Education Opinion

Beer Pong

By Katie Hanifin — July 06, 2009 2 min read
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When I entered the garage it might as well have been a crime scene. As an aficionado of all things racquet sports, I couldn’t readily accept the slimy desecration of one of my favorite recreational surfaces by cheap beer and cheaper college grads. Damn kids.

However, as the 4th of July party progressed the table was no longer dominated by 20-somethings. Somehow people of all ages were enamored by the competition created from tossing a ball across a table and into a cup. Then came the rules: the elbow boundary at the plane of the table’s edge, the specific formation of the targets, the “I get to go again because you just...”, and on and on. This thing had really taken off, so much so that it wasn’t really about beer consumption at all.

Of course it was all just market research, and my sophisticated taste buds and self-respect would not allow me to take part. So when I stepped up to the table, please know, it was as an educational researcher with a healthy curiosity of human motivation. It’s the responsibility I carry, after all, as a professional in the field of adolescent psychology.

OK, I’m a huge sucker for fun and engaging activities - I had to find out what makes the game so popular. So I wonder if you’ll take a giant leap of logic with me as I try to relate what I learned from beer pong. (Yes, beer pong.)

The objective is consuming beer, something that could easily be done without all the obstacles and stipulations. For example, everyone that wanted to drink beer could have been given a cup and ordered to raise their hand for refills. As the guests were kept seated in neat rows, the host could do a presentation on beer, defining key vocabulary and lecturing on the extensive history of hops. The lesson plan would read quite succinctly and we might even forget amidst its orderly delivery that it could be a controversial subject.

Understandably, a drinking game might just be the last topic you’d expect in a blog about technology in the classroom. What could be more low-tech than some cups and balls, or further from a learning environment than this garage? And yet, something very significant about humans and cognition was being revealed - core motivations of fun and rivalry through challenges and limitations. And as a conscientious observer of human nature, I can tell you that the objective was met. An administrator might even find it “consistent and pervasive”.

Now comes the tricky part. Before we start to argue about underage drinking and the dangers of promoting such activities, please know that, while a valid and serious concern, this couldn’t be further off topic. What we’re really talking about is fun and how engaging it is. We spend a lot of time in education discussing anticipatory sets, graphic organizers, and rubrics, outlines, agendas, and summative assessments - we rarely think of how we can make our content fun. The good news is, if you look around, examples of it are everywhere.

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