Art historians are using games to teach

Historians in the News
tags: art history, art historians



I recently posted a query on the CAAH listserv (Consortium of Art and Architectural Historians) to research online game-based and gamified learning in art history and museums. Alongside leads on some of the projects I’ll share here, the post garnered some rather animated comments hinting that it was nothing short of appalling that the subject had even been raised. That listserv discussion suggested there exists considerable confusion about what game-based learning is, so my goal here is to address that practical need. Considering a few models within my own discipline of art history will orient colleagues curious about venturing down this pedagogical path, but, as with any learning tool, game-based learning will have to fit the specific context of a given course or program.

To begin with some definitions, game-based learning differs from gamification in several important ways. Sometimes the latter is reduced to bells and whistles such as gold stars and progress bars, but gamification is potentially a much more subtle and powerful teaching strategy. Think about some of the elements that make games appealing—social interaction, competition, a sense of accomplishment and engagement. How might these vital elements structure elements of the learning in your classes? These underlying aspects of various games then can be tapped into to gamify a course and I’ll focus on gamification in an upcoming post; here though we’ll hone in on examples of specially online game-based learning within the discipline of art history.

This quick overview will show some of the ways that art history faculty are calling upon the intrinsically visual nature of the field to develop engaging games for their teaching. Elizabeth Goins (Rochester Institute of Technology) describes several recent projects including a 3D game based on Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights in her blog, and details as well assignments in which the students create games. Keri Watson (University of Central Florida), is working on both a RPG (role-playing game) and an ARG (alternative reality game). Watson’s RPG, a Reacting to the Past game set in Paris in 1888 and 1889, was targeted for use in first year seminars at small liberal arts colleges. She taught with the game several times while at Ithaca College and reflects on her experience here. Watson’s ARG, “Secret Societies of the Avant-garde,” was createdwith a colleague in digital media as a Unity-based game, and is still in development. (Anastasia Salter wrote about this game in February.) Their prototype was deployed this past spring in an upper level modern art course, the game poses for the students a series of the challenges to research and create online exhibitions. (Those interested in developing an ARG might also want to peruse this interesting recent piece from TechCrunch on historical accuracy in games.) ...




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