James Paul Gee wrote a book on games that pointed out how much learning happens when you play a game. Gee was writing about video games, but the same is true for analog games, like board games. Designing a game for players and designing a learning experience for students can run surprisingly parallel. In both contexts, you put together a sequence of experiences and interactions that are intended to guide the participants in certain directions. Gee pointed out that, since games can motivate and encourage a lot of learning by players, there could be design moves commonly made in games that could inform the design moves we make as teachers. This led to what’s sometimes called the gamification movement, adding game elements to learning experiences to help motivate and reward learners. In today’s episode, however, we talk with a professor who doesn’t borrow elements from games to use in his teaching—he runs game labs where students play entire board games as part of the learning process.
Patrick Rael is a professor of history at Bowdoin College in Maine. He specializes in African-American history, the Civil War era, and the history of slavery and emancipation. Patrick is also a gamer, a tabletop board gamer, to be specific. He brought together his expertise as a historian and his passion for analog gaming in a course he teaches at Bowdoin, a course called Historical Simulations. In this course, Patrick’s students play board games with historical settings as a way to understand and evaluate historical arguments. In the conversation, Patrick shares the origin of this interesting course, he talks about the ways games and play lead to deep learning in this course, and he argues for more scholarly work around the use of analog games in teaching and learning.
- Patrick Rael’s faculty website
- Patrick Rael on Twitter
- “Playing with the Past: Teaching Slavery with Board Games,” Patrick Rael, AHA Perspectives on History
- Freedom: The Underground Railroad (2012)
- Lewis & Clark: The Expedition (2013)
- Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis & Clark (2015)
- Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (2016)
- Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game (2019)
- Reacting to the Past