A role model for teaching

TRU professor integrates role-playing games into history classes

Karla Karcioglu, Roving Editor Ω

TRU history professor Michael Gorman has successfully integrated games into the learning environment, engaging students in active learning.

History professor Michael Gorman and history major Michelle Yavasgel explain the benefits of active learning. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

History professor Michael Gorman and history major Michelle Yavasgel explain the benefits of active learning. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

Gorman held a presentation about role playing’s role in experiential learning in front of a small room of 20 faculty and students on Friday, Oct. 4.

“I always thought the biggest downside to my job was doing seminars,” Gorman said.

He never thought there would be an alternative.

The talk focused on games Gorman has successfully integrated into his weekly class seminars for the past four or five years, as a way to engage students in learning.

The games, called Reacting to the Past, were developed by history professor Mark Carnes at Barnard College in the late 1990s.

“The reacting method entails elaborate role playing games, set in the past, when ideas and interests were colliding,” Gorman said.

Students are assigned characters and info packets that guide them through parts of history, requiring them to complete character goals.

Students have to master the course content more than they would if a teacher were standing and lecturing the class, Gorman told the audience.

Gorman said he is always surprised by how intensely interested students become and how motivated they are to achieve their character’s goals.

He also noted that the games force students to learn actively, which helps them retain information over longer periods of time.

“I never considered it my job to make learning fun for students,” Gorman said, “but it is fun.”

Michelle Yavasgel, a fourth-year TRU history major, brought a student perspective on Gorman’s class games.

“It’s a refreshing change to the typical seminar or lecture structure,” she said. “It’s such a great way to bring the material to life.”

The biggest benefit to Yavasgel was the utilization of other skills that wouldn’t have been used in a normal seminar, such as public speaking and persuasive language.

The event is part of an ongoing series exploring how professors and faculty at TRU are using experiential learning. The series is presented by Ginny Ratsoy, associate professor of English and provost fellow of learning and teaching.