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Blog: Do pass go and collect £200. Board games to teach university students

Date 1.03.2019

Schools regularly use board games as an effective means to teach principles and values to children. But can the same approach work in higher education? Our ‘eye on crime’, Lecturer in Criminology Jessica Ritchie writes about how she and Associate Lecturer Bethany Davies rolled the dice at Northampton.


This term, I was very excited to start teaching Crime Perspectives on Race and Gender for third-year undergraduate criminology students. In the process of developing new teaching materials, I really wanted to ensure that I designed activities which would allow students to engage and learn about the very serious topics we would be discussing including, but not limited to intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, and human trafficking.

During my research, I found a board game designed to teach western people about arranged marriages. This is where I first considered using board games to teach students.

This is not to ‘dumb-down’ criminology or a lecturer wanting to put their feet up – I wanted my students to have an opportunity to consider complex materials in an engaging way, to get them excited about the topic and hopefully obtain a higher level of comprehension of the course content.

I explored the research into using board games as a teaching tool. The majority of literature on board games available only covers primary and secondary school learning and does not consider their use at university level.

What the research demonstrated is that games can enhance learning and teaching outcomes by providing an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in an activity. It provides information to students in a new format and hopefully a fun environment for inquiry, exploration, and question asking.

If it works in schools, I thought, why not in the Higher Education lecture room…?

Bethany and I facilitated the playing of the board game Arranged! (designed by Nashra Balagamwala) to teach students about arranged marriage and different cultural practices and norms within South Asian communities.

In the game, ‘you’ play the role of the matchmaker Aunty, or ‘you’ play one of the girls she is putting into an arranged marriage. As Aunty, you chase the girls around the board to try and marry them off to every boy she can find.

The aim of the game is that the girls need to run away from Aunty and a loveless marriage – while also dealing with other issues that can be faced by those in some South Asian communities, such as skin whitening, secret boyfriends, and dowries. We took time to discuss the different cards, what they meant, and consider their impacts on the individual.

Bethany and I had a really positive experience using an alternative active learning practice. We received positive feedback from students that they enjoyed a different way of learning. Providing them a ‘lecture with a difference’ has, we hope, led to them remembering an important topic and how it relates to the community they live in.

Above all else, variety is the spice of life and it is always important to continue reviewing teaching practices, to move away from teacher-centred pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) to learner-centred pedagogy and be novel and innovative.

Hardly dumbing down, is it?

Find out more about the Criminology (Ba hons) degree at University of Northampton.

For more about Arranged!