Author Archives: macmilb

Deciding Their Fate (re: Grade)

One of the most innovative pieces of this course is the fact that students largely decide their own assignments, and as such, grades. The only assignment that is a required part of the course is the final game submission. Altogether there is approximately 40 different assignments for students to chose from to self-design their learning outside of the classroom.

We did make minor adjustments to the grading scale between the first and second offering of the course based on student and instructor feedback. This is the current grading scale which the course syllabus refers to as the Experience Point (XP) Chart:

776+ XP Level 5 (A+ 97%)
720 XP Level 4 (A 90%)
640 XP Level 3 (B 80%)
560 XP Level 2 (C 70%)
480 XP Level 1 (D 60%)
0-479 XP Level 0 (F 59% and below)

The assignments range from 10 point weekly reflections (some of which you can read on the blog) to 150 point escape room designs. The assignments were created to balance learning within game design and leadership topics. This allows students to lean more towards one topic than another, but requires dabbling in both to reach the 5th Level.

But, wait… do students actually do the assignments if they’re not actually *gulp* assigned?

We had a relatively even curve of the grades ranging between Level 0 to Level 5+ last semester. Similar to last semester, however, a majority of the students have waited until the middle to end of the semester to submit the larger assignments. As of our week 10 of the 14 week semester (15 weeks if finals week is included), these are our current experience point standings:

Current Experience Point Standings: 2 players at level 1 (D), 21 players at level 0 (F), and 9 players not yet started.

Many of our students have been submitting weekly reflections as well as working on other projects, but the submission process seems to take a bit longer. At a week after this picture was taken, we have seen a significant uptick of submissions and movement in the levels. We put this data on the board for the class to inspire the feeling of playing a game with the grades. As someone who loves data, I would love to gain insight from the students as to why they wait so long to submit the assignments… but I suppose that is a research topic for another day!

Something to also keep in mind is that the final is worth up to 200 points if full points are awarded. The students have 1 week to discuss their game idea and get feedback from the entire class, then the next week is devoted to play testing their game in class. This is then followed by a class period discussing and defending their final game submission where a final grade on the project is assigned. This gives the students time to take the feedback, think about it, and choose whether or not to implement it before they present their final project.

We are so excited to see how much the students have grown this semester through their final presentations, play tests, and and defenses. Many of them will be presenting their final projects and other assignments they have completed throughout the semester at the expo on May 11th from 1-2:30pm in McGuffey 322!

Who’s the teacher?

“Wait, so the first 70 minutes of class they just play games? Do you even teach?”

Yep- students have the first 70 minutes of our weekly meeting to play through the various games of that particular week. Why do JS and I show up? Besides to join in the fun? Well, “you” asked, so let’s do this…

I’ve gone back and forth on best ways to write this, and I think the easiest is to give a sample of how we could have written the course in a way that reflected each of the following styles followed by an explanation as to why we chose the style we did. There is a ton of research available on different teaching styles, but I will only focus on a few here to keep you from having to read a dissertation-length entry!

Lecture Based/Authoritative Classroom
Many times in higher education, we are stuck on lecture and note based courses. We, as the teacher of the course, have all the information, and they only way students can have that information is if we talk at you. Is there a time and place for this type of learning? Certainly. Some learn best this way, some teach best this way.
Example: Having students copy copious amounts of notes on the history of boardgames from powerpoint slides and telling stories about why we, as the instructors, believe leadership is found in certain games.
Why Not Chosen: JS and I both learn very differently than what is offered through this style. We also believe that we can teach the course topic more effectively through another means. We do use some direct instruction when we briefly review a reading we offer to students, but this always takes less than 10 minutes of the class.

Flipped Classroom
I have seen this style of classroom learning become more and more popular in the last few years with peers and other instructors. This style occurs when the learning is placed completely in the students hands to decide what they want to learn about and how deeply. The instructor here is more of a guide person to help find answers as needed.
Example: Letting students decide what leadership topics they want to learn about and choose what games they would like to try to make it happen.
Why Not Chosen: Well, as much as we would like to let students develop with means they choose, the reality is that we were awarded so much money and bought a limited amount of games. Also, most schools require your courses have an intended outcome, so…. Although, we do use aspects of this method in our debriefs of the games by having pre-determined questions we want to touch on, but allow students to develop other points of discussion as it progresses.

