New class learns history in unique way

Alyse Nelson

Staff Writer

After a successful pilot this semester, History Through Games will be offered as a class next fall to provide students with an immersive learning experience through various video, board and role-playing games.

This semester has been spent playing the video game “Civilization V” to learn about the formation of real civilizations, playing chess as they did in medieval times and discussing American capitalism after tackling games like “Monopoly.”

“I’ve been getting really interested in a way of teaching that’s called ‘reacting to the past’ — basically role-playing games,” said Elizabeth Blum, associate chair of the history department and professor of the class. “The students are assigned a role, and they’re put into a real historical situation, and you play through what would happen.”

In doing this, Blum said the students must study and learn history just as they would in a typical class. The process of acting it out makes it easier to digest and remember the material.

“I think it’s been that you get to experience it as opposed to hearing about it or reading about it,” said Dallas Bird, a freshman computer science major from Port St. Joe, Florida, and current student in the class.

“We see, when we do those role-playing games, that there’s a phenomenal difference in how the students learn: they’re engaged, they pick up on things better,” Blum said. “Learning through the character helps them to understand better what’s going on.”

Blum said that it was this look into “reacting to the past” that proved to be the catalyst in creating the class. After a friend told her about similar history-based board games, she decided to expand the class to include all types of play.

“The board games that I knew about were ‘Monopoly’ and that sort of thing,” Blum said. “Modern games — there’s a lot of cool ones, a lot of history-based ones.”

The semester consisted of units, each covering a different part of history with games to correspond.

“I’ll give them some context with a day or two of lecture, and then we’ll do a game the next day and then a discussion about it,” she said. “The students in this class are just phenomenal.

“They’re from all different majors, so it’s really a diverse group. They’re able to make all sorts of sophisticated connections.”

Specifically, after learning about the real event or time in history, the class might discuss how the game represents history and the importance of which aspects it may leave out or emphasize.

“It forces you to think about the time period in ways the lecture wouldn’t,” said Christian Carlson, a sophomore theater major from Brewton.

The class demonstrated that history doesn’t always have to repeat itself. In the class’s role-playing of the American Revolution, the British proved to be victorious after a lecture on the actual timeline events.

Blum plans to end this semester with a unit on globalization and playing the board game “Pandemic.”

The class is graded by short written assignments, participation in discussion, and a project to brainstorm one’s own idea for a historical game.

There are no prerequisites to register for the course, and History Through Games will fulfill Area IV requirements in the general studies program.

“I’d like to incorporate more video games if I could,” Blum said. “But that’s a little more difficult to do because they’re expensive.

“I like this idea of games and how you put something a little fun into learning and students get more out of it.”

“It’s easier to correspond something unfamiliar with something familiar,” said Karina Ann Yeager, a freshman global business management major from West Palm Beach, Florida. “It’s easier to learn what we don’t know with the games we do know.”

History Through Games, or HIS 2210, is currently in the fall 2016 schedule of classes and will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 11:15 a.m. in room 202 in Patterson Hall.

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