Radical Pedagogy


Radical Pedagogy (2013)

ISSN: 1524-6345

“SPTADUKIA”: Reality TV as a Teaching Tool

Leigh Ann Danzey-Bussell

Assistant Professor of Sport Management
University of West Georgia
Georgia, USA

E-mail: lbussell@westga.edu


College professors must be cognizant of the ever-changing learning styles and expectations of students. Coates (2007) indicated the current generation of students is technology savvy, which affects communicating and learning.  Adding creative and challenging activities to traditionally taught courses adds another dimension of preparing students for real-world challenges. To accomplish this, professors must begin to embrace the paradigm shift from teaching (linear) to learning (constructed) (Barr & Tagg, 1995). One option to engage students is to incorporate games into the classroom. Sport Administration Ultimate Know It All (SPTADUKIA) is a game conceived to challenge students to put knowledge into practice.  SPTADUKIA was employed as a new way to engage students through gamesmanship in an effort to extend the traditional lecture-based classroom and stimulate decision making and critical thinking skills. This paper discusses how SPTADUKIA impacted student learning and how gamesmanship can be an effective teaching tool.                                          

               Keywords:  SoTL; active learning; games; graduate students; application of knowledge


Educators must realize that they are tasked not only with teaching students, but also to help them become more effective learners, developing critical thinking skills (McGlynn, 2001). It seems to reason, with so many distractions that can impede student learning, Facebook, Twitter, iPhones and iPods, to name a few, it has become challenging to create a course that engages and challenges student to leave their comfort zone and work outside the proverbial box.  As part of a faculty that is encouraged to engage students in active learning, SPTADUKIA was created as a class assignment that would challenge students to resolve issues and create opportunities that placed them in decision making positions in hypothetical athletic department roles.  This game focused on the ideas of teamwork, individual competition and application of knowledge.

Professors are continually searching for ways to engage students both in and out of the classroom.  It is essential to find ways to link the traditional lecture-based class with practical, active learning techniques that, as Dewey (1933) stressed, placed responsibility for learning on the students.  Whether labeled service learning, experiential learning or immersive learning, Barr and Tagg (1995) noted that pedagogy is moving from providing instruction to a climate of producing learning. This paradigm shift has fashioned classrooms that more closely resemble strategy sessions and boardrooms with students engaging in open discussions on problem solving and administrative task development.

            Professors are now a part of a creative production team tasked with designing and facilitating learning experiences that encompass unconventional means.   Levy (1996) defined this new role of professor as more than just providing content, but rather offering observation, questioning, reasoning, analysis, planning, decision-making, communication, and how to think challenges for their students.  According to Kohn (1997), a learning environment allows students to engage with what they are doing, thus supporting deeper understanding.  Wurdinger (2005) maintained that this type of learning increases student interest by giving them “ownership in their learning” (p. 18).


For many college professors, their teaching style is a reflection of their higher education experiences; one-way, instructive, traditional, or teacher-directed, class-long lectures delivered without the aid of technology (Hiemstra & Sisco, 1990).   This traditional pedagogy still exists, as we see semesters organized around lectures either two or three days a week for a set time period.  The current system has been ingrained in higher education, but we should look to our students for guidance on how to implement this change.  The beginning of this implementation has been seen with the advent of technology and its use in the classroom.  Technology has fashioned another dimension to lectures through the use of PowerPoint, photography, videos, and social media outlets like Facebook, YouTube, Skype, LinkedIn and Twitter.  In a time where our students are “plugged in,” we should learn to embrace new technology and identify ways to incorporate it into our teachings.  Garcia (2006) reported that we are “entrenched in the artificial learning experiences typically used in classes (e.g., tests, assignments, research papers), and tend to ignore or under-estimate the pedagogical value of real life experiences for learning” (p. 1).  Taking what Garcia reported and employing it is the foundation for SPTADUKIA.  This game brings the ability to assume an administrative position, make decisions regarding employment, budgets and policies, taking it from an artificial experience to a real one.

In their study on faculty use of social media, Tinti-Kane, Seaman & Levy (2010) utilized a random sample of 10,000 Pearson Education customers, identifying that that there is a very strong belief among faculty that video, podcasts, blogs, and wikis are valuable tools for teaching.   In a subsequent study, Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane (2011) reported that that “80 percent of faculty report using social media for some aspect of a course they are teaching” (p. 12). This was critical to SPTADUKIA as students were challenged to utilize social mediums as a means for creatively responding to the course assignments and as a means of group communication.

