many assignments in the current events category, so we may try to provide additional current event information that we come across for the student to delve deeper if they so choose during their own time. Maybe Student B submits multiple game designs for different assignments, showing interest in game design for a career, giving us the head’s up that we could introduce them to someone we know in the field- helping to make those crucial connections for internships, experiences, and perhaps even jobs!

In addition to these more immediate types of assessment, JS and I will also be completing an overarching data comparison with all of the data collected in this course with a previous, similar course that had been offered in the past in a different department. What this comparison will look like is still up in the air, but we thought this comparison would be important to see what differences we made in the course made a positive or negative impact on the students and their learning.

So, what’s next? Just collect the data and move on to the next class? Absolutely not! After visiting the data, JS and I hope to not only revamp the class accordingly (to better support our students and their learning), but hopefully continue to build off of this class in other areas of our professional lives. Yay for data making a difference!

Collaboration and Creation

JS: I have worked with a lot of people through the year. The day we are writing this and posting it is the final day of my twelfth year at Miami University. I’ve served on a number of committees, worked on tons of projects, and done a ton of different things. I’ve never had a collaborative relationship like this one. To start with I was never asked about doing it…Bethany told me we were going to. And then she told me her time frame and I thought she was insane. Looking back at it 8 months later…it is easily the best collaboration I’ve ever been a part of. And I think that is because we are, very much and in a lot of ways, opposites.

B: The collaboration piece of this project is what made the end product so amazing. JS had an idea and I believed in him- so I may have given him a little extra push with some confidence… and an aggressive timeline. JS was our big picture person. It was JS who brought in the overarching idea for the class and goal of having everything gamified. I came along and helped to set up the checkpoints to ensure we got it done and met all of the adminsitrative-y things along the way. The details? Well, let’s just say we were not saving the trees with how many post-it notes we went through when going back and forth come to a “decision” in our discussions.

JS: Bethany hit the nail on the head. I am very much an idea person and not so much with the executing. Even StrengthsFinder will tell you that. I took a course to learn to facilitate strengths and they gave us our full list. The highest thing in the Executing theme of the signature themes was 14th. Ideas…that I can do. Following through…not so much. Bethany made sure I followed through. And pushed me to be a better collaborator than I had ever been. Or as she called it…a mountain builder.

B: Oh, StrengthsFinder… I think 4 of my top 5 were executing? (JS: I think sometimes she wanted to execute me…) Anywho…

Overall, I was impressed that we were able to not only meet the aggressive timeline, but surpass it with everything we were able to achieve. Not only did we create the course, but we also wrote a grant (that was awarded!!!!), created the online portion of the class, connected with multiple academic departments to cross list the course, get it approved by the university, do initial planning to ensure the course was as accessible as possible for students with all learning styles and abilities, create materials for the course, build over 100 types of assignments…. Well, need I go on? Seriously, this team was ON FIRE!

JS: Assignments? I think you mean quests. We decided to come up with a totally different framework from how we’ve done classes before. However it didn’t start with this class-I gave Bethany the opportunity to fully re-write a different class I coordinate. No restrictions-no limitations…take the general idea and make something new. And she made something I would NEVER have created. I would not have selected the concepts she wanted to cover. I would not have chosen the format. After a bad experience with two-day, shorter classes I wouldn’t have switched that. And she was able and willing to create something new. She proved an ability to challenge me to stretch myself and become a better person. She created a totally different way for things to be done and different class concepts I would not have chosen to teach but that are perfectly relevant. Working together on that class built a trust that when she said “we are doing this” I believed her. When she would challenge something I was thinking it was to make things better and push me in a new way. It was really all for the benefit of the students and the class. So I allowed myself to be led down a path that I had just visualized a few years earlier and was unsure would ever be a reality.

