CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,
Feb. 2, 2006 – In one of the most futuristic settings on any college campus, Digital Age students at Southeast Missouri State University are discovering the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of history.
“This isn’t about being high tech, it’s about unleashing the new dynamics of learning,” says Dr. Steven Hoffman, associate professor of history at Southeast. “Our students walk into the classroom with more gadgets than your average Radio Shack, and we expect them to stare at a chalkboard and feel motivated?”
Enter Room 311 of the University’s Kent Library, “a true concept classroom designed for flexibility and interactivity,” according to Dr. David Starrett, dean of the School of University Studies, who was instrumental in designing the facility, which includes special reflected lighting to reduce glare on the computer screens; an LCD projector linked to an interactive white board; and two dozen Gateway Tablet PCs connected wirelessly to the Internet and to each other in a peer-based network.
It’s here that Hoffman orchestrates his interactive learning sessions using “Making History,” a multiplayer history simulation game.
“We used “Making History” for the first time in the fall semester, and based on that, I’ll be using it as a regular part of my curriculum,” Hoffman says.
In a group of 20 honors students, 17 of whom were women, Hoffman’s American History class relived the world-shaping events of 1936 to 1945, playing in teams, each operating a different country, including the United States.
According to Hoffman, the lessons learned went far beyond the names and dates of treaties and battles.
“When an 18-year-old understands how the textile shortage in the Soviet Union in 1942 helped determine the course of history, you’ve entered a whole new realm of critical thinking,” Hoffman says. “With ‘Making History’ my students felt immersed in the material and wanted to discuss it. That’s when the teachable moments truly occur.”
Hoffman plans to expand his use of the game in the spring 2006 semester.
“Making History” offers both single and multiplayer modes so players can challenge each other or duel the AI-controlled software by themselves. Built-in chat lets students confer with allies and enemies alike. A real-time scoring system shows how each country is holding up, and how the students’ in-class performance compares to actual history.
Hoffman says he has long been involved in the use of technology to teach history, even incorporating the theme into his research and publishing and presenting nationally on the topic.
Hoffman’s class used the software the first semester it was available, making Southeast one of the first universities to use the new technology.
“I had been following the development of this game for several years and thought it presented a great opportunity,” he said. “Educators always struggle with ways to connect with our students and to make learning meaningful to them. Today’s students are ‘digital natives’ – they use digital communication in all they do, and this is a medium many of them are accustomed to having fun with.”
While they’re having fun playing the game, the students are really learning core concepts, Hoffman says.
“We’re using a digital medium, a mode of expression they’re familiar with, to teach in a digitally-rich environment,” he says. “We use it to teach in the same way we would use a historical novel – we enjoy it, and then we reflect on it. After the simulation, students are more open to the experience and we can reflect about what it taught them about the subject matter at hand.”
The experience gave students a greater appreciation for what happened in our country’s history than they would have gotten from just reading the text, Hoffman adds.
“The simulation can’t be used to show them exactly how World War II happened,” he says, “but it can teach them the underlying elements, like why did it happen that way?
It also made the connections between countries more real to them, Hoffman said.
“During the simulation, the students on the U.S. team accidentally bombed Australia and were shocked to discover that Canada in turn invaded the United States. It offered the perfect opportunity to discuss cooperative alliances,” he said.