In the third week of the course we met the Blannelid, but only after we had exhausted ourselves defeating the Troll and its spider sidekicks. In fact, it looked very much as though we met the Blannelid b e c a u s e we were on the point of defeating the Troll; the Troll and its remaining ally, who were both pretty beat up, disappeared to be replaced by this new, and uninjured, menace. Our team had expended its resources carefully and tactically to defeat the Troll. But now we were faced with a completely new attacker, with most of our ‘Active Skill’ points gone. We did our best, but several team members died, and it was still an open question whether we or the Blannelid would survive, when time was called.
All this mayhem was supposed to educate us in failure. Well, we all knew our characters were ‘mortal’ and could be swept out of the game, but the way it happened this week made me seriously question the design of this part of the course. For the previous two weeks we had been learning to cooperate and strategize. But there seems to be no way to strategize for an attacker like the Blannelid. If we had not used Active Skill points to deal with the Troll, the Troll would have defeated us. Because we used those points to defeat the Troll, we were desperately vulnerable when the Blannelid appeared. What was the learning objective here: “Expect the unexpected”?,“No good deed goes unpunished”? Neither of these are messages I want to communicate to my students.
In the subsequent discussion, which again was very good, one of the key ideas that emerged was the importance of agency, that is, students feeling that what they do can make a difference, and that to some reasonable extent they are in control of how they fare in a course. The Blannelid sequence violates both principles. Yes, there are Blannelid events in real life, but they should not happen in university courses. Students need to understand that ‘failure’ was a result of their own choices, not arbitrary outside events, and see that they can both avoid whatever led to the unwanted outcome, and that the desired outcome is something they can actually achieve. The next time one of my classes is interrupted by an e a r t h q u a k e I will tell the students the Blannelid story to distract them while we run to safety.