Return to blogging!

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Summer break is officially over which means it’s a new term and a new term means a new round of role play!

It has been a busy summer of writing and editing a couple of articles and conference presentations – what else do academics do when they aren’t teaching.

But just as I was about to start blogging about the new class’ reaction to this term’s assignments: archaeogaming and role playing, it dawned on me that I had not blogged a summary for the ‘Reimagining Graeco-Roman Egypt’ role play and so I shall do that soon…preferably before posting about this term’s new assignments.

 

-the arcegyptologist-

 

Power of Play: Small Victories Are Victories Nonetheless

Another class discussion has come and gone, and thankfully in this latest discussion, the class finally picked up their pace though not drastically, it was sufficient enough that I did not have to be more hands-on. 

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In fact, I was impressed with their progress especially the following two groups: 

Egyptians:

Their long-term plan is to demand for independence and these are just some of the ways they are slowly but surely (possibly) achieving it:  

  • being in charge of majority of the agricultural production of Egypt
    • the disadvantage is that the Greeks currently control the Nile including and especially the river tax system. 
  • being the lead law enforcers in all of Egypt except for the Greek-dominant cities e.g. Alexandria 
    • thus far, this is their most impressive plan as it includes an extensive hierarchical structure from the highest position – Minister of Law Enforcer – to the lowest position – Medjay – to where each position’s office is located at and the ethnic group(s) eligible for each position. 
      • their detailed law enforcement system proves to me that they thoroughly researched how to create an effective system and how such a system interacts with the socio-economic status of the citizens. 
  • establishing an organized crime gang with the sole intention of causing disruption to the others
    • they have yet to properly plan this out and did consult me on whether this idea was permissible to which I responded with

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Jews

Their awareness of their minority status in the ‘reimagined’ and real Ptolemaic Egypt drove them to find ways to increase their influence in Alexandria and on the Ptolemies. 

Their chosen areas of influence: trade and business

  • initially focused on controlling the few ports in Alexandria, the Jews have successfully negotiated with a few cities and/or civilizations outside of Egypt (of which I am not allowed to disclose yet) after consulting me about the existence of the Silk Road during this period.
    • what impressed me here is their idea to expand their trade power had to be historically justified i.e. they wanted to be certain that the Silk Road was accessible during the real Ptolemaic Egypt era. 
      • nonetheless, this made me aware that a few of them were not too fluent with the location of countries as someone noted that it would be faster to trade by sea (from Egypt to the East) than by land. Another student beat me to the punch and corrected the classmate that if the Silk Road is accessible to them, land trade would be faster and more efficient as some trade goods are highly perishable.
        • this further impressed me as the student(s) are not blindly working on the assignment but taking into consideration the liability of trade goods to rot and the salability of products within Egypt before deciding on what to buy and sell.  
  • establishment of a brothel system to encourage more traffic in Alexandria 
    • bidding system-based brothel for the upper class
    • first-come-first-serve brothel for the lower class
    • when the Jews informed the rest about this, the Greeks asked the Ptolemies whether prostitution was legal in Egypt which consequently led to a brief discussion on how the brothel system will effect Egypt, economically and socially. 

 

 

Safe to say, as their lecturer, I am once again impressed by the ‘power of play’. Although we are still in the middle of the assignment and it may be a little rash of me to highlight that the freedom to learn at their own pace has encouraged the students to think critically and historically, this week’s discussion is an improvement from the last two and small victories are victories nonetheless. 

 

-the arcegyptologist-

A Rough Start: A Slightly Disheartened Humanities Educator

Here is an honest post. 

It has been a month since the Ptolemies successfully conquered Egypt yet they have not fulfilled the first set of checklist:

1/ Permanent settlement – draw out a city plan for Alexandria which should include the Greek, Egyptian and Jewish quarters 

2/ Law and Order – create a legal system and a taxation system.

Their slow start resulted in a rough start with the first formal discussion being a chaotic one where the Egyptians demanded ALL agricultural land, the Jews demanded MORE THAN HALF of the Mediterranean coastal docks, the Greeks’ failed attempt at negotiating a hybrid religion with the Egyptians and mostly sitting comfortably in their ‘Greeks are safe ’cause we and the Ptolemies are one’ mentality, whilst the Ptolemies listened helplessly to all the demands and realised how incredibly hard it is to run a country. 

