Simulations and gaming approaches to learning can be powerful additions to forlorn general education history of civilization courses–just how IO simulations (MEU, MUN, Model Arab League) work for international relations. For example, Reaching to the Past (RTTP) is a role-playing simulation where students play assigned roles using classic texts in the history of ideas, such as Darwin and the rise of Naturalism (1861-1864), Athens in 403 BC, or the trial of Galileo (1616-33). The results?
Over and over again he heard stories like the one told by Nate Gibson, an undergraduate who played a Reacting game on the French Revolution in a Western-civilization course at Dordt College in the early 2000s. Gibson said that, as the semester drew to a close, his professor foresaw that he would not have enough time to finish the game, and let students know that it would have to finish early. In response, the students proposed that class start 30 minutes early for the remainder of the semester—at 7:30 a.m. The professor agreed, and the game was allowed to run its course.
Recollecting that experience, Gibson recalled the difference between learning in that course and what his peers in other courses were experiencing. As he described to Carnes: “While my friends trudged off to their engineering, theology, philosophy, or business classes with this sense of apathy and frustration, I was rushing off to Western Civ, eager to see how the day’s session would unfold.”
Comments like that contrast so sharply with the dire picture we read about today’s students in so many articles on higher education. But as many of us who write about teaching and learning on college campuses would argue, sparking that kind of excitement in the classroom requires faculty members to let go of their nostalgic yearning for the idealized students of the past.