Welcome to “From the Faculty Lounge”.
I’m Linda Bell, Provost and Dean of the Faculty and on behalf of Barnard College
I’m pleased to welcome you to this, the second in this year’s series of
cross-disciplinary conversations that we hope bring the liberal arts to life.
Tonight we’ll look at the effectiveness of games as an educational tool in the
classroom and we’re joined by two people who should know quite a bit about games.
First professor Mark Carnes a professor of history and professor Stephanie
Pfirman from environmental science and also the Hirschorn Professor of
Environmental and Applied Sciences. Welcome and thank you both for being
here tonight. Thanks. Professor Carnes joined the
history department in 1982. His academic specialty is modern American history. In
1995, professor Carnes pioneered the “Reacting to the Past Initiative” which
has now been implemented in over 300 colleges and universities in the US and
abroad. He’s the author of 11 books including most recently “Minds on Fire:
How Role-Immersion Games Transform College”. Professor Pfirman joined the
faculty in 1993 and serves as the co-chair of the Department of
Environmental Science. She holds a joint appointment with
Columbia University where she’s a member of the faculties of the Earth Institute
and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and also an
adjunct research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of
Columbia University. She helped to co-develop the EcoChains: Arctic Circle
Crisis card gam, which she’s here today to share with us. Although their work is
in different areas and very different scholarly foci, they clearly both
have demonstrated an interest in games as an educational tool. And so we intend
to use tonight to quite frankly have some
fun. So let me begin with you Mark if I may. The skeptics among us would say that
our classrooms are serious places. Places for deeply engaged scholarship and yet
in your classrooms students play games. Do students learn in that environment?
Do they learn more? We probably all agree that the only way to learn is by working,
but it doesn’t follow that when we tell students to work, that they’ll
necessarily work. Say ‘work harder’ doesn’t mean they’ll work harder.
Conversely, we know that often when people are playing they work very hard
at it. For example: you’ve got basketball players who will practice
foul shots for hours and hours and hours. Just mindless tedium which looks like work,
but they all do it intensel. What I found is that you can often motivate
people to work harder by playing. A game can be a motivational device that can
trick you into workin, and so that’s that’s sort of the concept. You conceived
of the idea over two decades ago. That’s just not true. It isn’t? I was trying to jazz up a class that had left me and my students bored. I had no idea that that that we’d
be creating eventually these large intellectual structures that would be
thickly gamed in some elements. I had no idea. I had no desire. But it has been one of the most exciting and stimulating parts of my intellectual
life certainly. Have you seen measurable impacts in a positive direction in your
own experience and in the experience of others? The range of assessments is one
way of looking at that. And there have been a whole bunch of studies of Reacting, but
the main thing is that that students become so motivated. They get wrapped up in the games, and that they are they need my advice, my
guidance not to get a good grade but to solve some problem. To sort out some
issue that does consume them and that is teaching of the most wonderful character.
