University of Wisconsin–Madison

Board games as instruction

Board games as instruction by rmmartinez

What I wanted:

I wanted to provide students with an example of designing and learning environment that is both complex, fun, and most of all easy to replicate. My students were graduate students in my one credit, five-week course, so every class (weekly) I wanted to make sure I could provide the most impact.

What I tried

I picked a few board games (Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Settlers of Catan) to bring to one of our class sessions. Several students volunteered their own board games that they would be able to teach. I then made sure to pick persons who had already played the game before, they acted as the “teachers” of that particular learning environment. I grouped the students so that in each group there was one or more persons who had no prior knowledge of the game. The students then spent a hour playing through the game and helping each other through the rules and ways of playing. I wanted to make sure the students all got to play through a full game, which was time consuming, yet I felt it was important for the students to unpack the design of the game and how it was teaching them the rules of play. Once we finished, all the students grouped back together and we went through the shared experiences of the game. In short, we went through the rule sets, the theme of the game, what the game did well, and how often the “teacher” of that game had to step in to give instruction.

Next time I would…

As I was trying to teach them about the complex design behind games and their usefulness as learning environments, I think it did a lot to help bridge that divide of games being fun but actually good for learning. However, the lesson was not structured enough, I had a few questions for the students to ask themselves, but in fairness they were very broad in scope (What is the game about? How do you win? Etc.). I think in the future it would be better to further structure the activity, or another way would be to consider the desired learning outcomes.
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