After their failed first formal discussion and an even slower progression on the Ptolemies’ end to complete their first checklist (of which I have penalised them for), I made a conscious decision to use half a lecture slot to force the Ptolemies to finalise the city plan or everyone would be penalised  -1%. Disappointingly, at the end of that one hour, they decided to re-use the exact same Alexandrian city design the real Ptolemies had designed whilst the rest of the groups continued to throw demands left and right. 

 

Their insanely slow progress as a class is starting to worry me and I have begun to wonder whether I need to be even more hands-on which is not an approach I enjoy because I strongly believe in allowing students to learn at their own pace. Should I continue to give them the freedom to determine the pace of the assignment? Should I, as the game master, throw them a major curveball to rattle their ‘extremely calm and slow’ pace? 

Decisions have to be made and it has to be made quick as the next formal discussion is next week. 

From a slightly disheartened humanities educator, 

-the arcegyptologist-

 

Power of Play: Reimagining Graeco-Roman Egypt

Deciding on a civilisation to develop and manage was harder than I expected. While discussing with the students, I kept in mind the primary objective of this assignment: to provide students with the opportunity to develop their historical thinking, literacy and imagination – skills necessary of historians and archaeologists – in an immersive context. Hence, the following questions:

1/ Should the class be divided into different socio-economic groups e.g. ruler(s), priests, warriors, commoners etc?

2/ Which civilisation and time period will provide sufficient ‘drama’ or situations to incite more drama for the students to manage?

3/ Should I choose a civilisation they are more interested in or one that I am more familiar with?

Question 2 and 3 came hand-in-hand when I asked the students which civilizations they were most interested in learning about and majority voted ‘ancient Greece and Rome’ which made me  decide on ‘Graeco-Roman Egypt’ as ancient Egypt specifically the Graeco-Roman era is my area of interest. Once we agreed with the era and civilisation, it was easy to answer Question 1 – the class was divided into the rulers (Ptolemies/Romans), the Greeks/Romans, the Egyptians and the Jews who are all expected to co-exist within the geopolitical borders of Egypt.

Lastly, based on the feedback from the last round of role play, I created a preliminary checklist for each group and as the assignment progresses, I will edit the checklist accordingly.

To summarise, this term’s role play-based assignment is set in Egypt during the start of the Ptolemaic dynasty where the Ptolemies have to decide how to run their new country whilst dealing with a culturally diverse group of citizens who have been given objectives which may or may not contradict the other(s). Despite this not being an alternative scenario, I have given them permission to stray away from the truth but every action must be justified and if any chooses to deal with a group of people (outside of the classroom/their reality), I will decide without any biasness i.e. I’ll flip a coin.

 

We have only had one formal and two informal discussions, but there already exist a few issues I will further explore and write about in the next few posts.

 

-the arcegyptologist-

Meier’s Civ in the Classroom – Failure or Success

 

For those who aren’t familiar with the gaming world, Sid Meier is the man behind the widely popular history-driven PC game; Civilisation in which the gamer’s goal is ‘to build an empire which will withstand the test of time‘.* 

Meier, as quoted in Uricchio’s ‘21: Simulation, History, and Computer Games‘ article, states that “we’re not trying to duplicate history. We’re trying to provide you with the tools, the elements of history and let you see how it would work if you took over”. Therefore, it made perfect sense for me to create an archaeogaming assignment in which the students will observe a Let’s Play series (via Youtube) and write a reflective essay which includes the following points: 

i) critically review the gamer’s approach to developing a civilisation, and 

ii) critically reflect how suitable the game is as an educational tool and whether you learned about the ins and outs of developing a civilisation via observing the game.

The reason for observing rather than playing the game is because many of the students are not gamers and 14 weeks is too short a time for me to give them a crash course in gaming whilst teaching them world history. Moreover, I am still fairly new to gaming so who am I to teach other non-gamers how to game … yes, the imposter syndrome lives on. 