During this paradigm shift toward active learning, faculty must embrace the fact that students engage in and communicate through numerous mediums.  Engaging students early and often using those mediums and through active learning exercises enhances the educational experience by employing critical thinking, full class participation and application to real life (Rockler-Gladden, 2006). Watts (2003) claims “students desperately cling to the hope that a college education will give them a ticket to a better future, which, in their view, means employment possibilities. If we continue to neglect the importance of enabling students to make connections across the curriculum and to their lives, we fail miserably in our mission to educate” (p. 100).

Armed with supporting data, today’s professor needs to address the concept of active learning utilizing the various forms of social media and generational mediums preferred by their students.  This new wave, college student attitude begs entertain me (Robinson, 2007).   In fact, King (1993) declared that in the twenty-first century individuals will have to “think for themselves, pose and solve complex problems, and generally produce knowledge rather than reproduce it” (p. 30).  Sport is part of the entertainment industry, meaning it is full of twists and turns and unpredictable outcomes.  This is no different from what happens in the business world. It is important to understand if we entertain them with challenges in the classroom we are preparing them for how the industry will ultimately challenge them.

Faculty who engage in active learning bring new life to the classroom; enhancing performance on traditional measures of learning, increasing student interest in the subject and teaching new problem solving skills which, in turn, makes teaching more enjoyable (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996).  In fact, according to Heineke and Meile (2000), a well-designed game should actually reduce the class time needed to teach a particular concept. Chickering and Gamson (1987) suggested that students must do more than just absorb lecture to learn; they have to read, write, discuss, or be engaged in solving problems to gain the most from learning. Simon (2004) contended immersive, real-world experiences afford students the opportunity to resolve real problems while dealing with the pressures so pervasive in the business world. As collegiate sport is now labeled a big business, the comparison to the business world is appropriate.   

This pedagogical shift has created the need to retool our teaching and to actively engage our students in learning (Barr & Tagg, 1995).  Schwartzman (1997) observed that games cultivate a learning environment while Robinson (2007) concluded that incorporating a game-based project into a class setting is fairly easy and widely accepted by students.  Today’s students have grown up with game shows, videos, and the Internet, all of which serve dual roles: entertainment and education. “In comparison to these fast-paced, interactive mediums, a traditional lecture class can seem dull. The use of in-class games is one way to increase student engagement with the class and relevant material.” (Ritzko & Robinson, 2006, p. 45) They further suggest that faculty “be less of a sage on the stage and more a guide on the side.” (p. 45). Faculty were encouraged by Svinicki (1990) to not just relay content to students, but rather to help students with learning, i.e., be more involved with the education you are imparting rather than just delivering it.  As she goes on to explain, this is a shift from cognition (professor directed learning) to metacognition (professor supported learning).  SPTADUKIA provides this opportunity by placing students in a position to research and present possible outcomes of situations that were based upon classroom lectures and subsequent reading material related to the week’s topic. 

But, this new way of teaching does not come without risks.  According to Bonwell and Eison (1991) faculty must consider possible difficulties in introducing active learning into the classroom such as traditional expectations, anxiety over change and available resources.  Without risk there can be no reward.  In this instance, the reward is the effect on learning and the growth of the student.  Faculty also realize the reward through the growth of the student.

This pedagogical shift can be accomplished through the use of games as means to impart knowledge.  Games have been utilized in collegiate courses for quite some time and are a legitimate teaching tool.  For example, business schools have favored The Apprentice (Eisner, 2006; Simon, 2004; Talcott, 2004) According to Simon (2004), Apprentice-type pedagogy, tackles “a trial-by-fire atmosphere in which each participant sees immediately the cause-and-effect consequences of any business action” (p. 48).  Rockler-Gladden (2006) addressed the idea of reality TV and what it reveals about human nature.  College students like reality TV and fall within that segment of young viewers, aged 18-49, which is the focus of most advertising (Rockler-Gladden, 2006; Muscato, 2004).  Muscato goes on to offer that reality TV is a “free teacher resource” (para. 1) and can be adapted or altered to fit any discipline and any course with a little creativity. 

