January 22, 2008
By Elisabeth Grant
“Oh no! Jane has dysentery and I lost a wagon wheel!” Strange statement? Maybe, but not if you’re playing Oregon Trail, a game meant to teach students about the lives of pioneers in the 1800’s, once popular in elementary school classrooms. While Oregon Trail may be more popular on Facebook now than it is in the classroom, using games to teach history is still a serious subject for some scholars.
Case in point is Kelly McMichael, who presented History Gaming: The Texas Course Redesign Project at the poster session of the 122nd Annual Meeting. Those who stopped by her poster session booth were treated to a take-home CD that included two games, a teaching guide, and a lesson. The two games, “CSI: Fomenting Revolution, Philip Nolan, 1801” and “CSI: Roanoke,” are both role-playing games, allowing students to navigate their own course through the game, clicking on certain elements to obtain more information. Even the included lesson plan (on the American Revolution) is interactive, containing video and interactive flash elements.
McMichael is the director of the Center for Educational Gaming in the Humanities (CEGH) at the University of North Texas. Visitors to the CEGH web site will find the “CSI: Roanoke” game and learn more about using games in the history classroom. The “Why Game? ” section of the site explains that games can engage students in “highly difficult tasks that are intrinsically motivating, require the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, and reinforce through a supportive environment and self-reflection.”
While the CEGH web site still contains a number of sections that are under construction, it does offer excellent resources like elaborate “EDUzines.” These PDFs contain articles, interactive flash sections, links to online resources, and more. The site also offers an announcement seeking contributors (specifically faculty or graduate students living in Texas) for a grant project “to create course content for the U.S. History Survey Course, 1877 to the present.” This announcement is also interesting because it provides a link to previously created course that contains examples of interactive gaming, like “Articles of Confederation vs. the Constitution” (in the “7. Problems Facing the New Country” section of the course) and “Who Wants to be a Historian?” (in the “11. Summary” section of the course).