June 22, 2008

History games

While my fall teaching schedule may change, I am currently slated to teach the undergraduate history of ed course I last taught in spring 2007. That semester's class worked well enough, but I want to raise the level of engagement with key issues, and I've been thinking about constructing games around key tasks in a history class. This thinking has also been inspired by Ivanhoe and by the discussion of casual games in liberal-arts education.

In a state university, the challenge for the course I teach is reaching students with a much more diverse background than in a small liberal-arts college. I don't mean demographic diversity but educational diversity: Far fewer will have had experiences with analyzing primary sources or constructing/struggling with historical arguments. Many are in there to knock out a gen-ed requirement, and so I have to "sell" the course. (I have to sell the social foundations course to students as well, but I figured that one out more than a decade ago.) Carole Srole's argument about scaffolding historical skills even for majors is an important contribution, and I've been mulling how to combine conceptual tasks and a game- or puzzle-like environment. The idea is to put some of the skill-building into team exercises that don't contribute to grades but do have a reason for students to stay engaged an work collaboratively.

I quickly figured out one game to build skills in paying attention to voice and other primary-source details. This is a "bluff the classmate" activity patterned after the "Bluff the Listener" challenge on NPR's Wait Wait! Don't tell me!, and with one caveat, it looks pretty good: give teams primary documents and a week to construct two fake documents. They get points for every other team that incorrectly identifies the real document, and other teams get points for correctly identifying the real document. The caveat is the ethical question: how do I explain/debrief on why it's okay to play around with fake primary sources in class but not in papers or published works? And how seriously should I be concerned about this?

There are a whole host of other skills and tasks that I'm keeping in the back of my head, hoping for games/puzzles to match up againt them: causal arguments, counterfactual reasoning, the difference between biases and perspectives (or maybe a spectrum of how one's perspective influences memory and portrayal), identifying underlying social models, identifying underlying assumptions about change/stasis/trends, and others. Suggestions are welcome!

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Posted in History on June 22, 2008 10:16 PM |