B: I think JS hit on the two key pieces of our work together: trust and challenge. I am the safe player. I can tell you the next ten moves, ten weeks in advance- it’s just how my brain worked. JS challenged me to think in a way that helped me grow and helped to build the best experience possible for our students. When JS challenged my ideas, I was scared- we travelled into the unknown! EEK! But, that is when the best ideas came to fruition. I followed JS into the scary abyss of the unknown and he allowed me to put it into something physically in front of us to continue to make sense of. This created trust between us. We knew that where one person was nervous or lacked confidence, the other person could be the foundation. Thus, the mountain building phrase we came up used throughout. Didn’t mean it wasn’t butting heads sometimes, but it was constructive and created the peak!

JS: An interesting thing to notice here…since this is a leadership class. We were both leading. And both following. Both equally important, in my opinion, to good leadership. We were willing to set everything else aside for the good of the class and students it would be serving. The students were always our focus-what would be the best, most engaging classroom experience for them. We shared similar goals and worked together to reach for them.

B: Also good lessons to be learned- We failed. There were days that we got almost nothing done. Days that we were on completely different ideas as to what we thought things looked like. But, it was through these “failures” that we succeed. When these days happened, we took a breather and came back with a fresh mind and ideas and continued to build the mountain. WE did it!

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Needs $3000…

JS and I had the ideas, the skills, and the excitement to help this idea of a course come to life. What we didn’t have was the $3000.00 to purchase the games and materials.

JS and I put off this step of our course development as late as we possibly could while still being able to meet our deadlines. $3000.00 was a lot of money and the chance of not receiving the monetary assistance could prove to be a major problem in our timeline as well as extremely disheartening. This project is super exciting to us, but would it be enticing enough to potential funding sources to jump in for the following semester?

Thankfully, I had worked with a department on campus that oversaw teaching grants: The Center for Teaching Excellence. From my previous experience of working with the grant committee (previous to our grant proposal!)  I knew they were looking for innovative curricular submissions that could be assessed. If you are interested in learning more about the specifics of their grant requirements, please visit their grant information site.

Grant Writing Preparation. Phew, that sounded a lot scarier than it actually was to complete! JS and I copied and pasted the grant questions and requirements to a Google Doc and took turns filling out the different questions then reviewing the other’s work. What research backs this project? We had that collected from the beginning- it’s what guided this coursework! Support from our colleagues? Done thanks to the dedication of our peers throughout this project. Itemize and budget each aspect of the project? That was the fun part! JS helped with finding the games we needed and ensuring we had the correct number of copies of games for a class of 24 students. JS collected this information from many websites such as Amazon and BoardGameGeek. If you are interested in seeing our draft submission, please visit this Google Doc and its Appendices.

Sounds easy, right? The truth is, our grant wasn’t accepted at first…

We could have stopped there. We did a lot of work that we were proud of- but without the funds for the materials, it would not come to fruition. The rejection email was a major hit to our excitement in building the class.

We decided, instead, to resubmit the grant proposal with added changes suggested by the committee. These changes largely rested in expanding upon and clarifying how the course would be assessed for future renditions and creations. We redoubled our efforts, spent multiple meetings expanding upon how we could use different aspects of the course to assess effectiveness for the committee and even scheduled a meeting with the committee to ensure they were on the same page regarding the entire project/ making sure we tied up any loose ends.

“The Committee for the Center for Teaching Excellence completed its review of your resubmitted proposal for the Major Teaching Projects. On behalf of the committee, we want to personally thank you for improving your materials for this important award. We recommend that your revised proposal, “Leadership Through Tabletop Gaming,” be funded for $2935.18. We congratulate you on developing a worthy proposal.” I can remember rereading this email at 10pm on a Sunday night over and over again to make sure I read it correctly. We did it! 

Grant writing takes time, takes effort, and definitely requires dedication. But, in the end, grant writing can be the key to making your innovation, dream, goal, or otherwise come true. Find a colleague you work well with and spend some time writing, reading and revising- but most importantly, don’t stop if you are rejected or postponed! Keep going! Your funding may only be one sentence away….

What is NASAGA?

NASAGA Logo

The North American Simulation and Gaming Association

We will be talking a bit about NASAGA over the course of this blog. NASAGA has had a tremendous impact on us (and our ideas and methods for creating the class as well as other aspects of our work.) So, I feel we should introduce what NASAGA is.