The main reason why I chose Civilisation is because a learning objective for World Civilisation 1 (to 1500 CE) is to understand the development of a civilisation, and I cannot comprehend how the traditional learning/teaching method of me spoon-feeding them facts such as ‘Egypt was united in 3100 BCE by Narmer as demonstrated by the Narmer Palette….’ would help the students understand how a civilisation emerged and why a civilisation evolved as it did. Therefore, when my former students introduced Civilisation to me [consequently leading me into this archaeogaming rabbit hole I’m too fascinated by to climb out of], I began researching on how to create an assignment which will allow the students and I to use this archaeogame as an educational tool.

Nonetheless, to my personal dismay, I have yet had the chance to use the game in class mainly because majority of the students are not gamers and/or the students are not aware of the educational benefits of such games. And seeing as I only have 14 weeks to teach them the syllabus, it seems overly daunting for me to also teach them how to game let alone explore the pedagogical and reception studies-aspects of the game. I am not implying that they are incapable of exploring and absorbing the variety of knowledge this assignment has to offer however, my hesitation stems from a clear understanding (based on personal experience) of the learning environment all of them have come from – spoon-feeding and an emphasis on memorising facts rather than developing their critical thinking, analytical and imaginative skills.

Hence, after much thought and discussion with this term’s students, I decided to scrap the assignment but maintain Meier’s notion of providing the students “with the tools, the elements of history” so that they may experience for themselves how a civilisation is developed and managed. Thus, the birth of yet another role play assignment entitled ‘Reimagining Graeco-Roman Egypt‘ which I will further explain in the next post. 

Until I am able to figure out a more conducive way of using Meier’s Civilisation in my teaching environment, I will continue to use other ‘Power of Play‘ assignments. 

 

-the arcegyptologist-

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*If you are interested in learning more about the game, watch the tutorial guide below (it is rather long but besides picking on my students’ brains, this was a good introduction for a newbie like me).

Down the Rabbit Hole I Go Again – Term 2, 2018

Celebrated the end of the short term (14 weeks worth of knowledge crammed into 7!) with some time off to work on my own conference papers and in a blink of an eye… 

 

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This term I am teaching World Civilisation 1 (to 1500 CE) thus I figured that the archaeogaming assignment would be suitable as the students could analyse a Meier’s Civilization Let’s Play. However, after much consideration and discussion with the students, I decided to go with the role play assignment instead. 

Hence, this term’s World Civilisation 1 assignments are as such: 

  1. A Dossier of a famous Janus figure, or
  2. Film and reception studies, and
  3. Reimagining Graeco-Roman Egypt. 

I may or may not write a blog post for #1 and #2 but I will write a couple for #3 as my focus is on the ‘Power of Play’ in History Classrooms

 

In my next blog post, I’ll talk about why I wanted to use Meier’s Civilization and how I ended up with the ‘Reimagining Graeco-Roman Egypt’ assignment instead. 

-the arcegyptologist- 

 

Power of Play: #AlternativeFact WW2 Assignment Review

Similar to the ‘archaeogaming’ assignment, I had never created a role play-based assignment before hence I was nervous whilst designing the assignment and was even more nervous trying to explain it to the students. The nerves can be easily summarized into three points which are as follows:

  • I was not sure how the students would react to an assignment which required so much planning, imagining and decision making on their end.
  • I was concern with the dynamics of each group/country as the students also had the freedom to choose their own teammates and as soon as the teams were formed, it was evident to me that two groups appeared stronger than the other two. Based on that observation and my knowledge of the students, I decided that I would sit down with the latter two groups and dish out ideas and suggestions of how to kickstart the planning stage of the assignment, and by week 2, I left them to fend for themselves.
  • Lastly, would the students develop some level of historical thinking, literacy and consciousness, and learn about history specifically World War 2??

 

 

The general consensus throughout the assignment process was that the students were having fun role-playing and reimagining one of the most significant events in history. They also begin to understand why certain historical events unfolded as they did, why countries don’t go to war at the sight of a challenge and how difficult it was/is to manage a country, let alone collaborate with other countries. Besides that, on the final day of the assignment, I asked them whether they had any suggestions of how I could improve the assignment. The main suggestion was that I should set more definite check list and guidelines for each country/group and the check list should include contradictory motives such as country A must form an alliance with country B but country B can form an alliance with any country but country A. 