A student who’s fully motivated, who is completely immersed in their work. Professor Pfirman can you tell us al ittle bit about your background, how you became interested in
the Arctic and climate change and then how you came up with the concept behind
developing this card game. So, I first went up to the Arctic in 1980 so it was a
really long time ago and back then we weren’t talking so much about climate
change we were concerned about other issues. In 2007 Arctic sea ice had been
declining and suddenly 2007 I looked at the at the charts and I was like it’s
going I couldn’t believe how fast it was going. We lost 25 percent, almost 25
percent of the ice cover and so at that point, I said we can’t just be studying
this we need to do something about it and we need to do something that will
really bring the Arctic home to people such that they understand what’s
happening, what the implications are for themselves and also for the Arctic as
well. How has this game disseminated and who are the audiences? Right, so we’re working on
on that part of it right now. The idea is to create novel educational approaches
to reach adults and adults including teachers. Only one in five Americans are
in school, so you think of that those other four out of five how are they
getting information about climate change? They didn’t they didn’t have it when
they went to school, so how how are they going to learn about it? And so we have
to use informal educational approaches such as games. My co-developer is Joey Lee
from Teachers College and he’s he’s a games professor and we wanted to look at
the impact and we realized that there are hardly any controlled studies out
there that really do look at the the impact versus of a game versus another
approach. We tuned an article to have the same content as the game. We then ran
focus groups or we brought people in literally off the street in Boston and
we said we had them play the game or read the article. We had surveyed them
ahead of time about what they knew about the Arctic. We surveyed them afterwards
and then we did a four-week follow-up. And what we found
was the immediate survey there was no difference between the ones who read the
article and the ones who played the game so for that it was it that was a victory
already, right? But then the really cool thing was four weeks later, the ones who
played the game remembered more, so the learning was stickier. It was more
memorable because it was in a game format. Very interesting. Can you run us through an example
of a game situation in the classroom how its structured, how it works? Well we say
that Reacting consists of complex games set in the past where students take on
roles informed by classic text. The idea is that a Reacting game lasts anywhere
from three weeks to five weeks. The key thing about Reacting as opposed to other classrooms is that the students run the class. So the game structure basically
creates the intellectual context that then then students inhabit. In inhabiting
this structure and the Reacting game will consist of anywhere from a quarter
of a million to three quarters of a million pages of materials. The students
in going through that learn the material, but they also learn a lot of
other things as well. We have now 15 published games ranging
from just history, classics, religion, political science, art history, history of
science, communications and so a whole bunch of different fields. what’s its next phase? One of the fun
things has been creating other versions. So we have an EcoChains Antarctica
version. We could do an EcoChains say coral reefs because there’s so many
changes that are happening with the coral reefs there and so that’s what the
area that I’m working on right now and that I’m excited about is potentially
partnering with businesses on this. Is there a venue for adoption in classrooms?
Yes, the way I use this in my first-year seminar is I have the students play the
game and also some other games that we’ve developed and then they’re their
end of semester project is that they have to come up with a proposal for a
novel educational approach to communicate to their peers about
climate change or the Arctic. And they pitch it to their peers and we give, have
a workshop where we give them advice on how to make it better and to see them
getting their arms around it and actually creating something themselves
is really exciting. I n the the workshop format where we have the students pitch
their best ideas and I tell them, ‘ Look I don’t grade on a curve, you know give
away your best ideas to your your colleagues in the class
because the better you can make the project you know the better it will be.’
We found that that once a faculty member starts doing Reacting at a
faculty workshop where they they learn how to teach Reacting by playing a
Reacting game, quickly they are thinking of their own game. So one of the things
that’s developed with Reacting is this the we called the reaction consortium is
the governing body of this organization. It created an editorial board and it
supervises the development of games and there are now a hundred and twenty games
in development and there’s this whole process involving students and
faculty and they work together and basically see what works and what
doesn’t and I’m sure that’s exactly the trial and error
method that you probably use too. Mark- the title of your book is Minds on
Fire- a lot of what I’ve heard you say and seen you write is about the
transformative aspect of the games that these students play in the classroom. And
one particular thing you’ve spoken about is the possibility that these games make
our students more empathetic. Can you talk a little bit about that? Several
students took over a discussion class and began to invest it with some
richness that I hadn’t imagined, but I also gave them control of the class
which caused things to unfold in a way that pushed the students out of their
selves and into these roles in a powerful way. Reacting takes them out that puts them in the shoes of someone else but also in
the mindsets of other people and this is where I think imagination goes but also
