Local News

Psychology professor uses Dungeons and Dragons to foster community

CU experiments with new ways to improve learning outcomes

CASTLETON—A pilot program at Castleton University aims to expose students to alternative hobbies that could help build community on campus and promote valuable social skills, according to a news release, April 1, from the University.

Dr. Greg Engel, assistant professor in the Psychology Department, said the idea came from his desire to use one-credit courses to benefit students academically and socially. “There is strong evidence of the benefits of having healthy recreation opportunities. It’s something that isn’t built into our society. Making time for hobbies can help reduce stress, improve health, and performance in other areas, such as family, work and, school,” he said.

The pilot course focuses on Dungeons and Dragons because it is an interest of Engel’s and because the game is conducive to creating communities of people with a common set of interests.

“Dungeons and Dragons, in particular, has shown to be quite good at this, in part, because of the social nature of it. It often creates positive social action with others and benefits along those lines,” Engel said. “It promotes critical thinking and helps people solve challenges they may experience in other aspects of their life. It trains lateral thinking by teaching different ways to approach a problem.”

Engel would like to see the program successfully expand to having three to five individual one-credit courses each semester. Each course would train students on how to engage in a hobby on their own as a stress relief technique and building a community around a shared interest.

The learning outcome for the pilot Dungeons and Dragons course will center around learning how to play the game. Engel will also work in some academic findings of the benefits of playing table-top games. He said students are showing a strong interest in the course.

“There is a lot of evidence that a sense of belonging improves outcomes for students. Students who feel like they have a place on a college campus are more likely to succeed,” Engel said. “One of the things I envision for these courses is to create that sense of belonging. I think that it will help many students to find that place on campus.”

Engel sees the program progressing into an eclectic mix of courses that expands outside of the Psychology Department. “I’d love for faculty across campus and all disciplines to offer courses like these to bring in the whole community rather than just me and my department,” Engel said.

While enrollment and student interest will be key indicators of the success of this pilot, there is also a research component to gauge whether the course helps to improve on feelings of belonging.

Engel will work with student Gikanh Timberwolf to track feelings of belonging for those who take this course.

“Gikanh was doing a project about belonging last semester. This is one of the things that aligned to make this course run the way it is. I looked at the poster she had produced from her research and realized it was exactly what I wanted to know about this course,” Engel said.

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