I devoted part of the last session of French current events this semester to collecting feedback about the students’ experience playing games in class. This week, I was able to take a look at the results.
While the survey proved to be more of a lesson, for me, on how not to write surveys, I did glean some interesting comments and overall impressions of what students experienced. Here is a selection of student comments, with my thoughts.
On EU v. Russia:
“My frustrations mostly dealt w/ my classmates’ propensities to start WWIII.”
Mine, too. This student was a political science major and this game appealed to her a lot. (Also from her: “I love winning!” and “I really enjoyed this game, it was my favorite!”) She understood intuitively how this game functions as a model, and liked the way the event cards referenced real news stories. I would have loved for all of my students to relate to this game on the level that this student did, but that isn’t realistic for a group consisting of students from many different majors, class years, and maturity levels. However, next time I might consider organizing the teams for this game differently, to try to put together students with a similar level of investment.
“Always be Russia! You won’t lose.”
Several students remarked on Russia’s advantage. I’ve pondered this at length, and talked about it a bit in my earlier posts on the game. While it doesn’t bother me that Russia does have an advantage, I also don’t want that advantage to be so unbalanced that the students believe the EU can’t possibly win. If that were to be the case, they would disengage.
“Didn’t know about OFII and how they worked.” (Comment elaborating on what the student understood about the subject that he hadn’t before).
This refers to the French office of immigration, of course, and to the factual information about certain aspects of French bureaucracy incorporated into the game. While this kind of factual information wasn’t the focus of the game, students did pick up some details, such as the rent cost for HLM developments and, as this student pointed out, general ins and outs of OFII.
“I learned about all that immigrants have to face & how hard it would be.”
Several students had comments like this one, expressing a feeling of understanding something about the difficulties faced by people living illegally in France and trying to become naturalized. On the one hand, this is the main goal of Sans-Papiers, so I’m glad to see these comments. On the other hand, I am a bit concerned that they might be coming away from the game overestimating their understanding of what it models. Incidentally, after we played this game I showed them part of a documentary on North African immigration to France in the 1950s, called Mémoires d’immigrés : l’héritage maghrébin (available on Youtube). During the time period the film documents, Algeria was still part of France, and Algerian men were being actively recruited for work in French factories, but even as legal immigrants and French citizens they faced staggering discrimination and very poor living conditions. The film brought gravitas to the topic of immigration that we had explored playfully through the game; I felt the two complemented each other well, and students responded that watching the film deepened the understanding they had begun to develop through the game.
“I would rather have class discussions than play games honestly. I never wanted to come to class bc of the games.”
Well, you can’t please everybody. While this comment is exceptional, I do think it reflects some preconceptions about games that we haven’t yet shaken off, and that we have to be prepared to address, particularly when designing games for education. Many people still don’t see games as tools for understanding complex systems or negotiating high-level social interactions, and among my college-aged students, there were already a few who seemed to think that game day was a time to mentally check out. I did have more absences on game days than on discussion days. That said, during class discussions I often noticed students straying from the topic, or glossing over the parts of our topic that were difficult; generally speaking, the students would begin to stir and put away their things several minutes before the end of class, conscious of our time limit and their next destination. On game days, however, students were focused on the game, rarely digressing as they talked about strategy and content, and playing right up until I interrupted them to announce the end of the class period. That engagement is evidence to me that these games worked, even if a minority of students remained more comfortable with only traditional discussion and lecture.