History Lessons and Games: How can they work together? ☆

The Teachers College Creativity, Play, and Imagination three-day conference got underway May 26, 2011. After an opening dialogue about creativity and change with TC’s emerita professor Dr. Maxine Greene and the University of Michigan’s Dr. Fred Goodman, participants had lunch and broke into groups to attend lectures, workshops and panel discussions.

In Horace Mann 152, there was a panel discussion about history and games, featuring:

Aaron Dilday and Doug Walker
(Georgia Southern University)

Designers of the board game: Golden Horizon. The game places players in the center of the dynamic trading atmosphere of the Indian Ocean between 1500 and 1750. Players roll the dice, move around the board and when they hit a port engage in trading silk, tea, cloth and other commodities. As the game progresses, product prices fluctuate to reflect market activity during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. One of the main concepts the game looks at is the importance of trade at that time. Power was about trade profit, not territorial acquisition: “A lot of students come in with the preconception of it being about territory,” explains Doug Walker, “that wasn’t happening in the Indian Ocean at that time.” The game hopes to illustrate that through play.

Matt Wranovix (University of New Haven)
A medievalist by training and a lecturer, Matt talked about the use of conflict-simulation board games in the classroom. He mentioned Labyrinth, a 1-2 player game that sets participants in the midst of the Islamist jihad and the global war on terror. He mentioned popular gamer and game designer Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken. In the book, McGonigal claims that games can be used to solve real-world problems (see her TED talk). More than having students play games, Wranovix is interested in allowing students to deconstruct, analyze and even re-design games in the classroom (see Matt’s Creativity, Play, and Imagination Pressible post).

Sarah Lowe (University of Tennessee)
Sarah spoke not of games but of designing experiential research environments in which students can explore cultural heritage. She is currently working on two projects: Children of the Lodz Ghetto, part of the Citizen History Project and Odd Fellows Scholars. For the Children of the Lodz Ghetto, volunteers access a collection of online resources to compile data in order to reconstruct the stories of young victims of the Holocaust. The Odd Fellows Scholars is designed to raise the academic, social and technical skills of youth living in the Walter P. Taylor Homes area of Knoxville, Tennessee. This is done by having the students conduct historical research that will further the missions of Knoxville’s Beck Cultural Center.

Questions that arose during the Q&A: How exactly can games be incorporated into classroom lessons? Which do you use: board games or video games? If we know that games engage students in learning more than lectures, but there is no clear evidence that they are more effective at teaching facts, which is more important: how students learn or what they learn?