Contemplating a graduate level Athletic Administration class, it became evident that in order to engage a class in new and active learning there needed to be an appealing hook.  Traditional lecture does not address the varied learning styles of the students, nor does it provide the desired student-to-student, student-to-professor interaction that is sought.  The idea to incorporate a reality-based game into the course required some crafty revising of course content and assessments. This course is designed to be the capstone course in the Masters of Sport Administration program, thus compelling students to draw on previous course knowledge to critically analyze administrative tasks and address critical issues in the sport industry.  The point of this paper is to relate the experience of implementing SPTADUKIA in the course and to discuss the attitude of the students regarding the assignments.  The rationale for selecting a reality TV format was based on the effectiveness of games in learning.  Regularly using reality TV examples in class to illustrate a point or concept, it became clear that this strategy would fit nicely into the current class structure. Seeking to stimulate teamwork, individual contributions and a bit of competitiveness, Survivor was the most appropriate to base the in-class assignment around, given the reputation of the sport industry.  Critical thinking skills, problem solving, group dynamics, cunningness, strategy and tactics were the anticipated outcomes for the semester long project.  These outcomes aligned nicely with McFerran’s (2010) identified six career lessons based on the Survivor reality TV show  (See Appendix A).  Burghard (2011) noted the leadership characteristics/lessons one can absorb from Survivor.  He identified passion, know your place, forge personal relationships, be a team player, invest fully, show respect, but place conditions on trust, keep your word and admit mistakes and ask forgiveness (Eight Leadership Lessons From The CBS Show – Survivor, Blog entry). 

SPTADUKIA, the Pilot Season:  A Case Study

A Survivor-based competition was inaugurated as part the Sport Administration Theory and Policy Development course that is part of the core requirements for a Master’s in Sport Administration.  This journey into the vast terrain of athletic administration would ultimately lead to the student who would OUT”CLASS” peers with shrewdness, forthrightness, knowledge, skill and common sense and be dubbed the inaugural SPTADUKIA 2011 winner.  The course, which is taught in the spring, and the idea of SPTADUKIA were presented to students completing another core course in the fall.  Initial reaction was that of excitement and anticipation.  That excitement carried over to the initial class meeting where the game was introduced and students embraced this pedagogical strategy.  Students quickly began to speak in terms of winning and utilizing Survivor lingo popularized by the TV series. Other professors overheard Utterings of alliances and strategies.  What better way to engage students early and often than by utilizing a Survivor theme that Keller (2008) designated the facilitator of the Reality Revolution and “changed the landscape of network television forever more” (p. 1).

The class was divided into three Clans and SPTADUKIA’s rules were fashioned after the reality TV series as follows:   

Twenty-four students were enrolled in the class, which allowed for three clans with eight members each.  If deciding to utilize this type of game it would be recommended that the clan size be reduced to a more manageable 4-5 members.  The clans were established on the first night of class and were immediately challenged to create a team name. At the close of the first night’s class the first assignment was distributed.  Assignments were constructed to provide support for the upcoming week’s topic/lecture. Clan projects challenged students to address such topics as researching job opportunities, technology and media, marketing, decision making and facility management.  Individual projects placed the students in the position of resolving issues related to globalization, leadership and motivation, human resource management and change (See Example in Appendix B).  This model mandated that students keep up with weekly readings and topics, which would be clarified in that week’s project.  Linking the content to the projects this way guaranteed students were exposed to the course material through various pedagogical strategies.   Each week, for six weeks, the clans shared their findings and recommendations through their in-class presentations.  This process facilitated group communication and demonstrated team cohesiveness or lack of cohesiveness. It was anticipated that teams would struggle with cohesion and the ability to meet.  The purpose was to mirror possible time management issues they may face in future employment while serving as a member of a team tapped with problem solving initiatives.  It became evident as the weeks progressed that the anticipated struggles were playing out as expected. Difficulties such as being able to meet as a group or one person not pulling their weight were addressed by the professor and the group with resolutions being presented such as utilizing social media avenues for meeting as a group and through peer evaluations.  Once the clan projects were completed, the game became an individual competition.  Four individual projects were designed to place the remaining competitors in scenarios where they would be judged head-to-head on their ability to reason, relate and respond to a recent issue in the sports industry.  These projects allowed each student to demonstrate their business savvy while displaying course content knowledge.  It should be noted that despite being voted out during any of the projects, students were still responsible for completing all assignments. 

