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​Reacting To The Past Game Promotes Classroom Engagement

December 11, 2018

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Imagine walking into your college class and instead of a lecture, you and your peers have been asked to take on historical roles to convince your queen she should fund your play. This is how Dramatic Media Professor Shannon Ivey has incorporated Reacting To The Past (RTTP) game into her Freshmen Experience (FREX) course.

First introduced by Barnard College History Professor Mark Carnes, RTTP is a curriculum specifically designed to promote imagination, inquiry, and engagement as foundational features of teaching and student learning in higher education through the development and dissemination of role-playing games.

From history and economics to physics and theatre, RTTP provides programming for faculty development and curricular change through conferences, online tools, and consultation. TLU Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Debbie Cottrell first heard about RTTP when she was an associate dean at Smith College

“Barnard College was looking to partner with faculty at other institutions and asked us to find someone to attend a conference and it fell to me to recruit someone from Smith to go,” Cottrell said. “After having several faculty turn me down, we finally sent a very skeptical political scientist who couldn’t imagine this curriculum being rigorous enough; he subsequently came back a complete convert. He’s still teaching it at Smith and now also writes games for others to use. Seeing his reaction was powerful, and I always knew I’d like to help incorporate this pedagogy in a campus-wide approach.”

Cottrell admits she understands the concern some professors have as to how RTTP might create historical confusion. However, she also sees lots of advantages to a method that calls for full-on engagement by students and asks them to look at new ways of thinking and learning.

This fall, five professors are teaching RTTP: Dr. Carl Hughes (Theology), Dr. Robin Bisha (Communication Studies), Professor Amelia Koford (Women’s Studies), Professor of Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship Dr. Alicia Briney (Freshmen Experience), and Professor Shannon Ivey (FREX). In the spring, it will be taught by Dr. Bob Jonas (Biology), Dr. Angie Sauer ( two History courses), and Dr. Robin Bisha (Communication Studies).

After attending a conference several years ago in New York, Professor Ivey has implemented RTTP into a class each semester including dramatic media courses. Her Fall 2018 FREX class participated in “Stages of Power: Marlowe and Shakespeare, 1592” where each student plays a role on an assigned team. Ivey's modified version had two teams with a goal to have their queen and her privy council fund their play. While some students are on the playwright teams as actors, others are on the council or might even be community members.

There is much controversy surrounding Christopher Marlowe and William Shakepeare with the most well-known theory being that Marlowe was in fact the real author of all the famous Shakespeare plays we know and love. Learn more.

“It’s so much more comprehensive than asking them to write another paper or book report,” Ivey said. “It appeals to all types of learners. Your researcher types can excel because they have to look into the performance and history, and the people who are more oral or tactile can create a character. It’s great because there’s more than one way to get a grade.”

For her game, the students are asked to promote and get funding for Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ or Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus.’ With roles ranging from baker and judge to tavern owner and actors, each one must be historically accurate and take into account the historical context of London in 1592.

“The students do lots of research after reading the plays and watching the films. Once the game starts, they really get involved. They have to know about the politics and culture of the place and time period where the game is set. They ask themselves questions like: ‘Will Othello cause issues with race relations? And, ‘Will Dr. Faustus raise problems with the Pope or other religious leaders?’”

Ivey has received positive feedback from students in the post-mortem she does after the game concludes.

“They can debate and learn in a very immersive way,” she said. “I was most amazed by how that while we were studying things we learned so much about the society’s history and culture. I wasn’t really great in lecture classes because I would get distracted. RTTP appeals different types of students and that’s why I like the curriculum. I’ve taught Othello just as a piece and I have to say that hands-down it’s more effective taught as a reacting game.”

Freshmen Biology major Raeley Polasek participated in Professor Ivey’s RTTP game as a member of the queen’s privy council where she and others essentially controlled the game flow by asking questions of other role-players.

“I really enjoyed this approach to a topic because it sometimes can take a while to get into a book and understand the concept,” she said. “When you have something, you can act out in front of people, you have to be prepared and make sure everything is right. This activity puts it in your own hands. As a biology major, everything is usually learned from reading a book. If you don’t read the book ,you don’t get answers right. Even though my role wasn’t necessarily acting anything out, it was neat to see other groups do it and develop their own role.”

Freshmen Education major Samantha Haddock enjoyed how everyone could contribute and offer to the debate.

“I’d never done anything like this and was never in theatre, but when I saw everyone preparing and practicing, it was something I wanted to be part of it,” Haddock said. “At first, we just saw the plays as books, but then when we began learning about how the game worked I realized how cool it was. I confident to step out of my comfort zone even though I get nervous talking in front of people. It would be cool to see something like this in the Education Department. It was also a great way to learn how to work with others and to get to know each other. As freshmen, that’s super important.”

Freshmen Dramatic Media major Corey Rudacille was naturally inclined to this type of learning and enjoyed seeing his peers excel whether they were better suited for research or for creating a role.

“While some were better at research and questions and others were stronger at lines, it was a group effort to collaborate,” he said. “It’s about taking responsibility of your part and your own actions because it’s everyone’s grade at the end of the day. It helped me learn how to take on a leadership role and work as a team.”

Dr. Cottrell is hopeful more professors will introduce RTTP scenarios in to their classrooms and engage students in different ways that not only ask them to step into a different role, but to fully prepare and try to understand that role in a historical sense.

“It requires them to be strategic and competitive while also being knowledgeable about their character and the sweep of history they are engaging,” she said. “It also puts the faculty member in a different role, as much of the class time is given to the students to debate, make their cases, vote, and determine outcomes. It’s not an easy curriculum to use, but it certainly opens up the potential for learning to take place in new ways.”

TLU will hold its first-ever RTTP conference this summer with co-host Schreiner University. Participants will learn how to use the game “Victory Or Death: The Consultation of 1835 and the Texas War for Independence.”

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