NASAGA is the North American Simulation and Gaming Association.  From the website, “The North American Simulation and Gaming Association is THE home for trainers, teachers, and educators who use active learning methods to increase engagement, enhance retention, and improve performance.”  When people hear I’m going to a “gaming conference” for professional development they frequently question whether I am attending a professional conference and whether it is worth the university’s money. After seeing the results of what I have produced after attending the conference those questions quickly vanish. I can also point people to NASAGA’s Why Use Games page to help explain why our approach works.

My first trip to NASAGA was in 2012. Part of the ability to attend was it was close-two hours away in Columbus. While there I not only met some fantastic people but also was rejuvenated and blown away by the ideas and approaches that were being taken for training and learning. I had previously attended another excellent conference roughly 20 times (NACA-the National Association for Campus Activities) which I enjoyed but rarely hit my particular learning style. Someone I had met through NACA suggested I consider NASAGA and it was amazing. I felt awkward at first attending a conference where I didn’t know anyone and knew little of what to expect but quickly was enveloped into the fold and made to feel like I was home.

I attended every session slot and all but one (where the technology didn’t work) were excellent. If you would like to see what I attended at the conference you can view the report on the sessions I attended I turned in when I returned to campus. Notice one of the sessions is “Mining for Gold: Discovering Board Games’ Principles for Learning.” Greg Koeser (Founder/Game Designer for Short Attention Span Games) and Scott Nicholson Professor of Game Design and Development at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, Ontario presented a session about using board games to learn. While I did find a few games I eventually bought for personal use at that conference, I think it goes without saying this was one of the things that helped with the idea behind the class launching this fall. I was excited, energized and ready to make an impact with what I had learned.

NASAGA 2012

Part of the final presentation at NASAGA 2012

I did make an impact from that first trip and had a desire to begin attending annually, but things stopped me both personally and professionally from returning (or doing as much as I had intended.) Part of that was a new supervisor who also didn’t understand the value I found in going to a conference for gaming. However, when it was again just a couple of hours away, I was able to go along with two others from Miami; Bethany, who has been wowing you with her blog entries on here and Aidyn, who may be eventually as he is possibly also teaching a section of this class in the spring.  This semester we presented on the conference instead of writing a full report but I can tell you for all three of us NASAGA has revolutionized what we are doing in all aspects of our careers. Aidyn and I are working to create a number of breakout boxes/escape rooms with materials from Breakoutedu to use for training and team building. Bethany and I are creating this class. And that is just a couple of the things that have come from the conference. Trainings we have conducted, work with colleagues and our staffs-they have all been changed for the better by NASAGA. This fall Aidyn, Bethany and I will be returning as a trio to NASAGA…and this time it is not two hours away…it is in Reno, Nevada. (Side note-I’ve never been further west than St. Louis, so…adventure!)

Miami trio at NASAGA

The Miami Trio took NASAGA 2016 by storm.

This isn’t meant to sell you on attending NASAGA (although you should attend NASAGA-we hope to see you there!) This is to show you where we got a lot of the ideas and inspiration for what we do. Also to say take a risk. There are opportunities out there to revolutionize your work in ways you would never expect. NASAGA has twice done it for me and will be again this fall. Bethany and I are presenting on the class (more on that in a future blog) and Aidyn is presenting as well as helping plan part of the conference. Find those tools that help you do what you do better. We all did with NASAGA. Hopefully you find your way to do so also!

Wait, there’s a name for this?

As much as I would like to claim that JS and I are super famous researchers (NOT!), it is important to situate our philosophical foundation for the course and giving credit where credit is due.

