Gamifying the classroom

This January, at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Society for Classical Studies and the Archaeological Institute of America, I heard an interesting panel about the use of games or even turning your course into a game-like environment. While I have little experience with it, I wanted to share some of the ideas and other games that I have heard about.

Their ideas

  • A popular game among Classicists is Reacting to the Past in which students take on the roles of different historical figures during a crisis. For example, students can debate the Catilinarian Conspiracy or how to handle the assassination of Julius Caesar. The time needed for this game varies depending on which game you choose to do, so a few days or a few weeks. Other professors have said that it really helps the students internalize the culture and political issues much better than traditional pedagogical methods, and that students enjoy the game a lot.
  • On a more archeological side, throughout the semester, students are asked to learn new archaeological concepts, skills, and interpretation methods but imagining that hey are excavating a 21st century Starbucks or McDonald’s or by going through someone’s garbage.
  • On the more large-scale side, Roger Travis has designed entire courses as if they were a game. The idea spawned from the realization that many modern games are like hero quests, and we all love a good hero quest, so why not use that idea to engage students more? More about his courses can be found on these websites: Practomime.com and playthepast.org
  • Additionally, while I did not hear about this at the SCS/AIA, my friend shared this website that share’s another professor’s method of engaging students: letting them choose roles for which they can earn experience points. For example, mage experience points pic2
  • I have also TAed for a professor who assigned papers in which students had to imagine that they were ancient Romans interacting with an ancient building or town of their choice. A goal of this paper was to help students better understand the idea of habitus, or how the built environment effects people’s lives.
  • Of course, there is also the standard Jeopardy game, for which you can easily find PowerPoint templates through a simple google search.  Students love this game and the simple competition.  In my experience, you need to explain the rules of the game that you’ll be using for this, and you need to be careful about the teams that you use for so that no one person dominates the group and answers all the questions.

Potential benefits

  • Everyone stressed how students engaged more with the ancient culture and internalized the ideas better. They were then more engaged in other parts of the course.
  • Depending on the scale, the games may be good ways to help break up monotony in the classroom.
  • They are excellent ways to teach various concepts that may be difficult to teach in a classroom environment, such as habitus or archeological techniques.
  • Some competition helps motivate and engage students.
  • Some games make it almost impossible for you to deal with academic honesty issues.

Potential downsides

  • Some games may be hard to determine how to grade, if you choose to give credit for them.
  • Some games require a lot more time or record keeping. For example, the Experience Points example might require you to keep track of a lot more than you typically do.
  • Some games, like the Experience Points example, might require you to do what you may not normally do. Some teachers don’t give students hints on exams, but that may be just what the student needs to understand a large part of the exam. Also, is giving a hint on an exam so different from putting a question from the homework on the exam?
  • Many of these games offer alternative assignments that some students may not enjoy or feel comfortable with, and which do not train students how to be good little academics. Therefore, you may need to give both the creative option for a paper and the more standard paper option. Or not every teacher in the school can do these or no students will understand how to write a nice term paper.
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