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Role-Playing Games are Breathing New Life into the History Classroom

After noticing a decline in interest and engagement among her students in previous years, Pamela Walker, a history professor at Carleton University, has had major success with a different kind of classroom resource: role-playing games.

Reacting to the Past (RTTP) is a series of games that combines role-playing and educational pedagogy. Developed during the 1990s by Mark C. Carnes, a history professor at Barnard College in New York, RTTP games are set during historical events with students assigned the roles of historical figures.

Students must conduct extensive research on their characters before playing out the game’s scenario. They are graded based on a rubric that considers the intellectual content of the game, which requires writing papers that engage with relevant historical texts and presenting speeches from their character’s perspective that demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the historical context and issues. These games aim to teach invaluable skills such as historical research, public speaking, debating and conflict resolution.

Dr. Walker was introduced to RTTP games through her colleague Gretchen Galbraith, the dean of the school of arts and sciences at SUNY Potsdam and vice-chair of the board at the Reacting Consortium, the academic association responsible for developing and publishing the RTTP series. While initially skeptical, Dr. Walker attended an RTTP conference where she underwent training on how to run the games in class. After this, she decided to use RTTP in one of her first-year seminars.

“My students were immediately, entirely engaged in the course. I had virtually perfect attendance,” says Dr. Walker. “They were coming to all the classes; they were doing the readings and they understood conceptually what we were trying to achieve.”

Read entire article at University Affairs