Through a critical analysis of a course entitled "Nonviolent Activism in Modern Asia," this article discusses the use of educational games, which are set in the past and assign students specific roles and tasks informed by primary sources, as an interactive pedagogy in teaching history. It argues that incorporating games into history courses with international, cross-cultural and comparative foci can not only arouse students' interest in the subject matter, but also make them aware of the contingency of history.
The wars of the twentieth century and, thus far, of the twenty-first have been "total wars," exhausting huge amounts of resources, killing more civilians than soldiers and devastating the environment. The question of how to replace violent with nonviolent means of conflict resolution has now become extremely urgent (Lee, 2003; Weaver and Biesecher-Mask, 2003). Exploring this issue from interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives, this article reflects on the experience of teaching "Nonviolent Activism in Modern Asia" through the use of educational games at Pace University in New York. International in scope and interdisciplinary in approach, this course examines several well-known cases of nonviolent protests in relation to the history of Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism in Asia. It challenges students to appreciate the dynamics of nonviolent activism from historical and comparative perspectives.
At the pedagogical level, incorporating games into history course is known to expand the student-centered aspect of the learning process. Set in particular political and social settings, these innovative games assign students specific roles and tasks informed by primary sources. The games usually have winners and losers, and the roles are clearly structured and well-defined. While playing characters in history, students can relive the past and gain personal perspectives on the subject matter (Adams, 1973; van Ments, 1989). Because of the opportunity for greater student participation and reflective inquiry, the games create a dynamic learning environment that transforms students into active learners. The content to be learnt and discussed is acted out by students before it is assimilated. Students find out the complexity of the subject matter and the ways in which they can relate to certain historical characters in the games (Barab and Kirshner, 2001; Erwin, 2005).
What is more important is that the games encourage students to use trial-and-error strategies in the learning process. Students can test their ideas, understand their mistakes and benefit from watching others solve problems. The competitive nature of the games also allows students to develop such skills as attention to task, cooperation with others, leadership and communicative skills, and self-assessment (Landsberg, 2004; Shaftel, Pass and Schnabel, 2005). The combination of educational games, role-playing, and friendly competition is the main reason for increased student participation and performance. While the professor can observe what students know or do not know about the subject matter, students can assess their own progress (Lawrence, 2004). With the emphasis on creative group work and individual responsibility, students gain confidence to trust their judgments and show more interest in learning than in traditional classroom instruction (Roach and Gunn, 2002).
This study proposes that educational games can and should be used as an interactive and reflective pedagogy in history courses with international, cross-cultural and comparative foci. This pedagogy makes students aware of the contingency of history. Instead of subscribing to a pre-deterministic view of the past, students recognize that all events are unique and that any major change in history is dependent on everything that happened before. Contingency is a major principle of all historical interpretations. Whatever happens in the past is not random, but it is contingent on multiple factors, including the vagaries of individual acts (Windschuttle, 2000; Wineburg, 2001). …