We used 4 main philosophical views to build our course. (Although, JS would say we just made it and named the researchy-things later…) I will take a moment to share each of these philosophies, theories and models for those of you who are interested in the more technical side of things:

  1. Bloom’s Taxonomy: This model is in the shape of a pyramid and believes that students move towards the top of the pyramid as students better understand and comprehend the material. At the bottom of the pyramid is the remembering stage. A student is at this stage if they are able to regurgitate a piece of information. However, moving up the pyramid, we find application. If a student can apply the knowledge they previously could regurgitate to a new solution, they are believed to be at this stage.We chose to use Bloom’s Taxonomy because we believe it is important to meet students where they are and want to provide opportunities for students to grow no matter where they are on this pyramid throughout the experiences while providing the necessary support along the way. Throughout the course, the students have the opportunity to read the rules of the games (remember rules), play the games (understand), submit blogs on their assignments/reviews of home games (apply and analyze and evaluate), and even create their own game as a final assignment (create). The students choose how quickly they move along the pyramid based on previous experience and desire for deeper learning.

  2. Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning: Building from Bloom’s Taxonomy, we wanted something that supported the how of what we were doing. Bloom gave us many base-level ideas of what we wanted to achieve, but we needed to know how- which is where Kolb’s model comes in to play. Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning shows how students can approach a experience to get the most learning out of it. The first step is to have an experience- the actual event happening. The next step is to have a reflective observation: write or communicate exactly what happened. Next, there is abstract conceptualization. Here, we ask why something happened when we participated in the experience. The last step (although, it is encouraged to repeat the whole process) is active experimentation. During this step, students are encouraged to think of ways to alter the experiment that would alter the outcome.This model (as well as our love of games) is the whole basis of why we are using actual games and gamification in the classroom. Hands-on experience where the students control their experience points (grades) and how the games play-out in the classroom. Students are playing together, recording what happens through writing weekly observations, reflecting on their thoughts, and altering the games through their home assignments are gaining these experiences tenfold!
  3. Gamification: Okay, this is where it starts to get tricky. Did you know game-based learning and gamification are different? Gamification is using gaming concepts in the experience you are creating. For example, our course has opportunities for students to earn more XP (gradepoints) by choosing their own quests (assignments) they want to complete. Additionally, we have created a Rule Book rather than a course syllabus that outlines the journey (course) they are about to embark on throughout the semester. Gamification helps to motivate even those who are not self-proclaimed game-nerds (as JS and I claim to be) become more motivated in whatever experience we take part in. Motivation by gamification seems like a stretch? Check out this article from Forbes.

    Player's Handbook

    The Player’s Handbook (Syllabus) for EDL 290T.

  4. Game-Based Learning: Now, for the other half… Wikipedia may say it simplest: Game based learning is game play with defined learning outcomes. (Seriously- why doesn’t this site get more credit for how helpful it is?) JS and I didn’t program the games we chose only because we liked them… We chose these games because we had certain outcomes we want students to come to discover and believe they best provide the experiences that help students get there! For example, we are using the game Ladies and Gentlemen. Yes, the students are learning to play the game in particular. However, we also have specific reflection questions that speak directly to sex, gender, and racial roles that are presented and appropriated throughout the play of the game. Is this okay? How could this be changed in future printings if they were the producers? Is this seen in other games they’ve played before? There is so much to learn from gaming experiences!

For those of you who survived this post, congratulations! Similarly to a personality test, you may have a brain more built like mine than JS’s. As I have said in previous posts, he’s the creativity and I am the structure. It takes both to build something as awesome as this class!

I talk a lot about the how in this post, but still, a large how is missing…. how we paid for the class coming to fruition. However, this is a “how” that will need to wait for fresh (digital) paper.

Curriculum Wizarding

“Here is a map for your journey. This map will guide you to scenarios where you will gain experience points by conquering a newer field of gamifying leadership concepts. At the end of your journey, you will find a treasure beyond any physical reward– an inspired group of undergraduate students that go forth into the world to further develop their understanding of their personal leadership style,” the mighty wizard with a magical curriculum map said.

Truth be told, there was no magical wizard that visited JS and I in our shared office. As a matter of fact, we were never gifted a magical map either. However, we did have a shared vision of inspiring undergraduate students through gamifying leadership topics and inspiring personal growth and development.

