In the Fall 2021 semester, across all of higher education, faculty members sought ways to keep students safe and engaged amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Traci Levy, PhD, associate professor of political science, put a twist on a pedagogical idea she had been developing before the pandemic—creating an online version of a role-playing game she was writing so she could include it in a fully remote course.
Dr. Levy created an educational, live-action role-playing game about informal, unpaid caregiving in the United States and made it the centerpiece of her fully remote Family and Sexuality in Political Theory course. She utilized Raftr, a classroom-management platform, to host the game, providing a safe and authenticated online environment that allowed students to engage and interact with other students.
The Challenge and Inequality of Care game is set in the present time and transforms the virtual classroom into a hospital workplace in the United States. Students, as players in the game, become employees, primarily in non-patient-facing hospital units such as janitorial, legal and public relations. Though set in a hospital, the real focus of the game is the unpaid caregiving that workers are doing in their personal lives outside of work, as well as the tensions that emerge between unpaid caregiving and the demands of employment.
“The game pushes players to consider how the requirements to qualify for unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act, in particular, leave out many workers and exclude many relationships of intimacy and care,” Dr. Levy said.
The Challenge and Inequality of Care game was linked with readings assigned both before the game began and while playing it, on topics including care and democracy, eldercare, intersectionality, disability politics, and the racial composition of paid caregivers. Throughout the course, students wrote about their experiences and conducted projects that creatively showcased their individual learning outcomes.
How It Started
Dr. Levy first had the idea for creating and using The Challenge and Inequality of Care game as part of her in-person teaching before the pandemic. It wasn’t until her sabbatical in Spring 2021, after a year that acquainted her well with online teaching, that she reinvisioned it for use in a fully remote course.
She used her sabbatical to write the initial version of the game, and worked with colleagues in the Department of Political Science and the Faculty Center for Professional Excellence (which provides tools and resources to help faculty excel in teaching and advising) to build up her online teaching skills. Dr. Levy also credits workshops through the Reacting Consortium, a higher education alliance committed to developing and publishing the Reacting to the Past series of role-playing games, as being helpful to the development of the course.
As the Department of Political Science planned its Fall 2021 offerings, mindful of having courses in varying formats that accommodated a variety of students during the continuing pandemic, Dr. Levy’s schedule included both in-person classes and Family and Sexuality in Political Theory as a fully remote course.
How It Went
Students engaged with the game through a variety of assignments and different kinds of writing, each of which was evaluated and contributed to their grade in the course. They created journal entries, mock social media posts, and an article pitched to the hospital newsletter where players “worked.” Students also completed an assignment to determine whether their role in the game would have been eligible to take leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act.
After completing the game, the final assignment was a debrief on their experiences. Dr. Levy says she asked students to explore what the game made them want to learn more about, and to work these ideas into research proposals in self-directed formats. At the close of the semester, the students presented in a variety of ways, including papers, slideshows, a podcast and artwork, all of which grew out of their game experiences.
“Through the game, students became immersed and invested in their roles, and learned to see how public policies affect people who have different lives and resources,” Dr. Levy said.
Dr. Levy said that students in this course had all experienced remote courses by Fall 2021, so learning in an online format was not new to them. She ensured that students would be actively learning throughout the course, and eased them into the role-playing game through storytelling exercises early in the semester that prepared them to creatively develop their roles in the care game. They played microgames and worked to build community and strengthen their sense of trust and comfort together.
Data from Raftr shows just how engaged students were with the game. With 25 students enrolled in the course, 980 sessions were logged, for an average of 41 sessions per user. More than 250 chat messages, nearly 200 message “likes,” and 30 unique private message groups indicate a high level of interaction.
“The students reported a really positive experience with The Challenge and Inequality of Care game,” Dr. Levy said. “In fact, I asked them to help me to figure out where I could trim it down for future semesters, and not one student was in favor of making the game shorter!”
In the summer of 2022, Dr. Levy was invited to participate in a three-week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on Philosophical Perspectives on Care, which explores care and caregiving as it relates to political philosophy and theory. She was one of approximately 20 scholars-in-residence, participating in workshops, interactive lectures from visiting scholars, and care-related field trips. Scholars also worked on their own care-related projects—Dr. Levy developed a revised syllabus for her POL 348 class, ran an abbreviated version of her game and received encouragement to continue this work. She decided to create a second version of The Challenge and Inequality of Care game—a two-session microgame version, which was playtested by 19 scholars in October 2022. Dr. Levy has expanded the game beyond Adelphi University. In late October she ran the microgame in person at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.
“I think having a short and long version of the game will allow more instructors to choose a version of the game that works for their pedagogical goals and available course time,” Dr. Levy said. “It was exciting for this game to emerge from an idea into a successful reality. I look forward to seeing it expand and impact the educational experiences and perspectives of a wider group of students.”
This story was featured in the Fall 2022 edition of Scholars and Artists of Adelphi University. View the full newsletter, which highlights the scholarly and creative work of Adelphi’s faculty members.