Co-constructed Classroom
This style of classroom is somewhat of a hybrid of the flipped classroom. It recognizes that students have great information to share with the class, and so do the instructors. It allows instructors to create a general map of learning outcomes, while giving students options to choose how they will arrive at those locations. This style encourages both students and instructors to bring their past knowledge to the table and build off of one another to create something new, together.
Example: Dedicating a class that students can pick from 5-6 different games to play and discuss a specific leadership topic and how it relates to something they’ve experienced in their own life. Additionally, allowing students to restructure or modify the games to see if it changes how they see leadership play out in the game.
Why Chosen: If you look way back in our posts, you’ll find a little diddy about Bloom’s Taxonomy and how creation is at the top. This style can be really scary both for the instructors and the students because there is a lot of unknown involved. However, this can also be the most empowering, because in the end, everyone is discovering and creating something new, together.


So do JS and I do nothing while the students are playing the first part of class? NO!! Our job is to still be present and teach. We are also learning and actively participating. Yay for multitasking!

Student playing Hanabi.

  1. We make sure games are running smoothly and serve as a rule touchpoint. Students are asked to come prepared knowing the games, however, we all know there are some super wickedly confusing rules in games. We also make sure the groups are largely following the rules at the beginning. Sometimes we miss things. Usually it is no problem, but sometimes it changes the outcome of the game- and even might ruin the learning outcome we want you to reach.

Group of students playing The Resistance: Avalon

2. We are constantly observing. We are making sure everyone is playing and learning who skimmed the rules the night before. We are making mental notes as to which groups are playing the game for different outcomes. We are seeing who to press deeper in the group debrief about their experience. These observations help to guide our debrief section to be an even deeper and greater learning experience for all involved. (AND, this part helps us learn what to modify in the future renditions of the class, too!)

Group of students playing Secret Hitler

3. Most importantly, we are interacting with the students in the moment. Laugh with them. Learn with them when the game goes a-wire. Help set the mood at the beginning of a round. Add storyline into the game to give context. This is a part of the co-creation (outside of the debriefs). “Oh, you were killed the past 3 times this game? Why? Teammates, why do you not trust this character? Have you tried _____?” “You’ve used all of your fireworks. Must be a bright sky! Congratulations!”

The fact of matter is this: just because instructors are not standing at the front of the classroom and pouring information into the students does not mean the students are not learning and the instructors are not teaching. Learning and teaching can happen in many different ways. What is important, is to find the ways that work best for you- and do it!

Through the Looking Glass

At first, I was really disappointed that I would not be able to teach this course the first semester it was offered on our campus. JS and I worked so hard on making sure this class would be available to students within a semester, it was almost like a jab in my side when I found I would not have a front-row seat to watch the light bulbs above the students’ heads (or nat. 20s- whichever picture suits your imagination). However, I have found that this semester I have spent “behind the scenes” has provided both JS and I a more comprehensive understanding and opportunity to dig deeper into the course data.

As discussed in an earlier entry, I love data… so does the CTE who gave us the grant money. As such, JS and I have been very diligent in collecting TONS of data with which to compile and pull themes. Daily notecards with a question of the day that related to what was discussed in class that day, every aspect of assignments (when they were turned in, how many students did one assignment over the other, which themes students stuck with over the course), pre and post tests- the list goes on….

Because I did not get to spend time in the class this semester, I was able to push JS’s findings further by asking those questions of “why this”, “how that”, and “what is this referring to” in order to better situate the data we have collected and explain it to others who may not have the experience in the course. I was able to approach the data with a more objective view due to not having the direct relationships with the students. (Don’t get me wrong, I still would have preferred to be in the classroom, but this was the next best option!) I had access to this data throughout the course so I could follow along with what was happening and what everyone was experiencing.

Without giving away too much information (we do have LOTS of combing through data before we can post something super formal….), I did have a few thoughts I thought may be of interest to those who have followed along thus far. Please keep in mind, these are my personal observations/thoughts and are not necessarily backed up with physical data- at least, yet.

  • The course layout seemed to facilitate community within the classroom, classmates, and facilitators.
  • The students did phenomenal work on the projects that were submitted. Seriously- we cannot wait to share the ones we received permission to do so with in a future post! Although most of the assignments were submitted in the last month of the course, you can tell a lot of thought and effort went into each submission.
  • The grading scale needs some work. It was modified towards the end of the semester with much gratitude from the students, but we will still need to revisit it to ensure our students are still achieving and meeting the expectations of the course.
  • There is room for improvement on the course. If we stopped finagling with the course now, we would be failing ourselves and our students. One of the biggest areas of improvement? We want to immerse the students even further into the gaming community. Why stop with just getting feedback from classmates and facilitators? Did I hear someone say, “field trip”?!?


And with that, I think I will leave you in suspense for the larger post of findings coming soon. I look forward to continuing to share our passion of tabletop games and leadership with our students. However, next semester I get a front-row seat!

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!

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….

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…

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.