An invading army has set up headquarters inside a church in the town center. The villagers fear that the historic building and its irreplaceable contents will be destroyed. Do they send in members of a civic militia to roust out the enemy? Or do they bomb the church? NMU students were assigned various roles in this medieval scenario, based on historical documents. They engaged in lively small-group debates as they put aside personal opinion to lobby for their respective character's chosen course of action. The professor observed and rarely intervened. This is the format for Reacting to the Past (RTTP), an elaborate game-based pedagogy employed by the NMU History Department. RTTP is designed to actively engage students in complicated historical events to promote critical thinking, communication, problem solving and leadership.
“RTTP reinvents the traditional classroom, where students passively consume what someone in front tells them they need to know,” said Professor Robbie Goodrich. “The professor shifts from a sage on the stage to a guide on the side and students run these games. They are not re-enactments. The context and characters are grounded in classic texts, but there's no set script. Sometimes the outcome deviates from what actually happened as new developments are introduced during the exercise or those in certain roles persuade others to change their stance.”
Historical figures in this particular exercise included priests, widowed mothers, militia members, local business owners and individuals whose deceased relatives are commemorated on monuments in the church.
Students voted between periods of dialogue to determine if either the militia or bombing response met the required majority. When the margin wasn't enough, a roll of the dice determined which intervening variable to introduce to the scenario. In this exercise, villagers discovered some of the art in the church was being destroyed after the first roll and that a priest was captured and being held hostage by the enemy after the second.
“History is presented in facts, but this makes you think of decisions from the perspective of the people who made them,” said student Carl Runstrom. “You realize that one little thing said or done differently can change the whole outcome. The path we've taken through history is not defined; there were chances for it to change all over the place. RTTP is a new avenue for exploring past events and it's fun.”
Goodrich said historical events given the RTTP treatment can range from a succession crisis in Ming, China, to the Copenhagen climate change conference of 2009.
“Students have to adhere to the beliefs and level of authority of the figures they're assigned to play,” Goodrich said. “For example, a student assigned to be prime minister of Denmark couldn't vote for a climate treaty with no money dedicated to preserving rainforests because that would contradict the role, based on the historical documents. Yet there's still leeway in what that figure could do. The prime minister of Denmark could make a separate deal with the Chinese foreign minister to provide direct aid to countries with rainforests rather than working through a consortium or the UN, even though, in reality, he did not do that.”
Teaching assistant and Wildcat soccer player Brianna Frontuto was once assigned the role of university president in an RTTP game related to Title IX.
“As students learn to analyze primary source documents and adopt a specific character's perspective, they experience increased awareness of the cause and effects of past events and how the choices made back then influenced the future,” Frontuto told the NMU Board of Trustees. “They also discover their 21st century minds approach situations from a different frame of reference and they need to think differently. Many games extend to a larger context. For example, Title IX is part of the broader economic, social and legal pressures of stabilizing a university. The trial of Galileo was a small component of the Protestant reformation and downfall of the Catholic church. RTTP aids students in terms of public speaking, thinking fast on their feet, debating in a civilized, informal manner and writing papers. And it definitely increases their level of engagement with the material.”
Pioneered in the late 1990s by Barnard College history professor Mark C. Carnes, the RTTP curriculum has been implemented at hundreds of colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad since dissemination began in 2001. RTTP was honored with the 2004 Theodore Hesburgh Award for pedagogical innovation and has been featured in numerous publications. For more information, click here.
Goodrich can be reached at email@example.com or 227-2037.
Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil and author Dustin Parsons will read from their works and answer questions during a joint presentation at Northern Michigan University. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, in Jamrich Hall 1318. It is hosted by the NMU Visiting Writers Program and admission is free.
Nezhukumatahil is a professor of English at the University of Mississippi. Her newest collection of poems, Oceanic, will be released in April 2019. Some of her past works include: World of Wonder, Lucky Fish and At the Drive in Volcano. Nezhukumatahil has a master's degree from Ohio State University and is the poetry editor of Orion magazine. Her poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry, Ploughshares and Tin House.
Parsons is the author of Exploded View: Essays on Fatherhood and is an American literature professor at the University of Mississippi. Parsons has served as the non-fiction editor for The Mid-American Review. Awards for his writing include an Ohio Arts Grant and New York Fine Arts Grant in creative non-fiction and a "notable" in the 2014 Best American Essays.
Northern Michigan University's first jazz concert of the fall semester will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, in Reynolds Recital Hall. It will feature the NMU Jazz Band and small ensembles performing classic works by composers Sammy Nestico, Fred Sturm, Miles Davis and more. Admission is free.
The NMU Jazz Band is directed by Mark Flaherty. It is a standard big band that performs concerts throughout the school year and has toured Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. The group is the featured ensemble at the yearly NMU Jazz Festival and has performed with many prominent artists in recent years.
Contact the NMU Music Department at 227-2563 for more information.
An Oct. 3 campus forum on the Strategic Resource Allocation (SRA) project served mainly as an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to ask questions about the process. In his opening statement, President Fritz Erickson addressed confusion related to the five quintiles that programs fall under in the reports completed by the academic and support task forces.
“There seems to be confusion that the quintiles are some sort of ranking, with 1 better than 2 and 2 better than 3,” Erickson said. “They're really categories. We are looking at each as a set of opportunities. Some programs have more opportunities. Others are fully realized and require additional resources to continue to grow. And those with low and declining enrollment, we'll take a close look at and try to find ways to increase interest or explore partnership opportunities. My advice is, don't put too much stock in the number itself. The important thing is how we as a university community make the right kind of investments to shape the university and the groups of students we serve.”
Provost Kerri Schuiling addressed a question about what comes next in the process. She said the Implementation Task Force has received the reports from the two task forces and is going through them quintile by quintile.
“We started with quintile 5 academic, then 5 support. There has been a lot of discussion around that,” she said. “The reports looked at a snapshot year. We're looking at the financial and enrollment data since that snapshot year to see if there are trends. Maybe a program's grown since then or is continuing to go down. We are also looking at all of the comments. As we deliberate, we will look at criteria established by the task forces and the context of the strategic plan. This is the first pass-through. We'll go back through everything again and then make our final recommendations.”
The Implementation Task Force (ITF) recommendations will be sent to Erickson for his review. He will present an initial report to the Board of Trustees at its December meeting.
Two other faculty/staff questions were raised at the forum. Professor Amy Orf asked about possibly returning to a model of a single international programs office with a single director, rather than the current divided structure. International student recruitment is handled through Extended Learning and Community Engagement in Cohodas, while assistance for international students and study-abroad programs is provided by International Education Services in Hedgcock. The other question related to possible increased resources for Counseling and Consultation Services if there is a goal of increasing availability beyond traditional hours. Administrators said they are exploring both.
ASNMU President Cody Mayer and other students in attendance expressed frustration that they were not represented on the task forces and were not able to provide feedback on the reports. Administrators recently made the reports available to students and said their comments would be allowed with the same guidelines as employees.