empathy. By living in the minds of someone else for for a semester I think that is one of the one of the significant payoffs of the
Reacting experience. And Stephanie you talked a little bit about retention and
the you know the game helping retention. Does it have other impacts? This particular game the the main sort of “ah ha” moment is when we have some sea ice and it’s supporting a food web and they have to carbon pollution they draw a carbon
pollution card and they have to melt the ice. So the game mechanic as you turn the
ice over it turns into water and the food web that they’ve been constructing
and their stewards of this marginal sea, it collapses. They have to figure out
what species are particularly ice associated. They can migrate if they can
find more ice to another player but often that’s not the case and so then
they’re out of the game. And you just hear when people turn this over and they
have that realization they all go ah right and so they get that real sense
that something that you know previously was that was invisible to them is now
visible and and really you know has come home to them. But we have another
role-playing game actually called “Arctic SMARTIC” -Strategic Management of
Resources in Times of Change. So it sounds better than the than the long
version. In that case we assigned students the or whoever’s playing it, we
assign them the roles because that supposedly opens up as more of a sense
of empathy for the role and they’re not so they’re not so much advocating as
they are trying to understand each other. So it’s that’s been really
interesting to see and it’s worked out really well in a wide variety of
settings. Thinking about the games and the interaction with students can you
share what you’ve learned through this process? I’m just amazed at the when I’ve
used this as a model in a class and then I’ve asked students you know what how
would you go about communicating to your peers about these subjects? I’ve just
been amazed that the the ingenuity you know the creativity of the students. They
come up with these incredible ideas and they’re they research them, they’re so
committed to them. What our students can do is really incredible. The main skill and the hardest thing for me was to simply surrender a space that
I was accustomed to dominating. And what I found is that when I gave that space up to the students they did things I couldn’t imagine students can do. Another
thing that surprised me is working with adults on climate change, the polls show
that people are so divided and so polarized but in every time I go to a
venue people are just so curious they have all these questions and they want
they want answers and they’re so excited to be talking to somebody about it.
There’s more of a hunger for information out there than people recognize right
now. Do you see it proliferating in any way? I do, I do. For example when you
went into a grocery store what if you could do the eco opt-in right and
instead of just getting the the prices of everything you could get the food
shed, the watershed, the energy shed right of what the impact is.
You would make much better, more informed choices. The information is out there now
and if we can pull it together in these ways that we can help people make
decisions at the time that they’re actually making them, I think that that’s
just really exciting and in a game-like way. So that it’s fun. Maybe when you go
through the cash register and you have a good watershed you know cart you you
know the bells go off or you get a coupon or something like that right? It
would be fun and it would also change behavior as well. Stephanie you’ve
mentored many students in all kinds of capacities. You helped to really create
the environmental science program at Barnard to great acclaim.
Do you see through sort of the hands-on approach in your research labs and
working directly with students does that create the kind of impact that we so
desperately need in terms of thinking about the climate and the future? Because
climate change is you know colorless odorless gases right you know how do you
teach about it? So I think the more ways that we can make the invisible
visible and make it tangible and have people interact with it the better. I’d like to know from both of you what do you most want people to take away from
your contributions and research? The actions that we can take will
actually make for a stronger America as well as the rest of the world. It’s a
really hopeful message you know I sometimes talk about it as if you know
when you get a bad medical diagnosis you know what do you do? Well you start
eating better so can you deal with your consumption. You start interacting with
with other people who have a similar one. So that’s like communicating about this
and working in groups. You know you get more exercise. So that’s changing our
transportation pattern. So you know you think of all those different elements
when you deal with yourself and I think that maybe this is something that could
actually bring our country together and in the world together when we try to
address these issues in a forward-looking way. That’s very inspirational and it brings home the importance of getting people to know the
facts. That’s right exactly. What I think Reacting has going for it are the
elements of fun which I define as competition, make believe that is to take
on new identities and roles and thirdly to incorporate subversive elements, ideas or positions or perspectives that that repudiate the dominant structures,
beliefs, practices of a culture and society. And so part of what is fun for students
is not just that they’re competing that they’re taking on identities, but they’re
also reversing the dynamics of the classroom. They are mighty emperors. They are important leaders. They are key figures while the instructor is the
game master but also then adopting perspectives and values that subvert the
normal order are delicious and they’ve got an edge to them that make things fun. That is I think my scholarly contribution which is trying to come up
with a definition of fun which theorists say cannot be defined. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much and thank all of you for being here.