Our curriculum started at the end: We started with our goal and worked backwards to the details. What did we want to accomplish? (See our above stated vision.) What topics did we need to cover in order to reach that goal? What games show these topics? What activities or dialogues can we have that accompany these topics? And, when we got to these smaller levels, we always had to stop ourselves and ask, “what is the why?”. If this didn’t match up to the larger goal, it was back to the drawing board.

What did this look like? Well, like I said in a previous post: post-it notes are my favorite thing in the whole wide world. We went from our spider web chart to two, side-by-side, large post it notes separated into columns and rows. The rows were the 14 weeks of the semester and columns included the what (leadership topic), why (how this enhances leadership), and how (specific games).

[JS to insert picture here]

From these charts, we moved to something a tad more condense that my teacher friends might be able to identify as lesson plans. (JS prefers to call them “session outlines“.) We created these outlines to serve as a helpful guide to those who may teach the course without us down the road, as well as an opportunity for us to share through writing what we were hoping to achieve through each class lesson. Each of these outlines included a brief description of what was happening that class session, learning goals, materials needed, reminder to take attendance, a topic introduction, brief game(s) overview, possible debrief suggestions, and homework reminders (learning how to play the next session’s game) for the next class. You can view a sample of our lesson plan here.

Rather than being gifted a magical map of curriculum development, we crafted one. How did we know we weren’t just creating some random collection of games that we wanted to play but also had intentional teaching moments? By using educational pedagogies and models, of course! However, we will save that for another adventure…

Why We Chose What We Chose

So-we had a concept for a class. As Bethany discussed we used the spider web concept shown in her post to come up with the original concept and the grid to come up with the layout. Part of all of that was what leadership concepts do we want to cover and what games work to get to those concepts?

We had a few key things we were looking for when we started discussing the games. (We discussed the games without any idea if we would have money to buy them.  Bethany will discuss that in a future post.)  Most importantly the games needed to fit the concept we were looking at for that week. Some were easy and immediate. I knew that Ladies and Gentlemen was what I wanted to use to discuss identity. (Interesting note-I’ve only played as a lady in the game, and have no clue how the gentlemen’s side operates.) Not all games would be as easy as this one to fit with topics.

Ladies & Gentlemen Box Art

Ladies and Gentlemen was an easy selection for discussions of identity.

The games needed to be engaging and, for the most part, they should be part of the modern board game renaissance. There wasn’t going to be Sorry or Trouble or Uno. We wanted more modern games. As a matter of fact, our oldest game is Survive: Escape From Atlantis (1982) and only one other game (Once Upon A Time 1993) was released before 2004. We also wanted games that weren’t too complex (Twilight Imperium: Third Edition is a great game and you can discuss a ton about leadership, but there is a bit much going on for it to be accessible to a larger audience.) Speaking of TI3, we also needed the game to be completed (with time to discuss and for anything else we wanted to do) within one class period, which for us was an hour and forty minutes. Two games push this…but for those two games if people don’t complete the games, it works to the nature of the lesson for the week.

Speaking of those games, those two were the hardest ones to choose. We had a topic we wanted to discuss. We named the session “House Rules and Victory Points” but the overall concept is that even if you accomplish a goal in leadership, that isn’t the end. You may celebrate your success, but then you are on to what is next. There is no “end game” in leadership. You just have new goals and something new to accomplish. Dane actually came up with the game options for that week. We were struggling (and looking towards a role playing game like Dungeons & Dragons where even if you complete the quest the next one lies around the corner) when Dane gave us the two games that fit exactly what we were looking for (T.I.M.E. Stories and Pathfinder Adventure Card Game). With both games just because you accomplish your task that doesn’t mean you are at the end of the line. Both have more stories and the option to keep trying if you fail the first time. Those were perfect for what we were looking for.

T.I.M.E. Stories Box Art

T.I.M.E. Stories perfectly illustrates that leadership never ends and is a continuous quest.

