Digital history class at CSU challenges traditional learning methods

Maddie Wright

With memes as opportunities to earn points in class and a video game as a major part of the course, the History in the Digital Age class offered at Colorado State University is changing the teaching game.

Taught by Professor Robert Jordan, who fancies himself as a bit of a digital guru, every Friday in Clark C 142, the class plays the computer game “Sid Meier’s Civilization 5.”

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Robert Jordan, a history professor at CSU, uses the widely popular strategy based video game Civilization V during lectures to engage his students and illustrate complex concepts in an easy to understand way. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

“[It incorporates] city building, trading, war, religion, all that stuff; it’s basically a simulation of life on a very microscopic scale,” Jordan said.

The class is broken into four teams: The Marxists, The Ungoverned, The Fascists and The Capitalists. Within these ideologically based groups, there are different roles students play such as engineer, scientist, journalist, military commanders, etc.

In class leading up to Friday’s game, the class discusses these ideologies and importance of the roles in terms of true history, and hence are better at applying it to the game on Friday.

Patrick Hoehne, a grad student in Dr. Jordan’s class, advocates for his political group’s opinion in the Civilization V game Dr. Jordan uses to teach his students. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

“I love this class not just with the game even with other aspects of the game you actually learn a shit ton,” said Andrew Rankin, a student in History in the Digital Age.

At the start of class, while the computer is being set up to play, Jordan presents the submissions based on the previous week’s game. These submissions are primarily memes. Some memes in the class were described as “savage.” The memes aim to poke fun at other groups or roles.

On top of the memes, submissions can also include bills and research all based on historical ideas.

Following this, the class then goes into the national anthem for their land, “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede, as the flag of their land is shown on the screen. While nearly everyone stood, The Ungoverned took a knee, appropriate to their ideology and with timeliness of modern society.

For bonus points, students are encouraged to dress according to their roles or ideology. The classroom was filled with armbands, sombreros and Marxists in uniform. Jordan even cites one of his students as going above and beyond as she is involved in the world of cosplay outside of class.

Ilheum Lee, a political science and history major, wears a sombrero as part of his political affiliation in the Civilization V game Dr. Jordan uses to teach his history lecture. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

But every student is fully involved in the game. While the side chatter was almost constantly going, all of it was relevant and served as a part of the decision-making process for each role and ideology.

There were a bunch of silly phrases shouted during the class but not one was irrelevant. This includes “culture doesn’t do you much good if you’re dead,” and “USS Memetown got destroyed.”

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This idea of incorporating technology into the classroom is nothing new. There have been so many examples of it such as The Oregon Trail simulation and Cool Math Games.

Similarly, Jordan seeks to incorporate these technological ideas into K-12 schools and programs.

“A lot of our students go into social studies certifications and want to become teachers themselves so the idea of bringing games and immersive learning into the classroom is certainly something we’re really interested in,” Jordan said.

In the past, Jordan has done programs like this, including creating a virtual simulation of Denver in 1905 with collaboration with The Denver Public Library. This program has since left and developed into an internship program.

However, classes like this do potentially make traditional learners nervous. Mixing up a class so that it is not just standard lecture and textbook reading can leave some feeling anxious and constantly asking “how will I be graded?”

Jordan’s response is that it serves as a way to push existing boundaries while also creating an opportunity for peer teaching and learning.

“I try to step back as much as possible,” Jordan said.

Jordan calls this program “ImmerCiv,” like “immersive” and “civilization” pushed together.

“That’s the idea,” Jordan said. “Immersive learning, multi faceted, multi-layered learning in the classroom to really be able to open their eyes to new ways of looking at information and new ways of doing research and sharing that and doing it in a fun and exciting way that really grabs their attention.”