Leveling up Leadership through Class

JS Bragg working with students from EDL290 in playing the game called Ladies and Gentlemen for EDL290r

The syllabus for EDL 290T doesn’t look like a typical college syllabus. For one, it looks like it’s been printed on treasure map paper. And points in the class are labeled as Experience Points (XP). And actually, it’s not even called a syllabus, with “Player’s Handbook” in prominent letters near the top of the page.

The non-traditional syllabus is just one way that EDL 290T: Tabletop Games and Leadership immerses students in games to inspire personal growth and development and to teach about leadership concepts. 

“Class begins each week with about 75 minutes of playing a board or card game, followed by a 30 minute conversation about leadership and how it connects,” said JS Bragg, Assistant Director in Student Activities and co-founder of the class.

Dry erase board with a mind map of leadership concepts and gamesOriginal concepts for the course, created by JS Bragg and Bethany MacMillan The idea for a leadership class based on tabletop games first came to Bragg in 2012 while at a gaming-related conference. It took five years, a grant from the Center for Teaching Excellence, and a determined graduate student to finally offer the first section at Miami in Fall 2017. Since then, the class has been offered to 24 students each semester.

“The class is very unique in how we do assignments,” said Bragg. “There is one due date: the end of finals. There are 30 potential assignments available, only one of which is required: to develop their own game that demonstrates a concept of leadership.”

The remaining points (XP) in the class can be earned through completion of various assignments or quests. “Students can pick the quests that most appeal to them,” said Bragg. “Some students take on a larger number of easier quests while others take on fewer, more difficult quests to reach their desired XP level (grade).”

Examples of quests include:

  • Interview a game designer not associated with Miami on how leadership plays into their work in game design
  • Modify the rules of an existing game around a topic of social justice or leadership
  • Write a game mechanics research paper
  • Write a blog post for the EDL290T Blog

Zoomed in view of the Ladies & Gentlemen game. One card reads Golden Apple 2. Students playing Ladies and Gentlmen, 2017 Games are carefully selected for their ability to illustrate a leadership concept. In the unit about exploring team leadership, students play Hanabi, a card-based cooperative game in which players are not allowed to communicate transparently. In the identity and interactions session, students play Ladies & Gentlemen, a team-based game that relies on stereotypical gender roles for men and women. 

“We’ve been seeing statistically significant growth from our pre- and post-tests in students’ understanding of basic leadership concepts,” said Bragg. “It’s been so rewarding to see this vision come to life.”

Bragg and Bethany MacMillan, the former graduate student who co-created the class in 2017, have been invited to speak on the class at Origins Game Fair this summer in Columbus. MacMillan now works as the Regional Director of New Student Programs and Engagement for Miami’s Regional campuses.

"I'm both pleased and surprised that this idea to help students discover new parts of leadership through games has drawn so much interest literally from around the globe,” said Bragg. “It's humbling that so many people have an interest in what we created and exciting to see that the students are truly learning and growing from the class."