Once all projects were completed the remaining four students were expected to plead their case as to why they should be crowned SPTADUKIA 2011.  The contestants voted out during the competition comprised the jury and ultimately voted for our SPTADUKIA 2011 winner.

Course Evaluation

At the conclusion of the semester students were asked to complete an anonymous, online survey through Survey Monkey regarding their experience with SPATDUKIA.  The survey was constructed in Survey Monkey and emailed to students.  Fifteen of the 24 students completed the survey for a 62.5 percent response rate.  Students were asked to rate the experience on a five point Likert scale ranging from very poor to excellent. 

Data revealed that 73.3 percent identified the experience as being above average or excellent. When asked if SPTADUKIA was an effective learning tool, 93.3% percent agreed that it was effective.  Eighty-seven percent of the respondents identified SPTADUKIA as a fun and enjoyable learning tool.  In addressing the SPTADUKIA experience, 77 percent of the respondents agreed it was a positive learning strategy while 87 percent rated it as a beneficial learning tool.

Students were also given the opportunity through an open-ended question to provide their opinion on any changes that would make SPTADUKIA a better experience. 

Student A stated:

I personally like SPTADUKIA, but thought maybe to make the projects every other week or some type of modification.  I did enjoy this project and understood what SPTADUKIA was helping me to gain and learn.

Student B said:

I enjoyed SPTADUKIA, because it was something different and kept students involved, intrigued.


The idea of using a game or reality-based show to engage students was a welcome addition to a graduate level course in sport administration.  Albeit unconventional to students, it was accepted as viable pedagogy and provided a positive learning experience. This inaugural offering provided feedback that supports the notion that graduate students also need to be engaged in unique learning opportunities that enhance classroom experiences. It was also reaffirmed that group work and cohesion would be difficult.  Many students professed that the inability to meet created tension and correlated to who was voted out during the project. Although understanding these difficulties, the purpose was to provide evidence of what will be expected in the real world and how accomplishing tasks and working in groups (sometimes from great distances via technology) is something that must be understood and overcome. 

It should be noted that one limitation of this study is that sample size was restricted to those students in one course in master’s program in Sport Administration.  The intent of the assessment was to gather student’s opinions of the use of SPTADUKIA as a pedagogical strategy.  More importantly, the extent to which the students felt the game challenged them while also serving as a teaching tool.  As this is based on a current reality show, this could potentially limit longitudinal studies should the show lose popularity and be cancelled.  As this paper was intended to discuss the concept of utilizing reality television as a means of teaching course content, another limitation is that there was no pre-test offered to try and garner the students’ knowledge prior to taking the course and how the course changed that knowledge.  The intent was to establish if students enjoyed the inclusion of SPTADUKIA in the course and if they believed it aided in the learning process. The projects were designed to be a critical part of the assessment in this course in conjunction with exams based on application of knowledge.

In the ever-evolving role of college professor we must not only address concerns for job expectations (tenure-track requirements), but we must also be cognizant of the ever-changing learning styles and expectations of our students.  Coates (2007) noted, “this generation's members know more about digital technology than their parents or teachers, and this promises to change not only the way families interact and communicate, but also how young people relate to school and learning” (p. 1).   Faculty must be creative in preparing these young people for the challenges of the real world.  The professorate should engage in unique learning opportunities that will enhance the classroom experiences for today’s college student. One way to achieve this is to incorporate games into the classroom.

Wankat (as cited Newell, 2004) professed that through active learning students learn.  “An effective game will help students understand concepts more quickly and remember them better than from a lecture” (Klassen & Willoughby, 2003, p. 1).  Active learning has been embraced by academia as viable extension of classroom learning. Students no longer want to operate in the vacuum of memorization and abstract concepts, but rather want to be engaged in dynamic and purposeful learning that has significance and substance. SPTADUKIA 2011 was conceived on those principles and was proven to be an effective addition to the traditional lecture-based classroom.  Student comments on this active form of learning were aligned with the intent of providing a fun and challenging learning environment that sparked those active learning benefits outlined by Eyler and Giles (1999) by integrating theory and providing student the opportunity to engage in practical exercises of critical and analytical thinking and contributing to their growth within their chosen profession.  Additionally this class provided a reference for problem solving and decision making that the SPTADUKIA experience provided that will be advantageous upon entering the workforce.

