Getting Interpersonal in the Dungeon

Curator's Note

Interpersonal communication: intimacy, disclosure, conflict, families, deception, gender, and a host of accompanying theories. I had been teaching my interpersonal communication course the same way for at least five years.

For part of that time, I had been searching for roleplay activities for students. My search first began with existing resources: roleplays written by other scholars and educators. I wanted roleplays which integrated my course topics, and connected roleplay experiences with the course content. More than practice, how could I get participants to engage interpersonal skills in a roleplay with consequences? My working solution: Dungeons & Dragons.

I wrote a grant to cover materials, conference travel, and texts and set about gamifying my entire interpersonal communication course.  Not only do students participate in small D&D adventuring parties for fully half of the classtime, the rest of the course is set up like a tabletop roleplaying game, as well.  In my course, all students are “adventurers." I serve as the “gamemaster." They have no assignments. They have only “quests." I do not keep track of grades. We have a “leaderboard." There are more quests than they can possibly accomplish and scores of ways students can earn the required points. In my course, quests are assessed pass/fail and you must earn a minimum of 8000 points to win permission to take the final exam.  

To explain how it works, last week I lectured on deception. This week, each adventuring party will enter a town where the local council has asked them (in their role as peacekeepers) to patrol the market (where they will encounter a pair of young men accused of theft). Students will use what they learned in lecture and their readings to help determine if the young men are telling the truth or lying. They must then negotiate what should be done for the townsfolk.

Finally, I have been gathering pre-test and post-test data (assessing learning and personality measures) on the students who have taken my course. I am interested to see if this course format has empirical evidence of student learning, change, and growth. 

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