Dungeons and Dragons: The New Black

Image by Mitaukano from Pixabay

When my 16-year-old son asked to go to his friend’s house to play Dungeons and Dragons (D&D for short), I admit I was a little shocked.  As a child of the 80s, D&D was linked with negative images of witchcraft and satanic practices. “He wanted to play what?!” 

Of course, my son laughed when I expressed my concerns to him. He said his friends found my recollections of D&D hilarious. 

For my generation, Dungeon and Dragons was definitely not cool. It was considered very anti-social and something that nerds did in their basements to escape the real world.  Dare I say it? A little like the moral panic that surrounds the online gaming habits of teenagers today. 

The following month, after my 14-year-old son asked about D&D I knew something was up. Suddenly, Dungeons and Dragons had become cool and it seemed everyone wanted to play it. Was D&D undergoing a popular culture resurgence and how did this happen? How could I leverage this popularity in my library? 

Tabletop Gaming Revival 

Tabletop games refers to those that can be played on a flat surface or tables such as board, dice and card games. In recent years tabletop games have experienced a revival of popularity amongst the younger generation in a move back towards physical rather than online social interaction. In the wake of a global pandemic, the increase in face-to-face gaming has become more popular than ever before in a bid to combat social isolation

Dungeons and Dragons is one of the most popular tabletop games and is a collaborative role-playing fantasy game which involves players creating unique characters and rolling dice to determine outcomes based on players’ choices. 

References to Dungeon’s and Dragons have been slowly creeping into the popular culture of today’s youth.  Hit Netflix series Stranger Things shows the main child characters playing the game, with D&D also appearing in other popular TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Rick and Morty. 

A D&D resurgence is hardly surprising considering the current generation of teenagers have been raised on fantasy stories, movies and video games such as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Skyrim

Not only that, celebrities such as Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Vin Diesel and comedian Stephen Colbert are avid D&D fans and game players.   

Participatory culture 

The internet has also helped fuel the renewed popularity of Dungeons and Dragons with a strong online presence contributing to a participatory culture amongst players.  The advent of livestreaming platforms such as YouTube and Twitch means players can broadcast games around the world.  Players can also listen to podcasts and jump on social media to discuss anything and everything D&D. 

With all factors considered, it is hardly surprising that teenagers have embraced Dungeons and Dragons like they have.  

Opportunities for the school library 

Increased student interest in tabletop gaming provides the perfect opportunity for schools and libraries to harness the potential for connected learning.  Role-playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, help develop many skills in students including literacy, social, creative and problem-solving skills.  

Starting a tabletop or Dungeons and Dragons gaming club not only offers educational and emotional benefits to students, it may also provide a way of getting students and reluctant readers into the Library. Once in the door, strategically placed displays of related fantasy novels might just encourage them to pick up a book on the way out too! 

Final thoughts

It seems the adage “everything old is new again” rings true with Dungeons & Dragons. So, did I let my sons go play D&D? Of course – it gets them out of the house and offline playing video games! Sound familiar? 

The Wonder of Nevermoor

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

I have a confession to make – I love reading children’s fantasy novels, particularly middle-grade fiction. Probably not all that surprising considering I am a primary school teacher librarian. However, one series has stood out recently and made me question – Is this the next big thing since Harry Potter? 

Of course, I am talking about none other than the Nevermoor series written by Sunshine Coast author Jessica Townsend. The Nevermoor series features the trials and tribulations of the female protagonist Morrigan Crow. Morrigan, or Mog for short, is a cursed child who is destined to die at midnight on Eventide when she is whisked away to the magical land of Nevermoor by the mysterious Jupiter North. Here she discovers she has a mysterious magical power and becomes a member of the elite Wundrous Society.  

The first novel in the series Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is a multiple award winner that broke records in Australia as the fastest-selling children’s debut novel of all time.  A movie adaption of the novel is currently in progress. The next novel Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrgian Crow followed a year later, prompting comparisons to J.K. Rowling’s  Harry Potter phenomenon

It was in anticipation of Townsend’s newest release in the series, Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow that got me thinking. What is it about this series that is so special? What sets it apart from other novels? Could this be the current generation’s Harry Potter moment? 