Some games we put on the list got cut. An example is Escape: Curse of the Temple was a bit too expensive for the number of copies we would need for 24 people. Others were cut for various reasons. We also were not concerned with how much we liked the game-none of our favorite games made the list. (Mine is Battlestar Galactica-too long and too complex; Bethany’s is Carcassonne, which we didn’t even discuss as a potential that matched the class.)  We wanted a good variety of mechanics, even though no games with one of my favorite mechanics (deck building-though Pathfinder is similar) made the list. We also needed some games for what we called “Collective Game Play” days, which were days where people chose any game they wanted to play and then discussed the topics they had covered over the past few weeks in relationship to those games.

We decided for most weeks to have options for what games to use (with the other games being available for collective play weeks). This was important in case we saw that the class responded better to certain types of games, as well as to give the class options. If the class does not respond well to hidden role or hidden information games, we have other options on a future week, for example. Another is one week we have Secret Hitler as one option. With the nature of that game I did not want to force people into playing it, so there is an option for those who don’t want to play a game with that theme.

Overall, I think we did a good job of choosing a good variety of games. You can see our list with BoardGameGeek rankings, play time, and release year if you would like. It should be an interesting year.

Step 0: Going From Concept to Creation

 

Once upon a time, a man had an idea. The man pondered the idea over and over again for many years until a Fairy Grad Student *poofed* into the man’s office. The Fairy Grad Student waved her magic wand and the Tabletop Games & Leadership Course was completed.

Okay, so maybe the creation of this course wasn’t quite that magical, but it was still pretty amazing to be a part of!

When JS and I first started working together, we found that our work styles lend themselves hand-in-hand to complete the full picture. JS thinks big picture, I see all the details. He wants to see something grandiose happen on campus, I set the deadlines to make it happen. Therefore, when JS mentioned how much he would love to have a leadership course that was taught completely through tabletop games, I responded, “You’ll be teaching it fall semester“. And he thought I was kidding!

True to my structured self, I set out to create a whiteboard of lists of what we needed to get done and by when. For example, our Canvas site (the online portal where students submit assignments and locate readings) could be completed in May, but grant writing and material collection would be much more helpful if they happened near the March timeline. However, we found the most logical idea was to start with brainstorming.

During this stage we started calling ourselves “The Mountainbuilders”. Why this name? When you think of a mountain, you have the wide base that pushes up towards the middle point: similar to how we work together of finding the overlapping areas of our ideas and building off of them to create something bigger and better. We created a spider web chart that filled an entire large wall post-it note. (You will learn quickly that I have an obsession with office supplies, post-it notes in particular.) From this chart, we created a more structured chart (with more post-its!) that broke down our themes into the number of weeks we had in a semester, what the learning outcomes were, what materials we would need, and what assignments might look like.

spider web

The original spider web we used to brain storm the ideas for the class.

What is important to note is that the material on these post-it notes and the location of them changed on a daily basis. Just because we agreed on a topic or game, didn’t mean we kept it throughout the entire project. As a matter of fact, we changed the entire approach to our assignments in the course halfway through the semester! (More on the awesomeness of that creation later….) Change was a constant piece of our process.

postit grid

Here is the grid of post-its we used to change, update and edit the class.

So what is the moral of this story? Post-it notes are amazing and magic wands make everything easier. Also, “mountainbuilding” style brainstorming and welcoming change have been imperative to our course design process.

 

Tabletop Games & Leadership FAQ

There are several questions that I’ve received about the idea of this class from the earliest conception to now. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I’ve received.

Tabletop games? Like ping pong? Or what?

Not like ping pong or billiards or air hockey or whatever. (I’m not joining the ongoing debate on if those count as tabletop games. Instead I’ll just say they aren’t what we’re using in class.) Tabletop Games is the current term for the family of games that encompasses board games, card games, pen and paper role playing games, etc. Many people use the blanket term “board games.” However, as RPGs, card games, and more are not truly “board games” (there is no board) the term tabletop game has emerged and is most frequently used now.

What do tabletop games have to do with leadership?

