Congress Game a Win for Students
December 15, 2014
For the students in Dr. Deanna Watts’ fall course on the U.S. Congress, it was anything but politics as usual.
Watts, a member of Angelo State’s political science faculty, introduced her students to “Congress: The Game,” a website that transforms the business of Congress into a contest along the lines of fantasy football. The prize for first place was an automatic A+ on the final, provided the winner met the grade requirements for all other exams and assignments.
“Like my colleagues, I’m always looking for new and better ways to engage my students,” Watts said.
Political science major Trey Moore said Watts had discussed using the game as part of the course prior to the fall semester.
“I love sports and play fantasy sports a lot so I thought it could be fun, it could be interesting,” the senior from Grapevine said.
Student input also came from those who were familiar with the fantasy draft process. The collaborative effort “was a tremendous help because the last time I drafted a fantasy team Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves was a rookie,” acknowledged Watts. “To create a fantasy draft atmosphere, the basic staples of such an event were provided: chips, nachos and beer—root beer that is,” she added, joking.
“It is much easier to learn about a subject when you are mentally invested in it, and fantasy Congress was able to provide that for me.”
Like fantasy football, the Fantasy Congress League starts with drafting “teams” made up of actual members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Points are accrued by “players” through the progress of actual legislation—introduction of a bill, co-sponsoring a bill, passing the member’s respective chamber, voting for a bill that passes in the House or Senate and enactment. A legislator who sponsors a bill that passes in the House and the Senate and is enacted into law can earn as much as 23 points for their team. Bonus points are awarded if the bill garners bipartisan support.
“I went through committees and subcommittees, drafting chairmen,” Moore said. “I figured they’re safe and they had to sign off on every piece of legislation that goes through their committee.”
“I think the students had more fun with the draft than they did playing the game,” Watts said, “because they were trying to find and pick ‘the’ player. Students were very vocal and comically demonstrative when one of their top choices was drafted by a classmate, especially during the first few rounds.”
Joshua Meyers, a political science major from Miles, won the game. Meyers credited the research he did ahead of the draft for his success.
“I looked at how many sponsors, co-sponsors, bills voted into law, etc., that each member had accomplished in the last meeting of Congress,” the junior said. “From these, I was able to compose a list of the top picks. Luckily, I was able to draft most of the picks that I wanted in the end.”
“I think it was a bonding experience for everyone, fostered by good-natured competition,” Watts said, adding that the Fantasy Congress League draft “set a great tone for the semester.” Throughout the term, discussions were lively and thought-provoking and participation was consistently high.
Researching their draft picks proved to benefit students beyond the game.
“Being able to identify and know all the leadership of Congress, that’s what I got out of it,” Moore said. “As a senior, I knew the workings a little better than some but I didn’t know all the names. Now, I know 40 or 50 by heart and their roles, what committees they chair and how active they are.”
“Even if you don’t play,” he added, “the website itself has all the bills and talks about them. It’s a really great research tool. The benefit is the knowledge, not the game itself, but it’s a more interactive way to gain the knowledge.”
“I would absolutely call this a worthwhile activity,” Meyers added. “It is much easier to learn about a subject when you are mentally invested in it, and fantasy Congress was able to provide that for me.”
The free online game also served as an eye-opener for POLS 3307 students.
“Some of the most popular names aren’t as active, they’re just media savvy,” Moore said about the more recognizable members of Congress. “Some pass tons and tons of legislations. There’s not necessarily a correlation between name recognition and legislative success.”
For Watts, the game was successful on several levels.
“Congress is a complex institution that is not well-liked by the general public—or students,” joked Watts. “Any mention of Congress provokes an almost visceral reaction from people. Knowing that, I wanted to find a way to help students understand and appreciate the logic and genius of its design and how it, and the political environment, influences members’ behavior and the process of decision-making.
“Overall, I think the Fantasy Congress League accomplished what I hoped for,” she added. “It motivated students to research the institution and its members. They looked beyond what the news media reports and all the political rhetoric and found out what members of Congress actually contribute as far as policy.”