Snakes and Ladders – A Classroom Activity for Building Dialogue and Shared Understanding

We are excited to host this blog on developing innovative pedagogical games, written by Dr Sarah Dyer, the Director of the Education Incubator

I want to share an activity I have been developing to support discussions between academics about what builds – and what gets in the way of – developing as educators.

The activity draws on the playful learning being developed in the Exeter Education Incubator but rather than playing a game, the activity asks participants to design a game. In this case a game of ‘snakes and ladders’ (‘slides and ladders’ in the US, I am told). At ‘1’ the players are academics just starting out in their careers. On reaching ‘100’ they are successful educators who create transformative education for their students.

The participants in the activity must create the rules of game. First they identify the ‘snakes’ in this game; as an example, one might be ‘lack of mentoring’. This involves a group brainstorming. Next, they must decide the relative length of each snake. This requires a review and discussion of the proposed ‘snakes’. To keep it punchy I stuck to the snakes, but you could follow these two steps to identify ladders too.

An example of the game designed on Mural

I was lucky enough to get to test a prototype with some volunteers. Using Mural I had a couple of volunteers run through the activity. It was great to get feedback and discuss improvements and possible uses of the activity. One suggestion was about the value of the activity for early career academics and their mentors, where it could be used to discuss strategies and tactics to overcome the ‘snakes’. I also really enjoyed a discussion about the relative value of identifying ladders or snakes. Given the work I have done using Appreciative Inquiry, I am drawn the value of focusing on ‘ladders’. However, my volunteers were committed of the importance of creating a safe and productive space for discussing challenges.

Doing the activity with a group of about 40 early career academics I adapted the original idea a bit. First, five people in the group identified snakes and then others added to the ‘list’. A different five volunteers then valued the snakes, with a subsequent discussion of their assessments. The activity was placed at end of the first of two days of online synchronous and asynchronous workshops. The beginning of the second day then asked participants to share their own ‘ladders’, the things that helped them become the educators they want to be. I was struck by the importance of people and peer learning in their ladders, whilst the snakes were more diverse.

Some of the ladders that volunteers helped to create and prototype

The activity worked well. It served to foster a conversation about the context we work (and learn) in, and also the autonomy we can exercise. Participants also welcomed that I modelled using a new software tool, as I have not used Mural before as an educator, but that is another story.

As ever, I have drawn on the work of fantastic colleagues and collaborators. Lisa Alberici and I talked through how to make it work in our teaching of the Academic Profession Programme at the University of Exeter.

Playful Learning in the Exeter Education Incubator is being championed by Joe Francis, Steph Comley, Maarten Koeners, and Holly Henderson.

Thanks so much to Thomas Maiorana for his coaching in the design of this game, and Karla Berry and Amanda Brooks, who were a couple of my amazingly thoughtful prototype testers. Thank you.

Education Higher Education Incubator Online Learning Project Success for All

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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

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