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At our last lunchtime meeting we were lucky enough to host a playtest of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, a new game developed by colleagues in Manchester Met’s Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. Ellie Hannan and Charles Neame, the game’s designers, joined us at The Salutation to show us a prototype of the game which sees players create, and defend fictional research projects.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Do you get your theoretical perspectives and your epistemologies in a twist? Perplexed by the seemingly millions of research methods out there? How about your students? You are warmly invited to pilot a game designed to tackle just this! Still in development, ‘SOTL’ (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) is a learning and teaching game played in pairs or groups to create fictional research projects. Players must convince their peers that their plan is well thought out, and the highest peer rating wins!

The game itself is extremely straightforward. Its rules are presented on a single side of A4, and the game was underway in a matter of minutes. Players are tasked with initiating new research projects and each begins with a board divided into six parts, each representative of one aspect of the proposed work. The top row indicates the overarching approach – ‘Epistemology’, ‘Theoretical Perspective’ and ‘Methodology’ – while the bottom row has  space for more three specific ‘Method’ cards.

sotl-boardPhoto Credit: Ellie Hannan.

Having placed their research questions at the top of the board, players take it in turns to draw cards from a deck populated with a wide variety of approaches to research (ranging from positivism to postmodernism, narrative to coding) and attempt to construct a full, and if possible meaningful, research project by adding them to their own board (or, if they’re feeling devious, using them to sabotage the carefully constructed boards of fellow players). Once one player has finished their set the planning phase of the game ends. Phase two then sees each player attempt to justify their research project to the rest of the group, summarising their research question and defending the fit of their epistemology, theory and methods. Points (funding and ethical approval) are then awarded by players, with the highest scoring player winning the game.

With the game concluded (it’s fair to say that the second phase was highly entertaining) the post-game discussion begins. In retrospect, this should perhaps be seen as the game’s third phase. Helpfully kept out of the rulebook, this post-game discussion proved to be fascinating and presumably this is the one of the key aims of the game’s designers.

Here’s John’s summary of how things went for him:

As an early-stage PhD candidate in the social sciences, I’m pretty much the target audience for SOTL. I really appreciated the opportunity to playtest it as I’m in the middle of putting together my research plan right now! Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that my research project in the game ended up looking awfully similar to the project I’m planning for my own PhD. Maybe this is why I felt so comfortable triggering the end game as soon as I had something that looked vaguely workable.
I also felt the game captured the process of planning a research project in a deeper way in that it is a game. I’m currently trying to explain the complexities of my ever-changing project idea in just 1000 words and 6 references, an activity that is very much game-like in the way it places artificial limitiations on something that’s naturally more freeform. Obviously these rules are there for good reason, and are effective in helping to shape my thinking (in both the game and real life), but I appreciated the irony that the end game asks you to give a polished and confident elevator pitch on something that you’re not really sure of yourself. This felt particularly real to me at the moment!

And Richard’s:

I enjoyed SOTL and thought that its relatively loose structure lent itself well to cooperative play. The ‘pitch’ phase introduced an element of roleplay that provided a lot of the game’s fun, and it could just easily be a forum for collaborative work (as players help to improve a pitch that has found itself at the mercy of the cards). As a teacher I felt that SOTL had wide potential for adaptation, in any context where it was necessary to explain and work with models of enquiry and argument: for students taking their first steps with essays on English Literature, the ‘method’ cards could be replaced with appropriate primary and secondary readings. One possible route forward might be to create an application so that teachers could easily introduce their own card text and print out for specific groups.

And mine, on a slightly different tack:

I found the game really enjoyable and while it did make me think about research, my initial thoughts were concerned with game mechanics. It is, as the brief description above suggests, a fairly random game with players having little control over the cards they’re dealt (this is why the second phase is so entertaining). It also has a rather ‘woolly’ end phase that allows players to pick the winner based on whatever criteria they feel most appropriate. This makes SOTL unusual in terms of the games I’d usually elect to play (traditionally my gaming group play competive games with highly regulated rule sets) so this hybrid of collaborative competition was mildy unsettling! The thing is though, that the mechanism prompted a discussion that lasted far longer than the game itself and that was, in hindsight, clearly part of the game. The result was that the game, presented as a prototype, comes witha built-in expectation that players will critique the game as much as they do the fictional research projects. I’m  not sure if this was the original intention of the designers, but the notion of a game presented as a perpetual prototype seems really innovative (it’s a kind of legacy game I guess) in that it presented a safe space in which to experiment with new ideas (and to lose) by diminishing the more regulated gaming experience that a more ‘finished’ product might promote. I thought it was great, and I’ll have a go at adapting the model for use with my undergraduates soon.

Ellie and Charles hope to make the game available under a Creative Commons License as an Open Education Resource (OER) so that academics in all disciplines can use and adapt it for their own teaching.

The current draft of the rules can be found online here.

If you would like to be involved in the game’s development you can contact Ellie at e.hannan@mmu.ac.uk.


Paul Wake

All photos: Ellie Hannan.