“Townsend has something of Rowling’s knack for memorable characters, of balancing darkness with whimsy and building from scratch the geography and politics of an immersive fictional world.” 

Linda Morris, Sydney Morning Herald

For me it comes down to the ability of Townsend, as was the case with J.K. Rowling, to create the following: 

Universal Appeal 

The adventures of Morrigan and her friends in Nevermoor appeal to both children and adults alike. As well as broad appeal, the work of Townsend has experienced popularity and success around the world. For me, this is an essential ingredient. The ability to transcend audiences and markets is an important step in creating a transmedia success story. With the first Nevermoor movie in the works, it is only a matter of time before Morrigan Crow and Jessica Townsend are household names. 

Quirky Characters 

Like Harry Potter, the world of Nevermoor has many quirky and interesting characters from the antagonist Ezra Squall to the benevolent Jupiter North and Fenestra the Magnificat.  The relationships Morrigan develops with the other characters, particularly her friends from the Wundersociety adds to the appeal of this novel. This was also the case with Harry and his friends from Hogwarts. 

Darkness and Light 

A good children’s fantasy novel successfully combines elements of darkness with lighter humorous moment sprinkled throughout.  The presence of Morrigan’s antagonist Ezra Squall looms in the background as did Voldemort in Harry Potter. For me, the Nevermoor series strikes just the right balance – a little bit scary but not too much. 

Escape to another world 

Townsend has created a detailed, magical world that allows readers to escape from their everyday lives.  The strange happenings of Nevermoor has both children and adults coming back for more. With another six stories planned in the series, Morrigan Crow is bound to become a household name. 

Final Thoughts 

As I begin reading Hollowpox, I do think bigger things are ahead for Morrigan Crow and Jessica Townsend. I may be a little biased, but how wonderful would it be for a series containing a young female protagonist written by an Australian author to be the next shining star in children’s literature? Afterall we could all use a little light relief amid a global pandemic. 

Gaming in the School Library

Image by p2722754 from Pixabay

To game or not to game? It is a question that still divides many teacher-librarians in schools today.   

Even though 21st century libraries are vastly different spaces to those of the past, some teacher-librarians still believe games – particularly computer games and consoles have no place in modern school libraries. Fears over excessive screen time, a perceived lack of educational benefit and the difficulty in regulating the appropriate use of games have led to the exclusion of gaming in some school libraries.  

This is despite research finding that digital games are beneficial in supporting the development of 21st century learning skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication.  

Benefits of Gaming

The reality is digital games are here to stay, with the Digital Australia Report (2020) finding two out of three (66%) Australians regularly play video games. Of this number, more than 72% have more than one gaming device in their household. Respondents to the report indicate that computer games help their thinking skills, emotional wellbeing and social connection with others. 

In her article Twelve reason to let your children play video games this Christmas Dr. Parry argues we should worry less about letting children play computer games due to the numerous benefits, including improved problem-solving, creativity and social skills. She believes games are essentially stories that can teach children about narrative structure and characters. 

Teacher-Librarians need to embrace game play in their school libraries in order to transfer the skills and strategies students are learning informally into the school environment.  In the role of technology leaders and innovators, school libraries are perfectly positioned to integrate gaming into the library program in order to enhance 21st century literacies

Not only do games have the potential to improve student literacy, they also provide a way for library staff to connect with their patrons and get students in the door. An American School Librarian, Jason McCoy, won an award for doing just that through his “Gaming in the Library” program. 

As well as increasing student and staff engagement, readership and circulation rates also improved with students reading both fiction and non-fiction books associated with the games they were playing. At a time when school libraries are increasingly under pressure and constantly proving their relevance to school administrators this engagement is more important than ever. 

The gaming program also provided a positive social experience for teens, highlighting the important role the school library plays in enhancing and contributing to student well-being. A lunchtime gaming club could be just what your library needs to reconnect with disadvantaged students who may not have access to technology in their homes. 

