Red Deer Polytechnic’s Dr. Roger Davis has taken literary analysis to a new level. Davis is the Head of English at the post-secondary school. He created an apocalyptic zombie world in his English 220 class which has evolved from his research on monstrosity and zombies. 

“Zombies, in particular, are unique across literature and culture because of the unusual level of violence enacted upon them,” Davis says. “As a metaphor, this violence is often about eliminating the ‘otherness’ that we don’t like in society, and so we explore this negative perspective as a class. But, on the positive side, the gamified zombie world that students experience is also about reinventing ourselves, so students gain a deeper understanding about the complexity of society.”

At an international teaching seminar in Portland, Oregon, he was inspired about the possibility of gamifying the course. This would allow students to immerse themselves in a simulated environment, transforming conventional learning activities through a game-style approach to increase engagement and motivation. Now, Davis has taught six sections of the course over two academic years. 

“This type of teaching and learning involves a lot of open-endedness and flexibility from everyone involved,” he says. “It requires a great deal of creativity and high-level thinking skills from students, but I look at it as problem solving. They have the opportunity to consider ethics, politics and society as they create a community and research projects that are applied and practical. These outcomes will continue to serve them well, no matter what field of study they pursue.”

The narrative for this game is centred around a key premise: the students wake up in class with a zombie apocalypse underway, and they have to survive. Each student has to develop a character for themselves, with parameters for their gender, age, occupation and beliefs determined by a random game of chance. Then, they have to establish their geographical location and political structure before embarking on their major project – a group project where they have to establish infrastructure that will contribute significantly to society.

“Studying literature can involve many aspects beyond the capital ‘L’ literature of traditional texts,” he says. “Reading and watching films is also a consumption of cultural products, beyond mere entertainment, and it can help us to understand the society in which we live in a deeper and more meaningful way.”

Dr. Roger Davis’s efforts have been recognized at the provincial level and, earlier this month, Davis received the Alberta Colleges and Institutes Faculties Association (ACIFA) Innovation in Teaching Award. This prestigious provincial teaching honour is presented to one instructor in Alberta each year, making this a significant accomplishment for Davis. 

“The unique approach Dr. Davis has thoughtfully integrated into his English 220 course demonstrates interdisciplinary, applied learning that can resonate with students in powerful and memorable ways,” says Kylie Thomas, Vice President Academic and Provost. “Roger has incorporated a cultural scenario that allows students to investigate science, politics and communications in ways that are not commonly found in more traditional literary studies. It is an exciting approach that provides an innovative way for students to engage with literature and culture.”

Written with files from Red Deer Polytechnic.