This question should really start with what is leadership and move from there, so that’s what I’ll do. Realistically leadership  involves everything. I don’t feel there is one correct definition for leadership. Leadership means many different things to many different people and I try to stress that in all of my classes. Personally I believe in a lot of what Drew Dudley says about leadership. His Leading with Lollipops Ted Talk is my favorite of all time, although I also agree with him on many of his other concepts. You can check out four of his Ted Talks to see what he has to say. I also agree with Simon Sinek and his concept we should “Start With the Why.” However, I would not say that either of these are the “correct” definition of leadership because I don’t believe there is one correct definition-I think each person has their own. I may not agree with some people’s thoughts on the topic but that doesn’t make it wrong.

So that brings us back to what does leadership have to do with tabletop games?  Everything! Depending on the game there are tons of lessons that can be learned. If there wasn’t I wouldn’t be using them to teach a class. Just as you can observe the interactions between players on a Quidditch pitch and discuss leadership, you also can see the same thing with board games. Sometimes these interactions are a critical part of the game design, others it is the interactions the players experience while playing the game. An excellent example from EDL classes this past semester includes using the game Ultimate Werewolf to discuss the First Follower concept, to discuss the roles people take in groups and decision making, to evaluate trust in a group and much more. I’ll discuss more about student reactions to that later. Another example can be seen in using Captain Sonar to look at communications. Another way I used a game in class this past semester was creating my own questions based on student orgs for the game Say Anything to let students see how others perceived their organizations.

You just want to play games in class, right?

To start with-I won’t be playing the games. The students in the class will. Most of the time I’ll be serving as moderator/game master while games are going on. I can answer questions about the games, but want the students to experience the games with peers. That said, this is more than just playing games. Using active learning and games or activities to teach has been a hallmark of student affairs forever and is core to the EDL 290 family of courses. People have many different learning styles, but games are very effective at reaching a broad range of people.

So…in class each week students will play Life or Monopoly and…what?

First, no. We won’t be playing many “classic” older games. This class is based primarily around the renaissance in gaming that is currently happening.  It could be said to have started in the mid-90s. Before that period there were good games, but the entire landscape changed in the mid-1990s. I believe the oldest game we are playing is from 1982 (Survive: Escape From Atlantis) but most of the games are from the past 10 years or so and many from the past five.

As for what students will do in class? We have selected games based on different leadership themes. They will play the game or games selected for that week. After playing we will discuss the games, leadership concept (both those that are the theme of the week as well as other aspects of leadership that came out during the game) and any other topics they want to discuss involving games and leadership.  Some weeks we may also do a short activity, watch a video, etc. We will use this all together to look at both games and leadership in new and unique ways.

Board games? Aren’t those for kids?

Really?

Don’t you know it is the digital era? Why board games instead of video games?

I’ll answer this with a section directly from the grant we received from CTE to fund the class.

“This course is based around games for learning. Tabletop games are more popular now than ever before.  Whether it is role playing games  (http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/life/entertainment/story/2013/jul/29/after-40-years-popularity-tabletop-gaming-ri/114446/) or board games (http://www.economist.com/news/business/21669930-table-top-games-are-booming-video-game-age-not-twilight-sunrise) globally more people than ever before are sitting down at tables socially to play tabletop games both at home, at local game stores, at clubs and organizations and at board game cafes. (http://wtop.com/lifestyle/2016/02/board-game-cafes-and-bars-find-success-locally-worldwide/slide/1/) There are many reasons for this, including the fact that many people now spend their days working on computers and this allows them to spend their free time socializing away from computers. (http://aleteia.org/2016/05/20/whats-behind-the-surprising-trend-of-board-game-cafes/) Miami University has developed one of the  top game design programs in the nation, which allows students to focus both on video and tabletop game design.”

So one of the primary reasons for this is tabletop games are more popular now than ever before. Another reason is much more practical-basing this class on video games and having a shared experience would be cost prohibitive for many students. Text books for students cost a lot-imagine if a PS4 was required for a class.  Finally, the interactions of sitting around a table playing these games will give students a shared experience that will make for better and more authentic discussions. There is also a huge difference between face-to-face interactions vs digital ones. Using video games during winter or summer terms was discussed and could be something we consider in the future. However, I believe tabletop games to be a better way to get to the concepts we want to in this class.

