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Role play game engages history students in an unusual way
Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dr. Steve Fabian of the Department of History has proven that drama is not just for the Department of Theatre and Dance. Throughout the semester, he led an innovative role play game in his Honors 230 class to teach the history of South African apartheid.

Titled, "Conflicts and Crises in African History," the game derived from a series of role play games created by Barnard College called, “Reacting to the Past.” The game was designed to connect students with historical context, roots, and complexity of African conflicts, and provide students with an interactive approach to conflict resolution.

“The students are assigned roles, they assemble and they get to know what their goals are, and they basically come up with a new constitution,” says Fabian, “They have to do this from the perspective of who they are (in the game).”

The game grew to be entirely run by the students in class. As they assumed their historical roles in the class, they engaged in debates about issues regarding the creation of a new constitution for South Africa.

“They have the ability to stage walk outs, demonstrations, mobilizations...One group can actually crash the negotiating party and hold people temporarily hostage. It’s not just history; they have to understand politics and communication.” Fabian hopes more teachers will use role play games to engage students in their class.

Students in the class are not just learning about African conflicts, but genuinely enjoying their experience. “It’s really interesting to take the history you’ve learned and then mock it and put into action,” said Whitney Hackman a Music Education major. “I think this makes history more tangible, and more relate-able to present day.”

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