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“Red Cubes in Taipei” Pandemic & Games-Based Learning

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Games-Based Experiential Education is a learning process involving direct experience with and the relationship between the teacher, student, material, and environment.  It is applied via game play and outlined with specific learning outcomes.

Wow. That was a mouthful. Now let’s go rid the world of viruses!

Recently I applied Games-Based Experiential Education concepts through the use of the board game Pandemic. I did this for a student staff development in order to meet the learning outcomes to develop cooperative teamwork, critical thinking, strategic decision making, and identify group diversity.

Pandemic is a cooperative board game designed by Matt Leacock.  The game’s theme is based on the premise that four diseases have broken out throughout the world.  A team of specialists from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) need to work together and apply their specialized abilities in order to stop outbreaks from turning into turning into a worldwide Pandemic.

I’ve wanted to play Pandemic since I first saw it on Wil Wheaton’s series “Table Top” and decided to give it a try before trying to apply it to games-based learning. After the first solo attempt I thought the game was far too easy.  I was able to cure and eradicate ALL viruses in no time with plenty of resources to spare….

Then I realized I had been cheating. Horribly.

On the second, third, forth, and fifth play-throughs my team of CDC specialists had been completely and unmercifully crushed each time.

After that I immediately thought “This would be a GREAT team builder.”

With Orientation Leader Training coming up I decided to make Pandemic the go-to game to develop cooperative teamwork, critical thinking, strategic decision making, and identify group diversity.

With a staff of 13 I had to assign them all to four separate teams that each “acted” as their specialists ability.  No one team could win alone – they would need to collaborate in order to successfully rid the world of disease. Pandemicalso requires a fair amount of critical thinking and strategic decision making:  clearly there would be no button mashing here.  Lastly, I planned on the group learning about team diversity: each individual possessed a unique ability that could only be used to its greatest advantage through collaboration with others. It was analogous to the way our orientation team is composed: a group of high achieving individuals who need to evolve into a high performing unit.

I began our experience with the statement “I don’t care whether or not you defeat these viruses or if you are excellent or terrible at Pandemic – what I care about is how you interact and play together as a team.”

With that in mind they quickly set about surveying the board, discussing strategies, making moves, and suggesting actions for each other.  After the black virus had been thoroughly dealt with – an epidemic card ensured that it spread again with relentless ferocity – causing morale to drop. Individual players bickered with one another about strategies;  pawns would be moved without the consent of others; and there was some evident sulking when unpopular choices were made.

To the orientation team’s credit they did manage to find a cure for the blue virus and achieved 1/4 of the game’s objectives – to much celebration. However, when it became clear that there weren’t going to be enough city cards to cure the rest of the world of disease they decided to collectively call it quits.

“So what was this experience like?” I asked. “Hectic” replied one person – “Loud” from another. It’s true – the once quiet room had become a bustling beehive of activity  all centered around the small table.

I asked about some individuals decisions. I asked how teams strategies were analyzed. I noted how some players were more active than others: loudly discussing strategy whereas others calmly stared at the board in a state of either intense concentration or analysis paralysis.

I asked them “…how many times were you ‘listening’ to someone explain their strategy, only to interrupt them when you thought of your own?” Several sheepishly nodded their head. It was a the effect of having a team of high performing critical thinkers.

In the end I restated my expectations for this games-based experiential learning exercise: “I don’t care whether or not you defeat these viruses or if you are excellent or terrible at Pandemic – what I care about is how you interact and play together as a team.”

They weren’t able to defeat the game this time – but they ended up learning much about each other; where their strengths lie; where they are still developing; and how they can become an even higher performing team… whether that means orienting freshmen or ridding the world of disease.

Dr. Dave Eng, EdD
Managing Partner
@davengdesign
www.universityxp.com

Dave EngComment