Reacting to the Past

What is Reacting to the Past?

Developed at Barnard College, Reacting to the Past (RTTP) is an exemplary undergraduate curriculum that places students at the center of the classroom by having them represent important figures and factions from particular historical moments in a role-immersion game. Tasked with using persuasive writing and public speaking to accomplish their character and faction goals, students utilize relevant primary sources to understand their roles and formulate successful strategies to win.

In doing so, RTTP is a high-impact, active learning pedagogy with demonstrable, evidence-based, profound learning outcomes. Reacting to the Past has been implemented at over 250 colleges and universities throughout the United States and has been proven to enhance student motivation, critical thinking, moral reasoning, and consideration of divergent perspectives, as well as profoundly impacting student and faculty growth and independence.

This award-winning pedagogy transcends traditional disciplinary divisions and gives students a unique opportunity to engage in active learning. Games may be embedded in otherwise traditional courses, or two games may be played in a single Reacting course. The instructor, Gamemaster, introduces the “game” through a series of traditional lectures and discussions. Once the game begins, students run each session while the instructor advises and guides them on research topics pertinent to the game and grades their oral and written work. In character, students conduct research and then deliver persuasive speeches in an assembly as they debate and negotiate issues of the day. Reacting effectively draws students into the past, promotes engagement with big ideas, and fosters intellectual and academic skills. Students set aside preconceptions and immerse themselves in ways of thinking markedly different from those with which they are familiar.

I have long been a supporter of using “Reacting to the Past” materials in the UGA curriculum. Having participated at least once in a “reacting” event, I recognize that it can support cross-disciplinary thinking, which is a critical element of a 21st-century education. “Reacting to the Past” involves students in the skills that we know are essential in the modern economy – critical thinking, teamwork, problem-solving, and of, course, content knowledge. I recommend it highly.

University of Georgia President Jere W. Morehead

Reacting to the Past was introduced at UGA by Professor Nancy Felson (Department of Classics) in the Fall of 2003 as a two-year pilot project, to gradually integrate the pedagogy into the undergraduate curriculum. It is funded primarily by the Office of the Vice President for Instruction, with additional support from the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Honors Program, and the Willson Center for the Arts and Humanities. Since 2016, the Division of Academic Enhancement has housed Reacting to the Past at UGA. As a founding Reacting Consortium, Inc. member, UGA has been a proud leader in implementing peer education within Reacting to the Past’s active learning pedagogy. As part of UGA’s larger Active Learning Initiative, our Reacting to the Past program is committed to providing our faculty with all the support they need to successfully embed this curriculum into their courses, including mentoring partnerships with experienced Reacting faculty.