Edu-larp can be described as implementing live-action role-playing games in formal or informal educational contexts, “used to impart pre-determined pedagogical or didactic content” (Balzer & Kurz 2015). The aim of the Edu-larp Conference 2019 was to present and discuss recent international research as well as share best practice examples or innovative formats of edu-larp.The first edu-larp conference was held in 2014 in Sweden, organized by Carolina Dahlberg. From single workshops at the Nordic Larp Conferences Knudepunkt dealing with edu-larp, Carolina took to actually making a separate conference, taking place before the main event. In consecutive years, the edu-larp conference has been running every year since and will again in Finland 2020. Edu-larp conferences have also been hosted in the United States in a similar setup as the ones in the Nordic countries. They have taken place the day before the Living Games Conference, the US larpers’ version of Knudepunkt, and were hosted in 2016 (Austin, Texas) and 2018 (Boston, Massachussetts).
The Edu-larp Conference 2019 was held at Ungdomshuset in Odense (Denmark) on 7 February 2019 from 9-17. The organizers (Muriel Algayres, Charles Bo Nielsen, and Katrin Geneuss) had sent out an open call for papers via social media and all proposals were accepted. There were eight presentations in total, spanning research and development projects, as well as reports on specific ways of facilitating edu-larps and of implementing future projects. Furthermore, three workshops were held (described below) and the program included an optional trip to Efterskolen Epos, a boarding school that uses edu-larp as one of its teaching tools.
This article contains summaries of presentations, workshops, and the trip to Efterskolen Epos.
Summary of the Eight Presentations
Josefin Westborg presented results from her bachelor’s thesis in a talk entitled “Who Sees What? Perceived Learning Areas After Participating in an Edu-larp.” Applying the model of Hammer et al. (2018), she handed out an existing survey using the constructs 1) portraying a character, 2) Manipulation a fictional world, 3) Altered sense of reality, and 4) Shared imagination. Further, she conducted qualitative interviews with four edu-larp participants who had different functions in the games. Their perceptions about learning from edu-larps are similar, regardless if they were a student or a teacher. The important factor seems to be how immersed a participant is in the larp. Based on her work, Westborg suggests adding the constructs agency and personal growth to the model of Hammer et al. (2018).
Carola Nebe from the German association Waldritter e.V. presented a short film which was produced to explain the method of edu-larp to an audience who might not be familiar with the technique. It can be found here.
Olivia Fischer from the College of Teacher Education in Vienna (PH Wien) presented a format for how to introduce edu-larp as a teaching method in teacher education. In short, she first explains edu-larp as a concept and then lets students participate in edu-larps with different purposes and focuses relevant to education. She proposed among other things that edu-larps holds potential for raising student self-efficacy, which concerns “people’s beliefs in their ability to influence events that affect their lives” (Bandura, 2010, p. 1) and contributing to “Bildung,” which refers to a tradition of self-cultivation, personal maturation, and identity development, which only to a certain extent can be translated with “literacy.”
Katrin Geneuss presented parts of results from her PhD thesis “Die waren ja mittendrin! Ganzheitliches Lernen im Rollenspiel EduLARP” (Geneuss 2019). She focused on difficulties associated with using edu-larps during regular lessons of German, History, and Philosophy in Bavaria. Through semi-narrative interviews, she found that pedagogues were concerned with the perceived effort/result-ratio, meaning that edu-larps take a lot of time to design and to facilitate, but the learning outcome is difficult to measure. This connects to another challenge, which is how to set grades on the student’s performance. To meet the teacher’s needs and to decrease the time of preparation, it would be of help to offer ready-to-play material, as can be found here. Despite those and other minor concerns, the thesis reported that due to the high degree of motivation and active involvement of the students, the STARS-project in Munich is appreciated by teachers and pupils alike.
Muriel Algayres presented the results of the introduction of a role-playing game activity for secondary class students in History (Algayres 2019). She compared intrinsic and self determined motivation (see Ryan & Deci 2017) for a group of students involved in the activity with a control group. Though the quantitative levels of intrinsic and self-determined motivation were higher for the group of students involved in the activity, the sample of students was too small to establish statistical significance. However, based on the positive results, she highlighted the potential for educational role-playing games to increase intrinsic motivation in students.
Andrea Castellani and Matteo Bisanti gave an overview over the Italian larp conference Edularp.it, which in its first year featured talks by 13 different speakers. Further, they presented Il Congegno di Leonardo, which is an edu-larp organization in Italy. Initially focusing on edu-larps for science education in secondary schools, they are currently expanding activities into other subjects and other target groups (primary school pupils, larpers, the general public, etc).
Jannick Trolliet introduced the audience to how edu-larp is used in Swiss holiday camps with youths. He pointed out that the remote location invites children and young adults to explore the natural environment as well as physical interaction.
Qla Zetterling from the Swedish company Lajvverkstaden summarized the project From Russia with Love in Belarus, where he facilitated edu-larps to teach sexual education in orphanages. Edu-larp can be a necessary vehicle to talk about topics that are socially not accepted or taboo otherwise.
