An annual conference for “Reacting to the Past,” an innovative teaching method, will be hosted July 12 to 15 at Newman University. Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Humanities Division Kelly McFall, Ph.D., who is on the board of game developers, volunteered the university to host the conference.
“Reacting to the Past” consists of role-playing games where students take on the identity of important people in history and interact with material themselves instead of being passive listeners. Each game is set at a specific moment in time where a society is at a turning point. Students in the roles of real people thereby learn history through making choices in specific circumstances. The games vary from the Athenians being overtaken by the Spartans to the American Constitutional Convention.
McFall recently created a game that is now being used in more than 30 universities. The game consists of players deciding how the United Nations Security Council handles the Rwandan civil war of 1994.
The three-day conference will bring 30 to 90 people from around the country to the Newman campus. The day before the conference starts is “newbie" day for people who have never played the games who may want to become acquainted with them. McFall said those coming to newbie day will be from Kansas or Oklahoma looking to explore gaming as a way of teaching.
The conference itself is for people who have been involved in gaming for a while. They will play and test new games, pitch new ideas, provide feedback, and brainstorm how to solve problems that come up in designing the game.
The outcome of the conference is to produce games students can use in college classrooms. Most attendees will be professors, although students who have played the games before will have the chance to participate in the conference.
The games are of course used in history courses at Newman, but they are also used in the Newman Studies Program, English, a few science courses, and the Honors Program. Across the country, the games are used in courses in political science, art history and more.
McFall said, “Learning is not always fun but it should be exciting; it should be engaging. You should feel like you’re getting to think about something that is going to be important in your life and that is what these games do.”
McFall continued, “Part of my vision for this conference is that students ought to get something different here than at a public university. So, what we’re doing with this conference is we’re continuing to explore ways in which we might add value to the education for people who attend schools like Newman, and better equip students to succeed."
This is the first year the conference is hosted at Newman. McFall said he hopes the university will be able to host the conference again.