Ok-you have the class. Will the students really learn anything from it? Isn’t this a waste of their time?

Yes, students will learn. I’m not going to ask you to trust me on that. Instead I’ll use feedback from some of the anonymous course evaluations from the past semester.

“The werewolf game was an interesting exercise of trust and leadership. The real leadership that I witnessed occurred during the debates of what the ghosts clues really meant.”

“I found it interesting how leaders naturally rose up in that game and others tended to follow. Once just one person recommended someone to kill off, others jumped on board. I was expecting more debate on these decisions but it seemed that if one person acted confident enough, others would follow suit. I am glad we had a chance to play this!”

“Relating this topic to the fairy tale activity, I think we learned a lot about communication. It showed that you need to stay on topic with communication and not beat around the bush but rather get to the point. Also, I thought it demonstrated how various members of a student org can have opinions that build on one another to create a nice finished product.”

“The games made it easy to understand basic concepts and issues real organizations face.”

“The games because it taught leadership in ways everyone could understand and wouldn’t be hindered by a language barrier.”

Can I force-add into the class?

Unfortunately, no. The main reason for this is the course size (24) was intentionally chosen based on player count for games. Many of the games we will be playing either have 4, 6, or 8 players as the player count. As such, we purchased the correct number of games to maximize our player count for games. For example, with Captain Sonar we will have three groups of eight players. If another person was added to the mix, they would not be able to participate in the game. There will be a few games that this will not be the case for, however most of the games fit this standard. So we will be capped at 24 each semester. We are considering teaching the course every semester (it was originally intended to just be a fall class) and potentially do a second session of the class some semesters. So many people wanted to register that I want to give people the chance to take the class if they are truly interested. And seeing as it is an elective that will count towards several majors and minors on campus, it will be good to give people the chance to take the class.

Tabletop Games & Leadership

When you study leadership and work on leadership related activities, soon many things in your life become about leadership. I remember walking into the store to buy Marvel’s The Avengers on Blu-Ray and thinking “I could use this in my Emerging Leaders class to discuss Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development.” I started picturing all the scenes I could use from the movie to display the steps.

The same thing happens with me for many things…including tabletop games, which is a huge passion of mine. I don’t like the word “hobby” to describe it, because it goes beyond what I think of as a hobby. There were several games I played that I considered how they taught different leadership lessons. I clearly remember playing Ladies & Gentlemen with several friends for the first time and having two thoughts in quick succession. First was “this would be great to talk about identity in a classroom.” This was followed quickly by “I’ll bet I could teach an entire class based on leadership and tabletop games!” I broached the topic with the Educational Leadership Department and they liked the idea and wanted me to also speak with Interactive Media Studies. I planned to do so, but also considered the roadblocks (most notably the cost that would be involved with such a class) and put it on the back burner. I thought about it occasionally and even talked about the idea a little but that was it.

That was until Bethany MacMillan, a graduate student and dear friend I had been working with asked me…no, really she told me, she was going to do an independent study with me in Spring of 2017 to create the class. I love working with Bethany so I eagerly accepted the opportunity.  In my mind the class would then be created and I could teach it sometime in the future.  Then she told me we were creating it to be taught the very next semester-Fall of 2017. I immediately protested, but she told me it was happening. There will be more blogs about that process (including some by Bethany) but long story short…not only is the class being taught this fall, we got a $3000 grant from the Center for Teaching Excellence, got amazing support from both the Department of Educational Leadership and the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies.  The class was placed on the schedule and registration maxed out so quickly that not even all seniors had a chance to schedule the course.

So now the dream is a reality. Thursday, August 31 Dane Winiesdorffer (my co-instructor and the president of the campus’ tabletop student organization-the Strategy Gaming Club) will walk into class and begin this journey. We will give the students copies of the Player’s Handbook (syllabus) and the adventure will begin!

Game Shelf

The shelf with games to be used in the initial semesters of the class