BY HANNAH THOMAS
Jessica Onove couldn’t sleep. After weeks of debating and negotiating, the trial was the next day. Her classmates would get to decide whether or not she was beheaded.
More accurately, she was worried whether or not her character, Thomas Cromwell, would be beheaded in the class reaction game.
Onove was one of the students who decided to take “The Power of Tradition, the Forces of Change,” one of the first-year seminars offered last fall, taught by English professor Elizabeth Robertson. This class is one of several classes at Drake University that are styled after a game.
Robertson has been teaching these classes, called “role immersion” or “reacting” classes, for about a decade. She discovered them through a faculty seminar.
“I was a little skeptical at first, but I became intensely involved in the game,” Robertson said. “I’ve taught it ever since.”
Reacting classes are centered on a specific event or time period in history. Before the game begins, students are assigned a role they will fill throughout the entire process. These roles depend upon the game, but are often based on well-known historical figures. After that, the students control what happens.
“The game is never scripted,” Robertson said. “Once the game starts, the students run the class.”
The professor becomes the “game master” and focuses on making sure the students are behaving in the way they should for the setting of the game. Sometimes the professor will pass notes or send e-mails nudging a student to bring something up in class, but they will never interrupt the game.
Throughout the course, students will have papers that they write, both in-character and as themselves. These include speeches, argumentative papers and reflection papers at the end of the course.
Public speaking is also a big part of the course, as students present evidence and ideas to advance their characters’ agendas throughout the game.
“It was stressful and intense,” said Katy Weidner, another student in Robertson’s course last semester.
Another role-immersion class came to Drake this semester: a history course taught by professors Karen Leroux and Amahia Mallea.
“I’m excited by how much learning I am seeing before my eyes,” Leroux said.
Just five weeks into the semester, she already saw improved discussion questions in her students.
“I think the power of asking a good question can be really creative and inspiring,” Leroux said.
These courses do more than teach students to ask good questions. They also help students learn to think critically about the information they receive, conduct complete and accurate historical research and succeed in public speaking.
Alexis Cruz, a student in Leroux’s class, is excited for the historical content of the class.
“You get the feeling of the actual people involved in history rather than the overarching themes,” Cruz said.
Students in this class are completely immersed in the history of the time they are studying. The goal is to try to see the world from their characters’ eyes. The learning is not confined to the classroom.
“We spent so much time outside of class on our roles, especially when two or three of us were together,” Onove said. “It felt so real by the end.”
“It’s something that everyone should experience at least once.