Between the sets of presentations, the participants were offered three mid-day workshops. On the workshop on research, which was led by Sarah Lynne Bowman and Katrin Geneuss, participants worked together on definitions and terminology, as well as on making a map of participant research intentions and methodologies. This workshop showed that from a research perspective, edu-larps as a field of research is diverse and fragmented both in terms of the topics and methods used, when applying edu-larp in formal or informal settings. Furthermore, qualitative research in edu-larp makes use of a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives, for example, thematic analysis (see Braun & Clarke, 2006), grounded theory (see Strauss & Corbin 1997), action research (see Stringer 2008), ethnography (see Balsiger & Lambelet 2014), motivation theory (see Ryan & Deci 2017), and network analysis (see Bruun & Evans 2018). These are some of the perspectives in use to answer equally diverse research questions. Many participants were in the beginning of their research careers and/or had edu-larps as one of many research interests. As can be expected from a budding field, researchers seem to bring in the theories and methodologies they know from other more or less related fields.
Another workshop was lead by Olivia Fischer, and was concerned with implementing drama techniques and edu-larps in teacher education. This workshop featured many hands-on exercises for the participants, several of which were inspired by improvisational theatre. A third workshop on edu-larp design was lead by Charles Bo Nielsen. The workshop to the format of what can be called “a larp jam:” Starting with a brainstorm of ideas from common “idea points,” the workshop participants proceeded to team up and develop ideas further. As an end product, the developed ideas were narrowed down by participants to finalized pitches, which were presented to the overall audience of the conference.
Visit to Efterskolen Epos
The conference had an optional add-on: the audience was offered a trip to the Danish boarding school Efterskolen Epos. It is one of two secondary schools in Denmark using role-playing games as an integrated part of their teaching strategy. The trip was co-organized by Esben Wilstrup and Charles Bo Nielsen. At Efterskolen Epos, participants engaged in joint discussions with pupils as well as teachers from the school. This gave different perspectives on how the school utilizes both pupil and teacher resources when designing games from which students may acquire knowledge, skills, and competencies required by the Danish school system (grades 9 – 10). In Denmark, an “efterskole” (the literal translation from Danish is “after school”) is a government-funded institution that acts as a transitional boarding school to prepare lower secondary students (8th, 9th, and 10th graders in the Danish school system) for upper secondary school. An “efterskole” usually has a focus, often related to particular fields of interest, such as sports, music, outdoors, or larp. This focus is often accompanied by a pedagogical vision and practice. As a government funded school, Efterskolen Epos follows the standard educational regulations of 9-10th grade including regulations for exams and grades.
The variation of the contributions to the edu-larp conference indicates that larp as an educational tool is applied in many different contexts, ranging from holiday camps to courses at colleges for teacher education. These formal and informal learning and teaching strategies demand well-trained teachers and facilitators, which is why multiple programs need to be developed. Research in edu-larps may be seen as a new bud in the young fields of game-based learning and gamification. As such, research in edu-larps is diverse both in terms of research questions and methods. Furthermore, research in edu-larps seems to be intimately tied to teacher practice and development of unique edu-larps, rather than investigations of standard materials. Finally and linked to the last point, the field has a great and diverse interdisciplinary potential, both in terms of research and design. As mentioned previously, this potential of edu-larp among others touches the fields of performative studies, drama education (Heathcote & Bolton 1995), and psychology, as well as interdisciplinary teaching, where edu-larps may help link, for example, the Humanities and the Sciences.
Algayres, Muriel. 2018. “A Study of Active Learning in Educational Roleplaying Games and Students’ Motivation.” Proceedings from the TAL2018 Conference, Syddansk University, 2018.
Balsiger, Philip, and Alexandre Lambelet. 2014. “Participant Observation.” In Methodological Practices in Social Movement Research, edited by Donatella Della Porta, 144-172. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Balzer, Muriel, and Julia Kurz. 2015. “Learning by Playing. Larp as a Teaching Method.” Nordiclarp.org. Last modified March 4.
Bandura, Albert. 2010. “Self‐efficacy.” In The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology 1-3.
Braun, Virgina, and Victoria Clarke. 2006. “Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology.” Qualitative Research in Psychology 3, no. 2: 77-101.
Bruun, Jesper, and Robert Evans. 2018. “Network Analysis as a Research Methodology in Science Education Research.” Pedagogika 68, no. 2: 201-217.
Geneuss, Katrin. (2019). „Die waren ja mittendrin!“ Ganzheitliches Lernen im Rollenspiel EduLARP. Grundlagen – Wirkungen – Einsatz im Deutschunterricht. Elektronische Hochschulschriften: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.
Hammer, Jessica, To, Alexandra, Schrier, Karen, Bowman, Sarah Lynne, and Geoff Kaufman. 2018. “Learning and Role-Playing Games.” In Role-Playing Game Studies: Transmedia Foundations, edited by José P. Zagal and Sebastian Deterding, 283-299. New York: Routledge.
Heathcote, Dorothy, and Gavin M. Bolton. 1995. Drama for Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Ryan, Richard M., and Edward L. Deci. 2017. Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness. Guilford Publications.
Strauss, Anselm, and Corbin, Juliet M. 1997. Grounded Theory in Practice. Sage.
Stringer, Ernie T. 2008. Action Research in Education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Cover photo: Muriel Algayres in the foreground, Katrin Geneuss and Charles Bo Nielsen presenting.
Editor: Elina Gouliou