2 Indications Your Students Are Engaged

It seems to me that there is a lot of talk in Higher Education (and really in education in general) about engagement.  I recently had an experience that got me thinking about engagement and how to spot it when it is happening.

As you may know if you read my blog I am a gamer & an educator – and I find my passion at the intersection of those two identities.  So, early in the second semester of the 2012-13 academic year, I planned an all day gaming event on campus.  Student’s loved it and said they wanted to do it again sometime during the semester.  When Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton declared March 30 to be International Tabletop Day – I saw it as the perfect opportunity.

So I recruited some students to help, and we planned another all day event on campus for March 30.  The event was awesome.  We started at 11am and didn’t wrap up until around 3:30am (that’s not a typo- we where there for 16.5 hours).  There were 2 questions I heard students asked that I’ve been thinking about a lot since the event.

The first question is “What time is it?”  If you are familiar with the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his concept of flow, then you know that one of the main indicators that people are experiencing flow is a loss of a sense of time passing (or temporal distortion).  When students at the International Tabletop Day event asked what time it was – they were often astonished by the answer and responded with declarations like “There is no way that’s right.  I haven’t been here for six hours already.”  This response is a pretty strong indicator that they were experiencing flow – and highly engaged.

Another way to define engagement involves a sense of ownership.  Engaged students feel they own the program.  The second question that I heard at International Tabletop Day that indicates students were engaged was, “How can I help?”  When students ask how they can help, it tells me that they want to go beyond simple participation and “own” the event.  Students helped secure funding, they hung flyers to advertise the event, they helped set-up, they even stayed afterwards to help clean up.

Measuring student engagement is a difficult prospect – but you can feel well assured that if students are asking “What time is it?” and “How can I help?” you are likely creating an engaging experience.

Leadership Lessons from Yggdrasil – Part I

As a Residential Coordinator at a large public University, and as a gamer, I’ve been hosing a board gaming event on a weekly basis on campus. Recently I observed some students playing a game called YggdrasilYggdrasil is a co-operative game – meaning the players work together as a team and win or lose together- based on a Norse Mythology theme.  As I was reflecting on the game, I realized it is a great example of why I put so much time and energy into planning gaming events and the learning that comes from playing modern board games.

I’m inspired to do a series of blog posts to put some of my thoughts in order, and hopefully, to inspire others to consider more creative and engaging methods for reaching co-curricular learning outcomes.


In Part I, I want to tell you a little bit about the game and how it works.  I believe some explanation of the game will help readers understand the next several parts – where I will elucidate the learning I saw taking place- more fully.

As I mentioned earlier Yggdrasil is a co-operative game for 1-6 players.  In it players take the roles of Norse Gods such as Thor, Odin, Freya, or Heimdel and are trying to hold back attacks from the enemies of Asgard such as Fenrir, Loki, Surt, and Hel.  On the board Yggdrasil – the world tree- is pictured as well as the 9 worlds of Norse Mythology.  Each world represents an action a player can take, and players may choose 3 actions to take on each turn.

But, before a player takes actions they must draw an enemy card from the deck.  The enemy pictured moves further into Asgard an triggers a special effect.  For example, when Loki moves forward – he calls Frost Giants to spread panic in Yggdrasil.  Frost Giants block players from taking particular actions until they are defeated.  Fenrir, on the other hand, causes players to waste actions trying to calm him before they are allowed to take their turn.  Each enemy of Asgard has a unique special effect.

The player then takes their actions.  They can collect resources, such as mythic weapons, elven warriors or viking souls to help them in future battles.  Alternatively they can trade resources or “manage”  the group’s chances of collecting resources in the future.  Of course, they can also do battle with Frost Giants or Enemies of Asgard.

If, at the end of any players turn, 5 enemies have managed to move beyond the wall of Asgard – the players lose.  Likewise, if 3 enemies are beyond the door to Valhalla – the players lose.  And of course it only takes 1 enemy in Odin’s throne room for the players to lose.  If the players manage to avoid these conditions and play through the entire enemy deck, the have won the game.

If you would like a more complete rules explanation check this video (you can skip to the 2:00 mark for the rules).

In my next several  posts, I’d like to talk about the skills I saw students practicing and developing – such as teamwork and cooperation, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and emotion management.  Coming soon – critical thinking.