Using MtG in Teaching

Last year I wrote about Magic as a teaching tool in a trade online publication. Its in Finnish, but you’re interested, you can find it here. This year, an opportunity presented itself, so I chose to use MtG as part of a course.

The course is Agile Software Development Methods. Although there’s the word ‘software’ in the title, its more about the project management in agile than actual software development (there are other courses for that). I had to decide on a course project, so I decided to give my students two projects. First, I told them we’d have an MtG tournament in the middle of the course, so their first project would be to learn the game well enough to participate. The second project will be (starting next week) about game design, namely designing the commons of a set (although, I’ll mess with them at some point by bringing in more requirements, as is usual in an Agile project).

I began the first project by giving them a bunch of links to helpful material, such as beginner videos and Magic Duels. I also gave each group two 40 card decks wholly made out of Kaladesh commons. The decks were purposefully awful. Like total trainwrecks of a draft decks. Each had some good cards, but not much synergy and definitely room to improve in card quality. After that, I gave each group more cards each week. First, some more commons, after that some uncommons, all from Kaladesh. In one case, I gave the cards based on their performance in an exercise we did during class.

The tournament was last week. Some groups were well prepared, others less so. You know, pretty usual student stuff. Some groups had problems with the rules or how the cards functioned, while others had really enjoyed it and some had taken on the game as a new or revitalized hobby. After I left lectures on another course with largely the same students, I saw seven people from the other course playing the game.

From my point of view, this was supposed to be something fun, but educational. There is always a hidden curriculum and in this case, it was the game itself. As the main thing we are supposed to teach our students is problem solving, I feel like this is a win. After all, that is what Magic is: a constantly shifting, very complicated problem. If I can get my students to embrace it, I’ve done a huge chunk of my job.

I also noticed that based on the learning diaries, the students who embraced the game would often learn the actual content of the course better. Agile is project management, but with a more humanist views and the groups that approached this from such an angle, were easily the most involved ones. Some of the students didn’t see the connection between learning the game the way I pushed them to and software development, but they let their prejudices take control. Of course, if you don’t even try, you want learn anything.

The second project will be much more complicated one. The group as a whole needs to self-organize. I want to be able to give roles to people, who didn’t really bother to learn the game when they had a chance. Well, we’ll see…

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