The title here says it all. I had my students play games in my class to interesting results. The class was Roman archaeology, I had my students explore reconstructions of Roman archaeological sites, look at 3D models, and play together in the games that have been made for major Roman sites. It was certainly a hit, at least according to in class feedback.

I used findings from academic research to guide my implementation of these concepts in the classroom. My class met twice a week, in person. On the first meeting of the week, I give a more typical lecture of the topic, then the second meeting of the week, we looked at 3D reconstructions and scans, games, and even a film made by digital archaeologists using 3D reconstructions and narrative. The reason for the different experiences was because those are the easily discoverable materials and I wanted to see how the different types of experiences worked for the class.

All in all, my students seemed to enjoy the interactivity of the experiences. This isn’t the surprise. A lot of research has been done showing that interaction with the digital versions of archaeological sites and artifacts is more engaging, exciting, and interesting than simply reading. But what I did find interesting is that the digital tours were more exciting for the students than the other digital experiences. 

The tours, mostly coming from Bernard Fisher’s Rome Reborn series, were non-linear and included an interactive map to take you to a specific location, typically a 360 photo from the 3D reconstruction and sometimes a 360 photo of the actual site at it stands today. Each stop was narrated by Dr. Frischer himself and packed full of information that we had mostly already covered in the previous class lecture. The implication here is that the information presented wasn’t necessarily new to the students, but they were seemingly much more engaged with this form of educational lecture. Additionally, I allowed to group to pick specific map locations and had the class instruct me on what to do next so that I could give the students some agency on what they wanted to learn about.

The finding that virtual tours that mix modern 360 photos with 360 images of the reconstruction being the most exciting part of the class was shocking. I thought students would have wanted to play in a game space related to the topic of Roman archaeology that we were studying that week, rather than take a tour. For most of the class, the lectures were not the part of the class that they were looking forward to, though it was expressed that some of the students preferred the traditional lecture methods to the digital implementations. 

The other part about this that was unexpected was that the students wanted to engage through me with the material. I had made available the websites and Steam links to the games and tours so students could find the materials themselves. For the most part, as is typical with assigned readings, the links on our Canvas page were largely ignored. Unless there was a specific assignment attached to the digital materials, the students didn’t seem to want to engage with the digital materials outside of class. I expect that, after our class, the students would look at the links and select those which were of particular interest.

This trial for the digital games in the classroom has shown me that undergraduate students in higher education do not necessarily find games as engaging as tours, but the tours and reconstructions are more engaging than lectures for most students. I do want to note that the vast majority of students in this class were history majors, so there was already an interest in learning about Roman archaeology more than non-history majors. These students may have simply been interested in the material enough that the virtual tours were more exciting.

Another interesting finding was that the 3D reconstruction included with a linear narrative showed less interest than the virtual tours. The narrative engaged some people but other students stated that they found it a bit distracting. I’ve begun to wonder if narratives are indeed the most effective way to teach history. Certainly, it is effective for me and it is true for academic writing that using narrative tends to engage readers more. But do undergraduate history majors find narrative to be the most effective way to engage with ancient history? It seems like it is a mixed bag. 

There is quite a bit to be researched here in a full-scale academic study. This implementation of digital engagement in the class shows that there is a difference in the types of audiences. It is possible that games are most effective outside of the classroom setting while virtual tours are most effective in the classroom. Perhaps, virtual tours are more effective in classroom settings than I had originally thought. Similarly, I wonder if the regular implementation of the digital makes it less appealing when compared to traditional classroom activities, specifically in higher education. After all, these are students who get to pick their classes, so they have to have some existing interest in the material to register. Regardless, it is an interesting finding and certainly should be further explored. 

—Kaitlyn Kingsland, Archaeogaming
22 January 2022