The Political Game of Education


Check out the creepy "spy guy" in the back watching Jeff during this phone call!

Check out the creepy “spy guy” in the back watching Jeff during this phone call!

I should announce it here first.  I am currently being vetted by a Presidential hopeful to become the next Secretary of Education for the USA. 

That was how we began our Professional Development workshop a few weeks back (  The ensuing “hack” of my computer, beating down of my door, and my need to flee to Switzerland then became prudent as our Alternate Reality Game “The Education Machine” played out for EdChat.

Not only was this experience extremely rewarding – my new Saint Leo team did an incredible job creating websites, clues, and assets like a Photoshop picture of John Dewey, Lev Vygotstky, and Jean Piaget eating lunch together – but it was my 7th foray into Alternate Reality Learning Experiences (ARLEs).  Wow, what a cool ride.

But as exciting as that three day event was, I want to talk about one that is even cooler.  Professional Development for teachers can certainly be a game, but when students are involved, the stakes are higher.  So let me tell you about our current ARLE – one that is about to culminate in an Epic Win for a student this Friday night.  It’s something that has gotten noticed by Conservative talk show radio (, picked up by NPR (interview to be aired on Nov 12), has allowed our students to interact with national Presidential candidacies on Twitter (#PrezDebateSLU – we’ve invited EVERY current, Presidential hopeful to come…), and will see Fox 13 news coming to report.

I’m talking about our students campaign to become President of the United States! 

DebateOk, yes, it is a simulation.  And yes, it is a gamified experience.  But it is running in complete parallel to the actual campaigns, including the debates, that our current political system is playing out.  And our students are learning a tremendous amount.

To begin with the obvious, the two teams of political opponents coming out of the Political Science discipline – both Republicans and Democrats – are duking it out as they establish their platforms, get out their messages via social media, and create commercials / interviews to establish their rightful place in our Government.  It’s all chronicled here:

Less obvious though, are the 6 other subjects and 8 other classes involved in this ARLE.  Take the video production majors who are shooting commercials and interviews.  When one team of students missed an appointment to film the Republican candidates (they just “spaced it”), we used that moment in time to craft a scandal, claiming that the Democrats paid off the film crew to sabotage the Republicans.  The Dems (rightfully) denied it.  The Republicans cried foul.  But most importantly, the film students struggled with what to do next.  The stakes have never really been that high for them before.  A grade is one thing, but a grade plus public humiliation is another.  Would they admit to being paid off and suggest they had not ethics?  Or would they admit they simply forgot the task and look foolish for it?  Their real life choice was to rally, produce an ingenious (and fantastically sappy) commercial without the need for the Republican candidate to be present, and save the day. (   Whew.

Then there is Social Media & Marketing.  Six teams from two classes vied for their group to be THE group that would consult around and create social media platforms and strategies for the campaigns.  From Twitter feeds ( to websites ( and far, far beyond, they created a social media presence for the candidates.


Then there were the Psychology, Communications, and Education Governance classes.  These students held our candidates feet to the fire.  They interviewed the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees several times, but they also analyzed them, debated their policies on standardized testing, and produced the 3 moderator panels for both debates.

Don’t forget Criminal Justice would vetted Saint Leo for safety and appropriateness of an event like this.  (Full disclosure – the school failed by the way – we likely would not be an ideal location for a real Presidential debate…)

Along the way these students have had to deal with scandals (like Ashley Madison accusations, Planned Parenthood misappropriation of funds accusations, etc), they’ve had to work across classroom walls (including face to face AND online), and they have had to take the information from books and lectures and actually apply them in real time.

And all of these students, getting real grades for real actions while learning real concepts, are spiraling toward Friday night.  Our Presidential hopefuls are about to face off in the culminating event.  At 6pm, we’ll start serving hors d’oeuvres.  At 7pm, the students will start the debate (Saint Leo University Boardrooms).  At 8pm, we’ll start the vote.  By 8:15pm, our (alternate) country will have a new Commander in Chief.

Will our live audience (including political VIP’s, local media, and celebrities) as well as those watching the streaming event, vote the way of the actual country?  Tune in to on Friday night and find out!

Good luck and good learning.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer

About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.

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