Lastly, the most important outcome (in my opinion) of this assignment was that they discovered that learning history can be fun and it was because they were given the freedom to dictate their learning process rather than have someone simply reiterate the facts of history to them. 

 

-the arcegyptologist-

 

 

 

Power of Play: Archaeogaming Assignment Review Pt. 2

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A few weeks into the term and it was time for the students to submit the assignment and for me to sit down with a cup of coffee/tea, a red pen and my research assistant, Teddie (who wasn’t very helpful as he preferred to enjoy the cool breeze) and grade the assignments. 

And as I read through their work and recalled the weeks of guiding them through the assignment, I jotted down the lessons I had learned. 

Lesson #1: If I continue using an archaeogaming assignment, I will need to maintain my flexible facilitator approach as not all students have the same history and/or gaming fluency. However, I need to remind myself and the students that they are degree learners and as degree students, it is their responsibility to take the initiative to consult me about their assignment rather than me spoon-feeding them (which is a teaching style Malaysian students are overly comfortable with).

Lesson #2: I will need to expand my archaeogaming list so back to Steam and Google I go to find appropriate games for both ancient and ‘modern’ history. As I do so, I need to remind myself to evaluate how relevant history and/or archaeology is to a game as a feedback I received was that games such as the Assassin’s Creed franchise should not be considered an archaeogame as the history is not a core element of the game.

Lesson #3: As I work on #2, I have to gather suitable resources which will serve as introductory guides to archaeogaming and historical thinking/literacy which students can easily access and understand so that they will be able to identify the relationship between history and gaming.

Lesson #4: And above all else, ensure that the assignment fits with the syllabus rather than adjusting the syllabus to accommodate the assignment.

 

In conclusion, if the syllabus permits, I will use the assignment again as I have observed from this term’s students’ feedback that they have discovered the ‘power of play’ in history – something many Malaysian students never associate with history. Thus, as long as archaeogames continue to positively impact the pedagogy and reception of History and Archaeology, I intend to help expand its theoretical framework and create practical frameworks suitable for Malaysian students or at least, learners who come from a background where humanities is deeply under appreciated.  

 

-the arcegyptologist-

 

 

 

Power of Play: Archaeogaming Assignment Review Pt.1

A serious concern of mine, with this assignment, was the students’ experience with gaming. As expected, the class was divided into the following categories:

  1. Students who were fluent in History but had little to no gaming experience.
  2. Students who had gaming experience but were less fluent in History.
  3. Students who weren’t well versed in History and had little to no gaming experience.
  4. Student (an outlier) who was equally well versed in History and gaming.

Hence, the approach I used to facilitate this assignment depended on each category.

For Category 1, I asked the students to narrow down a historical period or event they wanted to learn more of, and provided them with a list of gameplay they could watch and gaming forums they could use to better understand the game itself.

On the other hand, for Category 2, I asked the students which of the following archaeogame options were they more interested in or had prior gaming experience with, and then guided them by introducing sources to the relevant historical event or period employed in the game(s).

With Category 3, I first asked whether they knew of any historical event (within the syllabus) or if they were interested in a specific political/economic/social issue and then we worked together to identify an archaeogame that highlighted either the historical event or issue they had chosen. Similar to those in Category 1 and 2, I provided them with a list of gameplay and sources to learn more about the game and the historical event or issue.

Lastly, for the  student in Category 4, I was less hands-on and merely reminded the student of the scope and word count of the assignment.

 

When I set the word limit at a maximum of, 1000 words, my concern was that it would be too high a ceiling for them to reach. However, to my surprise, majority of them shared their struggle to not go beyond 1000 words. A few even approached me to ask for permission to go beyond the word limit which I, admittedly, unwillingly allowed – simply because I was not certain that they had the skills to compose a thoroughly analytical essay about the game and its historical elements, especially since they have not heard of the term ‘archaeogaming’ prior to this assignment. Nevertheless, as most experienced educators can verify, sometimes your students can positively surprise you.

