Gamifying Greece and Rome: Student Perspectives on Video Game Pedagogy

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Brief Abstract

How do you get students to want to learn? This session tackles this question through a case study focused on video game pedagogy in a general education history course. Qualitative and quantitative student feedback suggests this may be an effective strategy for building engagement within an asynchronous online educational environment.

Extended Abstract

Session Overview

How do you get students to want to learn about the past? For many disciplines in the humanities, effectively answering this question is fundamental to survival within the increasingly competitive ecology of higher education. A recent study by the American Historical Association demonstrated that the number of Humanities majors declined approximately 25% during the 2010s, with History having the dubious honor of trailing all 48 disciplines, having lost 34% of its majors between 2011 and 2017.*

Clearly this is a multifaceted problem with no single silver bullet solution. Yet improving student engagement within the field offers one pathway to stem and potentially reverse this trend. One way to build that engagement is to leverage what students are already doing outside the classroom: playing video games. To provide some insight into the efficacy of such a strategy, this Virtual Discovery Session presents an IRB-approved case study on the integration of video games as a teaching tool for the asynchronous online general education course CLAS 160B1: Gateway to Greece and Rome.

During the Fall 2021 semester in the middle of the pandemic, our university revised its introductory western civ course by developing a new assignment sequence in which students used the blockbuster video game Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey to complete a sequence of assignments. The asynchronous online course had previously utilized more traditional methods (i.e., primary and secondary source readings accompanied by written responses to those readings), but in this course, students could choose either assignment sequence – the video game-focused assignments or the reading and writing assignments – since both sought to achieve similar learning outcomes focused on critical thinking, argumentation and evidentiary support, and cultural knowledge acquisition.

A brief example: the “traditional” assignment group would learn about Greek architectural orders by listening to lectures, reading a textbook, analyzing Vitruvius’ De Architectura, and writing a short essay about the major similarities and differences between Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian architecture. Students who chose the “video game” assignment sequence, however, began by exploring religious architecture in Athens within Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. They would climb around on the Parthenon (Doric), investigate the Temple of Athena Nike (Ionic), and head down the slopes of the Acropolis to the Temple of Olympian Zeus (Corinthian). After this digital survey of the Athenian religious landscape, they would note what they thought the similarities and differences were and then follow that up by reading the same ancient Vitruvian text that the traditional assignment group analyzed. In the end, each group would write a short essay about their findings, thus producing a similar product after taking very different paths to get there.

This presentation will take place in three parts. It begins by providing brief overview of the course, the two assignment sequences, and the video game itself. The audience will have a chance to see the video game in action, while getting a detailed view of what it is like to explore ancient monuments within the game’s digital environment. This is meant both to give them a sense of the assignments for the course and to provide them with a larger sense of what might be possible with such technology.

The core of this Virtual Discovery Session focuses on student responses to and reflections about the assignment sequence they chose. Students were given an IRB-approved survey asking them both quantitative questions (e.g., On a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you enjoy the assignment sequence? On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you think you learned from your assignment sequence?) and qualitative questions (e.g., What’s one thing that you thought that worked particularly well in your assignment sequence? What’s one thing that could be improved?). By synthesizing these data, the project is meant to provide some practical lessons for the effective implementation of video games within an educational setting.

The conclusion of this session focuses on audience engagement and discussion. Asynchronous audience members are encouraged to voice their own questions and concerns (e.g., What about violence? How much does it cost?) as well as their own suggestions for effective digital gaming pedagogy through the use of PlayPosit’s discussion tool. Participants will be able to voice their own ideas as well as respond to those of others, providing a productive dialogue to conclude the virtual session, while also catalyzing audience members to think about how this might apply in their own settings.

Preliminary results from this study suggest that these video game-based assignments hold significant potential – at least from the students’ perspective. Their “enjoyment” of the video game assignment sequence (9.1 out of 10) substantially outpaced that of the traditional assignment sequence (6.8 out of 10). Students also thought this new technology was more “conducive to learning” (9.2 out of 10) compared to the traditional sequence (7.7 out of 10). More nuanced and qualitative student perspectives on these questions will be presented in the session itself. Next steps in this study will include assessing whether that perception equates with reality by determining the ability of students within each sequence to meet the learning outcomes for the course.  

Level of Participation

As a Virtual Discovery Session, audience members will be asked to participate in a variety of asynchronous modalities. First, they will be provided with downloadable copies of the assignment sheets and information regarding how to purchase the game so that they can follow along. Second, this session will take advantage of PlayPosit’s integrated question feature to allow audience members to interact while they watch the presentation. For example, after presenting an assignment from the course, the audience might be asked to brainstorm a topic from their own field that might be conducive to exploring within a digital game setting. Finally, at the end of the session, audience members will be able to use PlayPosit’s discussion feature both to provide their own feedback to question prompts and to respond to other commenters ideas. In the end, this engagement and feedback will be useful to improve the use of games in my own course and to prompt further exploration of digital games in attendees’ own pedagogy. 

Session Goals

Individuals who attend this session will gain valuable insight into and practical knowledge about the integration of video games as a teaching tool in the college classroom. Through the presentation of the assignment sequence, attendees will gain a broad understanding of the various ways that games might be utilized for history-based lessons. By engaging with qualitative and quantitative student feedback, participants will gain a better sense for the pitfalls and potential of this digital teaching method, allowing them to harness the highlights of this course while avoiding some of its missteps. Finally, by actively participating through PlayPosit’s question and discussion system, individuals will have the opportunity to begin thinking about how to integrate gaming into their own courses while also learning from the experiences of fellow attendees. In sum, the course assignments and student feedback from this case study are meant to serve as a launching point for attendees to effectively experiment with gaming as a pedagogical instrument in diverse higher education environments.

*Schmidt, B. M. (2018). “The History BA Since the Great Recession: The 2018 History Majors Report.” Perspectives on History. Last accessed at on May 15, 2022.