WIU Acting Department Chairman Develops Play Approach to History Classes – Western Illinois University News
WIU Acting Department Chairman Develops Play Approach to History Lessons
December 2, 2021
MACOMB, IL – How would the course of history have changed if President Abraham Lincoln had not made the decisions that led to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery?
A new digital curriculum, designed by Acting Chairman of the History Department at Western Illinois University, Tim Roberts, asks students to examine President Lincoln’s situation in the form of an interactive video game called “The Decision of Lincoln â. The program is created with the help of the WIU Foundation Summer Grants Program and the Sponsored Projects Office.
Roberts began working on the program while studying for a graduate certificate in digital humanities and public history with George Mason University and the Smithsonian Institution. Through this study, he learned to use a storytelling software called Twine.
âWorking in the digital humanities opened my eyes to new possibilities,â said Roberts. “We can study the past using new technology and then rethink the way we interact with historical artifacts.”
Roberts noted that 90 percent of young adults play video games, so it made sense to adapt the Twine software to encourage study of the past, building on students’ knowledge with the technology of fame. In a WIU class Roberts teaches about Civil War, he asked students to use Twine to tell stories.
âMy class last spring developed their own string stories on a topic of civil war,â he said. âThe students were terrified at first, but by the end of the semester we had amazing work, including stories about runaway slaves, soldiers trying to escape POW camps, and even theater bosses trying to stop John Wilkes Booth before he shoots Abraham Lincoln. ”
In the Lincoln Decision, the students became Lincoln in 1862, deciding if and how to emancipate the slaves. The game allows students to see the results of their decisions, whether or not they match those made in the story.
âThe story is not set in stone,â said Roberts. “What people decided to do in the past has affected our present; things might be different now. Twine allows students to encounter integrated primary historical sources, interpret them, and see how that interpretation affects results.”
As the programming develops, Roberts will work with approximately 60 high school teachers from Advanced Placement (AP) US History to use the digital curriculum in the classroom, as well as conduct a learning assessment to gain feedback on its validity as a learning tool.
âTextbooks, of course, are important teaching resources, but interactive digital media, like Lincoln’s Decision, which explicitly trains students in cause and effect, contextualization and contingency, can really improve critical thinking skills. , which are sometimes difficult to teach simply through pedagogy, âsaid Roberts.
In the third year of a grant Roberts received, he may expand the program to examine 20th century topics, such as decisions in foreign relations or choices made by civil rights activists and immigrants.
The hope of the program, Roberts added, is that it helps students explore what they can accomplish at WIU and consider the career options they have with a history degree.
âThe tools that historians use to understand the past are being radically transformed, and it’s good that students can be exposed to ‘digital history’,â he said.
For more information on the WIU History Department, visit wiu.edu/history.
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