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RDP instructor uses zombies in award-winning teaching approach

Gaming and a zombie apocalypse used to challenge English 220 students

A Red Deer Polytechnic instructor combined gaming and a zombie apocalypse in an award-winning approach to teaching.

Roger Davis, RDP’s Head of English, recently received received the Alberta Colleges and Institutes Faculties Association Innovation in Teaching Award, which is presented to one instructor per year.

For Davis, the idea of creating an apocalyptic zombie world in his English 220 course evolved from his own research interests in monstrosity and zombies, along with the thematic prevalence of zombies in popular culture. At an international teaching seminar in Portland, Oregon he was inspired to introduce gaming to the course.

“Studying literature can involve many aspects beyond the capital ‘L’ literature of traditional texts,” says Davis, who has taught at RDP since 2011. “Reading and watching films is also a consumption of cultural products, beyond mere entertainment, and it can help us to understand the society in which we live in a deeper and more meaningful way.”

In his English 220 class, students imagined waking up in class with a zombie apocalypse underway and survival — not mid-terms and finals — their most pressing worry.

Each student had to develop a character whose gender, age, occupation and beliefs were determined by a random game of chance.

Then, they had to establish where they are living and the political structure before embarking on a group project to create infrastructure that will contribute significantly to society.

“The point, in many ways, is to get students to inhabit someone other than themselves to give them a better understanding of difference and diversity,” says Davis. “This becomes a larger social experiment, where students have the opportunity to determine what kind of community they want to imagine and build.”

As students created their worlds, Davis linked their learning to texts, such as The Walking Dead graphic novel series and short stories touching on everything from zombies to trauma.

“Zombies, in particular, are unique across literature and culture because of the unusual level of violence enacted upon them,” he says. “As a metaphor, this violence is often about eliminating the ‘otherness’ that we don’t like in society, and so we explore this negative perspective as a class.

“But, on the positive side, the gamified zombie world that students experience is also about reinventing ourselves, so students gain a deeper understanding about the complexity of society,” he says.

“They have the opportunity to consider ethics, politics and society as they create a community and research projects that are applied and practical.

These outcomes will continue to serve them well, no matter what field of study they pursue.”

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