 

Having asked for their permission, the following are a few of the pleasant surprises, I encountered while evaluating their essays:

  1. JC (Category 1) evaluated ‘Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’ and highlighted the absence of several issues such as the women’s movement, child labour and London’s public health and cleanliness, in the game, which did occur during the Industrial Revolution. This may seem obvious to gamers and historians but JC’s essay (of the few which focused on this game) was the only one to highlight these issues.
  2. KY (Category 3) was one of only two students who evaluated ‘Playing with History 2: Slave Trade’. KY was so intrigued by the controversy surrounding the game that s/he bought the game and highlighted that the power of play proved to her/him that history could be learned through immersion and fun.
  3. CO (Category 3) was the other student who evaluated ‘Playing with History 2: Slave Trade’, and it was her/his lack of understanding of ‘gaming’, let alone the term ‘archaeogaming’ which led her/him to research and dissect the term ‘archaeogaming’. Consequently, this research helped her/him understand the educational perspective of this extremely controversial game and more importantly, gave her/him the opportunity to learn about a historical event that s/he had little clue about and lastly, discovered that learning history can actually be fun.
  4. EN’s (Category 2) evaluation of ‘Assassin’s Creed: Revelations’ focused on comparing and contrasting the architecture of buildings in the game and in real life, and how its architectural similarities and differences affected the character’s movements and perspective, and the game’s narrative. EN was the only one (of those who evaluated an Assassin’s Creed game) to focus on the architecture of the game, rather than its historical narrative.
  5. JS (Category 4) evaluated ‘Europa Universalis IV’ and provided a personal insight on how the game taught him/her European history and geography. Because of JS’ more in-depth knowledge of both history and gaming, s/he was able to critically identify and analyse the historical elements in the game and how the game had to distort some historical elements to make it more playable.
  6. JJ (Category 1) whose major is History noted in her/his essay that s/he did not find the assignment beneficial to her/him because if s/he had not learn about the historical event (French Revolution – ‘Assassin’s Creed: Unity’) prior to watching the game play, s/he would not have bothered to learn more about the French Revolution, let alone realised that the Revolution was part of the game. JJ’s observation coincides with the general opinion that the Assassin’s Creed franchise (pre-Origins) historical elements are too watered down for it to be considered an ‘archaeogame’.

 

In Pt.2, I’ll discuss the lessons I learned from introducing this assignment, will I use this assignment again and if so, how will I do it differently.

 

-the arcegyptologist-

 

 

 

Down the rabbit hole I went – #AlternativeFact World War 2

Just like the ‘archaeogaming’ assignment, never have I designed an assignment which was so group-based research and class-based discussion intensive, such as this. I have always employed class discussions and the occasional ad hoc individual/group research formative assignments but never to this extend.

So, once again, I found myself falling down an academic rabbit hole which begun with a random evening chat about how my friend would have better enjoyed History lessons if he was given the opportunity to be more hands-on with his learning process. Which then sparked a full-on nerd session for me as I researched how to create a more hands-on History assignment, other than the journal-based assignments* I had created for my previous classes.

Seeing as the syllabus, for the upcoming term, focused on 1500 CE onwards, the ‘easiest’ historical event(s) that,  fulfilled the following conditions:

  • had ample of accessible sources
  • would be the most familiar to the students
  • would be the most fun to manipulate

were ‘World War 2’ and the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, during my research, it dawned on me that both events had already been so heavily debated and researched, that it may not provide my students the opportunity to independently cultivate ‘historical thinking’ and ‘historical literacy’. So I sat down with a couple of colleagues (who are in a field so far away from Humanities, it’s awesome – they’re MATHEMATICIANS!) and bounced my idea with them.

To my delight (and once again, proving my belief that interdisciplinary brain-storming sessions are the best!), the Mathematicians suggested I create an alternative World War 2 scenario. I was instantly attracted to the idea but again, I was overwhelmed with worry about how to proceed with such a scenario, seeing as I could not find a practical framework on Google!

Hence, I decided to simply go with the flow and allow the students’ research and discussions to direct the path of the assignment.

 

*If you are interested in the journal-entry assignments I created, please check out my students’ work here:

https://thediaryoflostlives.wordpress.com, and

https://letmetellyouadigistory.wordpress.com*

 

– the arcegyptologist-