My Teaching and Learning Conversation (TLC) in Spring 2018 addressed Moksha, a karma-based classroom game that I, Mark Dennis, began developing in 2010 for use in my introductory-level World Religions course at TCU. Over time, I adapted it for use in my upper-level courses, including Buddhism, Daoism & Confucianism, and Religion & Violence. I was joined at the TLC by two other faculty: Dr. Eric Simanek from the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry who used the game in his course Whiskey: Science & History and Yushau Sodiq from the Department of Religion, who used the game for his World Religions course.
The Moksha game is based on a religious paradigm accepted by Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions of India. That paradigm includes samsara, or the cyclical world of birth, death, and rebirth; karma, or the law of cause and effect; and moksha, a Sanskrit term meaning “liberation” or “freedom.” Hindus, Buddhists, and their South Asian co- religionists accept some interpretation of this paradigm, although they differ in how they understand its individual components. For instance, while Hindus and Buddhists both accept the notion of samsara, the former describe liberation from this cycle as moksha, while the latter describe it as nirvana. Similarly, we find differences in their interpretations of karma, which is the doctrine that a good action will eventually bring a good result, or delicious “fruit,” while a bad action will bring about a bad result, or a rotten “fruit.”
The game is based on this doctrine of karma wherein students who engage in positive actions—such as participating in class, doing well on quizzes and papers, and so on—will be rewarded with good karma points. Likewise, when students engage in distracted or disruptive behavior— for example, coming late, texting, or eating in class—they will receive bad karma points. Those individual points accumulate over the entire semester and their class rank in the Moksha game determines twenty-five percent of their final grade. For instance, the top three or four students would receive 100% multiplied by a factor of .25, the next group would receive 95%, and so on.
But those individual karma points also make up one part of their team’s score—early in the semester I create either eight or ten teams with three or four students per team. Their team score is a combination of each team member’s individual karma points plus the points the team earns from a variety of team games that we play in class over the course of the semester. For instance, each team will debate another team on a resolution concerning religion and free speech. One resolution asks one team to defend the position that it is appropriate to step on the American flag that was draped on the floor as part of an art exhibit in a Chicago museum, while the other team argues against doing so. Each team is graded on their debate performance and receives team points based on their relative position. For instance, the winning team would get 20 team points, the second-place team would receive 18, and so on. The team game not only helps to enliven the classroom but also determines the bonus points each team member will receive on their quiz average based on where their team finishes in the rankings at the end of the semester.
The TLC offered an introduction to the genesis of the Moksha game, an outline of the rules, and examples of team games.
Each of the three presenters described how he has used the game effectively in class and offered advice for how to adapt it to different learning environments. Key takeaways included starting by making the game low stakes. For instance, instead of making the individual Moksha grade worth twenty-five percent of the final grade, making it five or ten percent instead. It might also be advisable to start with an abbreviated set of rules that would make it easier for students to understand the game and the instructor to administer it. I would be happy to consult with you on how to do so.
Another takeaway was the importance of keeping on top of the scoring. This requires keeping track of points after each class because while some scoring elements, like quiz scores, are easy to reproduce, others, like class comments, are not. It is also important to create a team scoreboard that shows where teams are in the standings. I have teams pick an animal to represent their team, and I select a cartoon image of that animal. Each Monday, I show the updated scoreboard and try to generate excitement by congratulating teams that have moved up. Simanek has used whiskey-related images for the teams in his class.
If you are interested in learning more about the game, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find an article I wrote about the game for Education About Asia, the teaching journal of the Association for Asian Studies. The article is available by going to the Education About Asia article search website and typing my name (Mark Dennis) in the author field.
This article was written by Mark Dennis, Associate Professor of Religion, Yushau Sodiq, Associate Professor of Religion & Islamic Studies, and Eric Simanek, Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry, for the Fall 2018 Issue of Insights.