Things to Consider

Although the research has highlighted many positive benefits associated with gaming, it is important to plan for barriers you may face in introducing gaming into your library. Things to consider include your current workload and time availability, support from staff and administration as well as the cost involved in purchasing the necessary gaming equipment. It is worth spending some time planning, strategizing and putting some policies in place to answer questions such as: 

  • What games will you use? 
  • What consoles or computers do I need? 
  • When and where will you offer the program? 
  • Who will be responsible for supervising students? 
  • What is the school policy on inappropriate student use of games? 

Once you have a plan in place, start small and gain the support of the early adopters in your school staff. A weekly lunchtime or after school gaming club can be an easy way to start. Don’t be afraid to make changes and let your students take ownership and lead the way. Above all else don’t forget to have some fun and learn something new! 

Podcasting 101

Podcasting is hot right now. If you’re not listening to a podcast you are creating one.  The popularity of podcasting in Australia has soared in recent times, with millennial listeners leading the way. 

According to Roy Morgan research, over 1.6 million Australians now download podcasts in an average month – an increase of 70% over the last four years. Driving the growth in the popularity of podcasts is the capability to download episodes directly to your mobile phone. 

“The ability to listen to your favourite podcast while commuting to and from work and tuning out from the hustle and bustle on crowded public transport, or just relaxing in your spare time to catch up on what’s been happening in an area of personal interest is appealing to a growing number of Australians.” 

Michele Levine, CEO, Roy Morgan

Benefits of podcasts

There are many benefits to including podcasts in your teaching repertoire including the following: 

  • Builds student engagement with a real-life context and purpose 
  • Integrates ICT capabilities and digital literacies 
  • Encourages a participatory culture, positioning students as active creators of information 
  • Develops speaking, listening and high order thinking skills 
  • Promotes collaboration between students 

So how can you leverage this popularity to engage the students in your classroom or library? Here are some easy tips to get you started. 

How do I use podcasts?

With podcasts covering so many diverse topics and interests, it is an extremely flexible tool to use in the classroom or library.  The possibilities are endless and you are only limited by your imagination!  

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In the school library, there is great potential to start a library podcast featuring book reviews, reading promotion and upcoming events. It would be a perfect addition to a school book club, with students in charge of creating and updating the podcast. 

Start Listening 

Listen to a variety of different podcasts to gain an understanding of the structure and textual features of podcasts. Apple Podcasts directory is a great place to start. Podcasts can be an interview, serial or discussion format. Some of my favourite podcasts to get you started include the Cult of PedagogyOne More Page and Squiz Kids. There is literally a podcast for everything! 

Plan Your Podcast

Failing to plan, is planning to fail. The same mantra applies to using podcasts in your classroom. It is important to scaffold your students and explicitly teach the steps involved in creating a podcast. The level of detail and structure required will depend on the age of your students. 

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Record Your Podcast

This is where the fun begins! Recording their podcast is often the part students enjoy the most. Don’t be afraid of the thought of learning something new, as today’s technology makes recording a podcast a relatively simple and straightforward experience. It also helps that there are many online video tutorials to get you started. 

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My favourite software tool for podcast recording and editing is GarageBand, which is available in both ipad and desktop versions. Here is a useful tutorial from Buzzsprout, a free podcasting hosting site, to get you started using GarageBand. 

Share with your listeners 

Once you are happy with the finished product, you will need somewhere to share your podcast. Depending on your audience (students, parents or general public) you will need somewhere to host the recording of your podcast. This may be as simple as making the recording available on your school portal, blog or Teams page. Otherwise there are many free hosting sites available such as Buzzsprout which is an affordable way to make student podcasts available to the public. 

So, what are you waiting for? Get started and experience the benefits of using podcasts with your students today! 

Further Reading

Podcasting in the Classroom: A Case Study

Podcasting in the school library: creating powerful Podcasts with your students

The Benefits of Podcasting in the Literacy Classroom