The idea of utilizing games in the classroom is not limited to this discipline, in fact, can be implemented into any course with a little creativity.  Understanding the advantages of active learning and the benefits imparted to students is the first step to creating a pedagogical enhancement to lecturing and note taking. Challenge your students, step outside your comfort zone and embrace gamesmanship as viable teaching strategy.


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Appendix A

McFerran’s (2010) lessons learned from Survivor.

Appendix B

Project Examples

Clan (Group) Project

Decision Making

Tactical decision making consists of choosing among alternatives with an immediate or limited end in view. Tactical decisions are short term in nature. They are short-term actions, which serve a larger purpose in the long run. 

Tactical decision making involves recognizing and defining problems, identifying alternatives as possible solutions to the problem, identifying predicted costs and benefits associated with feasible alternative, compare the relevant costs and benefits for each alternative and relate each alternative to the overall strategic goals of the firm and other important qualitative factors and selecting the alternative with the greatest benefit which also supports the organization’s strategic decisions.

“Across the board, state financing for public schools is being slashed and athletic departments are getting hit hard. So much so that athletic directors often are faced with the decision of cutting a program or finding a private donor to float the program while the economy rights itself” (Watson, 2009, para. 3). 

This is more than just a financial decision. It is a decision that needs to be thought about for its impact on alumni and how it impacts the community.

Realizing that budget cuts are inevitable, your clan is to prepare a presentation for Bussell University (fictitious) that outlines the programs you will cut and any reorganization of the athletic department that will be necessary.  Using the decision making process (Define; Gather; Generate Alternatives; Evaluate Alternatives; Select Optimal Alternatives; Implementation and Evaluation) devise a plan that provides the best possibility for success of athletics at Bussell University.

Demographics on Bussell University

Founded:  1940

Enrollment:  11,500”S

Conference:  Sun Belt

Stadium:  Roosevelt Potts Stadium

Capacity:  31, 225

Location:  Toad Suck, AR

Sports Sponsored:  14

6 men’s (Baseball; Basketball; Cross Country; Football; Golf; Track & Field)

8 women’s (Basketball; Cross Country; Golf Softball; Swimming; Track & Field; Tennis; Volleyball)

Individual Project

Leadership is the process of inspiring, influencing, directing and guiding others to participate in a common effort.  Some of the qualities of inspired leaders are as follows:


2.Commitment to making a difference and developing “their” people

3.Excellent communicators

4.Focused on their vision and priorities

5.Confidence and trust in “their” team


7.Passionate and proud of what they do

8.Able to promote a shared vision

9.Creating synergy

10.Empowering “their” people and delegating

Motivation relates to an employee’s drive and desire to accomplish a task or goal.  Motivational factors include needs, satisfaction, expectations and goals all of which are affected by challenging work, rewards and participation.  In a sense a leader motivates through the process of coaching. Successful coaching is comprised of:



3.Confidence building








Coaches use specific and timely positive feedback and constructive criticism.

For this project you will function as the newly hired Athletic Director at Midwest University.  Midwest has gone through major transformation (change) and turmoil.  You have inherited an athletic program that is in the third year of a 5 year probation period for multiple, major NCAA infractions and has had consistent turnover in leadership at the administrative and coaching levels.  You are also facing budget cuts and a Title IX lawsuit. (Why did you accept this challenge???)

The first critical task of any leader is to effectively communicate the vision. According to Harris (2008) “a mission statement is the intrinsic, ‘Why?' of your department's very existence and the vision becomes the “How?” – a compass from which everything else is driven.” (Creating a Shared Vision section, para. 1) Defining a vision is based largely on the expectations of your superiors within an organization, but there is always room to further define your vision within the scope of those expectations.  Establishing a carefully planned and documented vision with your direct reports defines goals for the group and creates a personal ownership for every individual.

Write you response in the form of a “State of the Athletic Department” speech that elaborates your vision for “your” athletic department and “your” employees.  Be sure to consider those elements of motivation, team-building and goal setting that a shared vision allows.  Make sure that your leadership qualities are evident in your speech.  Remember that your speech should motivate and inspire, challenge, be ambitious, be easily communicated/explained, set high standards for excellence, and a benchmark against which all courses of action, decisions, and choices are scrutinized. You are limited to 750 words.

For those who are still in the game, you will have 8 minutes to present your speech.

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