Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Learning History by Making History

When we learn Math and Science, we can “play” with it to see how stuffs work. Especially with modern technologies, even it’s not playing appealing learning games, students can do simulations, manipulate factors, observe animations or execute experiments to figure out the patterns and rules. But when learning history, except reading written texts about facts and interpretations from scholars, can learners interact with history? Can we learn from history by asking questions of “what if…” ?

Interactive fiction(IF) can be used to simulate an environment or a historical event. It’s like a text adventure, interactive fictions tell you the beginning of a story, then it puts you in charge and lets you decide what your character should do. You type commands for the main character to carry out, and the story replies by telling you what happens next. IF can be used, for example, by high school students to design historical simulations for a World History class. Writing historical IF has proved successfully educational in several classrooms: students must research a variety of aspects of a location or event in order to portray it accurately.Inform 7 is the tool for writing IF. Playing historical IF, conversely, can offer students a memorable encounter with a historical period or event. When you search about IF, you will find lots of educational resources contributed by Emily Short. “Resources by subject” matter has a list of IF games already built that you can play, many history games are there. Tony Cervo also curated a collection of resources for educators. And you can find the IF community with gallery of games in different genres here: People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction.

Compared with IF, maybe video games are more immersive environments for learners, “Civilization”(CIV) is one of top history simulation games that demonstrated well-designed video games can be used to help learners critically evaluate and reason facts, events, background and consequences. This paper from World History Connected “Using Civilization Simulation Video Games in the World History Classroom” examined three titles in details, Civilization III, the Age of Empires series and Rise of Nations and discuss why they have a substantial impact on the layman’s understanding of history and how to facilitate the lessons.

James Gee had been arguing that educators have been too concerned with imparting mere factual information, without connecting these atomized data into coherent systems. As world historians, we are well-aware of the importance of examining historical processes from a systemic viewpoint, a viewpoint that integrates complex relationships between entities in ways that lead to emergent properties. It is precisely this methodology that is employed in civilization builder games.

Kurt Squire at the University of Wisconsin has been involved in innovative research using CIV in afterschool programs. Playing from the perspectives of leaders in history sounds challenging but it’s an incredible learning opportunity. But you could expect this big game is very time consuming in classrooms. This is another college teacher’s sharing on his experience of using CIV.

Making History is a turn-based strategy game takes students through the turbulent years before and during WWII. Students will be responsible for creating alliances, building weapons, commanding troops and managing international and national policies. Students will learn the impact of political decisions and understand the consequences of diplomacy, aggression and international relations. The game has a powerful editing tool.Gamers can even create their own games either it’s in Ancient Rome or the Cold War period. In addition to the game, the developer also provides useful support materials, including instructor guide, maps, discussion and assessment questions, scenario handouts, and more. You can find these materials here.

making history, history simulation game, game-based learning

You might think the developer of Making History, Muzzy Lane, was inspired by Civilization, what makes it different from the large commercial game developer is that Muzzy Lane has focused on creating rich and detailed strategy games with the goal of learning and teaching history in mind. Making History has been used in hundreds of classrooms, and the company’s experience working with schools, teachers, and students led to the decision to develop the Sandstone platform, with the goal of making it easier and more cost-effective to deploy learning-games in schools and classrooms.(their projects have expanded beyond History to include Science, Language-learning, Health-education, Business…) Readers should go on to read about the design thinking behind their learning games: Feedback Loops in Games and Learning. The game-based feedback systems in the game provides two kinds of feedback: In-context immediate feedback for students and performance-assessment feedback for teachers and assessment systems. It’s actually approaching the ideals proposed in this previous post: The personalized learning model and the game of school.

To facilitate the feedback mechanics and hence effective interventions, supporting technologies are developed:

  • Flexible data models
  • Modifying individual game units by passing in data
  • Small game units that can be stitched together (so that teachers can control the flow through the game)

In this study report from Purdue University, after examining a sophomore high school history class using Making History. While the teachers spent one school week teaching World War II, with students playing the game in class for three days of that week. Results showed that the using the game resulted in a shift from a traditional teacher-centered learning environment to a student-centered environment so that the students were much more active and engaged.

The game itself has also became a successful commercial strategy game series. You can find different languages introducing it online even the game isn’t available in those languages. I think the purpose of learning history is about making our future better, this kind of game appears to be the opportunity for us to “make history”.

Notice: Muzzy Lane is now offering free licenses of this game: “Making History: The Calm and the Storm” to schools, it can be played on users’ browsers.

Question: Do you think games can become the best practice of digital textbooks?


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2 Responses »


  1. Connect with Culture and History through Game-Based Learning | Classroom Aid
  2. Making Interactive Fictions in Classrooms | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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