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‘Reacting to the Past’ Active learning tool goes virtual

Northern Michigan UniversityÕs History Department has implemented ÒReacting to the Past,Ó an active learning pedagogy of role-playing games designed for higher education. Students are assigned character roles with specific goals and must communicate, collaborate and compete well to advance their objectives. Pictured is an RTTP session from last school year. (Photo courtesy of NMU)

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University’s History Department has implemented “Reacting to the Past,” an active learning pedagogy of role-playing games designed for higher education. Students are assigned character roles with specific goals and must communicate, collaborate and compete effectively to advance their objectives.

Professor Kathryn Johnson had the challenge of converting RTTP to a virtual platform in response to COVID-19.

Students in Johnson’s “Globalization and You” class had begun their first RTTP scenario upon returning from spring break. When the governor issued a stay home order a short time later, remaining sessions had to transition to an online format.

Johnson said she had to learn new technologies, compose step-by-step directions with little notice and rely on the technical experience and advice of teaching assistant Grant Kolean more than ever to help shift the RTTPs into Slack and Discord. She also had to find ways to make the coursework more flexible for students.

“Students are dealing with unexpected shifting circumstances such as employment, housing, and food insecurity that understandably interferes with their academic commitments,” said Johnson. “I hope to show them that grit, determination, flexibility, communication, empathy and creativity can help us all in times of uncertainty.

“It’s like when you drive across a patch of ice on the road and you start to spin out of control. It’s usually best to turn into the curve and embrace the chaos because you come out on the other side not just in one piece, but actually appreciating the experience and learning from it in unexpected ways.”

Johnson said she insisted on converting the first RTTP to asynchronous communication using EduCat discussion forums and Slack in order to provide students with maximum flexibility to adjust to their new circumstances. She adjusted all deadlines and revised the syllabus for the remainder of the semester.

Johnson also revised preparation activities such as PowerPoints she would have discussed in class with added notes, created EduCat quizzes and added a One-Minute Essay unit synthesis activity using the EduCat wiki function.

“I took a different approach for the second RTTP starting in mid-April, knowing that most students found at least some stability by this point,” she said recently. “We are synchronously using Discord to promote increased engagement for the students who were able to attend the live sessions. I also implemented an option for asynchronous participation for students unable to attend the live sessions due to their extenuating circumstances.”

Johnson is a contingent instructor who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Texas A&M University and Northern Illinois University, respectively. She also holds an education specialist certification from NMU. Johnson serves on the NMU Teaching and Learning Advisory Council and coordinates the History Department’s Teaching Assistant Program.

Charlie Edwards is a student writer at NMU.

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