Active roleplaying used in the classroom

Published by adviser, Author: Haley Barnes - Rocket Contributor, Date: October 31, 2013
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Dr. Bergmann of Slippery Rock’s history department introduced a new style of teaching that involves students using history as a game.

Reacting to the Past (PTTP) is a teaching method that consists of games set in the past, in which students are assigned roles based on texts written throughout history. Bergmann said his experience with PTTP began in the spring last semester when a group of history professors from SRU attended a conference and workshop in Colorado.

“After reading foundational texts, students are distributed role sheets which provide them with background information on their historical character and specific victory objectives that will set them up to win the game – along with strategic and tactical advice,” Bergmann said. “The desire to win begins to take over and students recognize that knowledge is power; victory requires a solid understanding of the material. Learning becomes students-centered and the instructor largely enforces rules and answers technical questions.”

Bergmann described PTTP as a pedagogy that can be used in a diverse number of principles. He said although the game is set in the past, the game can be used in the humanities and even the sciences.

“The game the students are playing in my course [Pennsylvania History] is Forest Diplomacy: War, Peace, and Land on the Colonial Frontier, 1756-1757.” Bergmann said.

He said the game was written by Nicolas Proctor of Simpson College’s history department. The game is set during the Seven Years War, also known as the French and Indian War. During that time period, violence had spread through colonial Pennsylvania and threatened the relatively peaceful relationship the colonists achieved with Delaware and the Iroquois Indians.

“The goal of the game is for students to create a treaty that will sustain a peace and prevent further bloodshed. Students are given roles of among factions of Indians, Pennsylvanian colonists, and some individuals who served as interpreters at treaties. Some of the roles are actual historical people and some are composites of several people. Students learn about the role they are playing and the motives of that individual,” Bergmann said. “They have a set of victory objectives, which, if they succeed in attaining them, set them up to win the game. Of course, characters are pitted against each other in a set of debates where they attempt to convince roles that are indeterminate on those issues to join their side.”

Assignments include written versions of oral speeches, pamphlets, formal letters, the construction of wampum, and treaty documents. Bergmann said all assignments are based on interpretations of the historical texts and books of scholars, which allow students to develop their own history skills.

In upcoming semesters, Bergmann plans on using PTTP in Indians of the United States and American Constitutional History and Law classes. He also said that Dr. Paula Rieder and Dr. Lia Paradis will be using PTTP in upcoming semesters too.

Bergmann said that Nov 5, there will be a panel discussion for the faculty about PTTP.

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