Magic Shop Musings – Pedagogical Power

All the snow and cold weather has really hampered business but yesterday Saptiva’s Magic Shop was bustling with activity. Saptiva (gaming name/avatar) met with various wizards, rogues, warriors, and clerics (students/players from a computer science class at UMW). Various ‘parties’  (teams) arrived in force to trade their gold and gems for potions (invisibility, cure light wounds, haste),  wands (magic missile, cure light wounds), and +1 powers! All who visited received the next homework clue and continued on with their quest. It was a bonus  +1 experience to my day!

Dave WizardDr. David Toth is doing some innovative curriculum work at UMW related to gaming.  He was a participant in UMW’s first Faculty Game Camp last summer and he credits that experience in helping him think about and design a quest-based game layer for his course. One of the things I admire about Dave is his willingness to take risks with his pedagogy. Dave (avid Dungeons and Dragons player) was  inspired to add ‘gaming’ to his pedagogical powers!

Last fall he infused a ‘quest game layer’ into one of his classes as a pilot study. Dave dressed up as a wizard on the first day of class and wrote intricate story lines for his students as they searched for hidden treasures on various quests.  He was curious to know the ways in which adding a game layer supported or hindered student learning. I wholeheartedly supported his desire to solicit student feedback and we learned quite a bit from students’ Fall survey data.  Dave has ‘upped’ his game for his current Spring class with three key modifications.

first day groupOne key change was to more closely link the quest based aspects of the course to course content, a tighter alignment. A second change was the use of an organized party. Students/players are organized into several smaller parties and now need to collaborate in order to complete quests. A third change was the creation of a Magic Shop. Dave wanted students to come to a ‘Magic Shop’ to buy various potions, rings, wands, and powers as they leveled up over the course of the semester. I jumped at the chance to run the Magic Shop – a great opportunity for me to talk with students and join in the fun of quest based learning! Dave and his students headed over to the Magic Shop on the first day of a class to receive their first homework clue, get familiar with the Magic Shop, and make any purchases from their initial bag of gold and gems.

Magic Shop BuyersAt the Magic Shop rogues, wizards, warriors, and clerics (students) traded in their gold pieces and gems for various powers and spells. Part of trading entailed figuring out what each of their various gems were worth and selecting their desired items.  What immediately struck me was how serious students were about selecting the ‘right’ items for their character class. A sense of competition and cooperation was clearly evident.  One party wanted to arrive first so they would be sure they could buy what they wanted for fear items would sell out!  And each ‘party’ spent some serious time discussing, planning, and thinking through how individual player’s class could support and balance out the overall party powers.  One rogue wanted to steal his items but I was able to catch him before he left the Magic Shop! It’s not everyday I get to barter and trade with rogues, wizards, warriors and clerics.  I look forward to their return visits!

Dave is currently engaged in a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) project on his quest-based pedagogy.  We will be presenting our SoTL research findings at the upcoming 2014 Lilly Conference in Bethesda Maryland.  Updates will continue as the Magic Shop is now open for business.   

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