Students dive into past to help map out courses

A group of students recently traveled to the past to help create a blueprint for several Harrisburg University courses.

Students enrolled in Professor John McKnight’s first-year Political Mind course completed a set of elaborate games called Reacting to the Past, in which they were assigned roles informed by classic texts.

Created by historian Mark C. Carnes, Reacting to the Past has been implemented at more than 300 colleges and universities across the U.S. and abroad.

The initiative is sustained by the Reacting Consortium, an alliance of colleges and universities that promotes imagination, inquiry, and engagement as foundational features of teaching and learning in higher education. The Consortium provides programs for faculty development and curricular change, including a regular series of conferences and workshops, online instructor resources, and consulting services.

Students participated in the game during three, three-hour class sessions from Sept. 18-25. And McKnight said HU plans to test it out in several sections of first-year Creative Mind courses, and then, possibly, in other core curriculum classes.

Reacting to the Past games take 6-10 hours of class time, and they are used to supplement traditional teaching, McKnight said.

Run entirely by students, instructors advise and guide game participants, who are drawn into the past, where they promote the engagement of ideas and sharpen intellectual and academic skills.

Reacting to the Past was honored with the 2004 Theodore Hesburgh Award (TIAA-CREF) for outstanding innovation in higher education. And students who participated in the game’s first run at HU gave the experience an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Some of their reactions are listed below:

“I am certain that I learned more than I would’ve if I had been listening to lectures. I like how interactive the game was. It forced me to put time and effort into studying. A three-hour lecture is very difficult to sit through. The game made class go by a lot faster than if we had been sitting in our chairs like bags of sand.”

Another participant said, “I think that these sorts of games can definitely do a better job teaching about certain moments in history better than a lecture or a packet or whatever for the majority of people.”

“I learned that diplomacy is vital for International peace,” another student said. “Hearing from other factions helped me to grasp concepts that I hadn’t picked up on from reading on my own. It was great to put yourself in the shoes of some of the world’s best negotiators.”