A Game-ified U.S. Survey using Greenwich Village, 1913

Teaching the U.S. survey in an blended/hybrid format offers certain challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, it is a chance to flip the classroom and have students get a hands on experience with big questions, deep textual analysis, and interactive in-class work, having had a lot of time outside of class to engage with textbook and other secondary material. On the other, class sessions are less frequent, and the stakes are higher for each, since there are fewer.

In the fall semesters at my institution, which are shorter than the spring semesters because of a mandated start date of Sept. 1, I often face having only 11 or 12 in-person meetings of a hybrid course. In the coming fall, I have 14 (a luxury!) meetings of a scheduled hybrid.

This can be challenging — most textbooks allocate at least 15 chapters for the second half of the survey, if not 16 or 17. If focusing on coverage, things begin to get a little squeezed in just 14 meetings, although I have found ways around this, even in semesters with only 12 meetings. (One approach is to focus on the big themes and chunks of the eras covered, such as comparing the Progressive Era and New Deal records of reform).

Yet, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve begun exploring using the Reacting to the Past simulations in my courses. I’m playing around with the idea of using the Greenwich Village 1913 game by Mary Jane Treacy as the in-person activity in my survey in the fall, followed up by research projects that explore the themes of that game going forward in time.

Here’s the model I’m playing around with:

The first ten weeks of the class will be dedicated to game play. The learning goals of the game are appropriate for a survey consisting of many non-majors, including a focus on reading, particularly reading primary texts; research and writing, in which students must prepare persuasive assignments and speeches; public speaking and debate, which will help students become comfortable debating topics in a college setting; and strategizing, which will encourage students to discuss course material outside of class (something we are always aiming to get students to do).

During those weeks, the students’ primary objective will be to participate in the game, but their “online” portion of the course would be focused on reading and processing the textbook, and creating a list of connections (perhaps in an online journal?) between the textbook and their game role. I would likely offer weekly quizzes on the textbook reading to keep them “honest” and on track to be successful in the second part of the course.

Moreover, the game’s content touches on core themes of the U.S. survey, including the effects of industrialization and immigration; the rise of groups seeking the expansion of rights; the role of labor in politics and policy; political activism and social policy; and intellectual movements.

My intention in structuring the class this way is that students will do a deep dive into an important moment in American history, and then use what they learn from that moment and their individual’s priorities to trace what happens to those priorities going forward into the 20th century.

As such, in Session 11, students would pick research topics to draw these themes out, such as exploring and identifying what happened in the labor movement, identifying other key points of change or exploring other important individuals. A student who played Jeannie Rogers might look at different aspects of the feminist movement in the 1970s. A student playing Emma Goldman might consider the different moments of anti-communism and political dissent in the 1950s. A student playing W.E.B. DuBois might consider the role of political agitation and forms of leadership in pushing for civil rights in the 1960s. The goal of these research papers would be to compare and contrast how similar themes and ideas work in different historical contexts and under the leadership of diverse individuals.

  1. September 5, 2017 – Introduction and Game Overview
  2. September 12, 2017 – Session 1
  3. September 19, 2017 – Session 2
  4. September 26, 2017 – Session 3
  5. October 3, 2017 – Session 4
  6. October 10, 2017 – Session 5
  7. October 17, 2017 – Session 6
  8. October 24, 2017 – Session 7
  9. October 31, 2017 – Session 8
  10. November 7, 2017 – Session 9
  11. November 14, 2017 – Debriefing and Picking Research Topics
  12. November 21, 2017 (before Thanksgiving) – Writing Workshop
  13. November 28, 2017 – Factions Meet again and Compare Notes on Research Topics
  14. December 5, 2017 – Poster session of research papers with evaluation
  15. [Final Exam Date] – Turn in Final Papers

My ideas are as yet undeveloped, having only just sketched out this plan. I will take any and all suggestions about how to direct the research projects!

I would assign the W.W. Norton published version of the game for students, found here.

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