By: Vincent Thibeault
Professeur de Philosophie
I discovered Reacting to the Past pedagogy while doing research for my college on gamification and education. I was looking for a way to energize my philosophy courses, and decided to see whether using games in the classroom would work. I attended the Serious Play conference in Montreal in 2019 and took part in a game demonstration with Tony Crider, where we had to decide on the status of Pluto. I was taken aback by the energy level that I felt in that workshop. After trying out different ways to gamify my class, I had the feeling that, right then,I had stumbled upon a very promising teaching pedagogy. Maybe that was what I was looking for: a new and almost magical way of teaching that would take my classes to another level. I had to try it.
I consulted the Reacting Consortium website and was thrilled to see the plethora of games offered. Understandably, several of them were centered on the history of the United States, but quite a few were more internationally-minded, which was more relatable for my target audience. I presented the pedagogy to my colleague and research partner Frédérique Desharnais, who, despite being skeptical at the beginning about gamification, decided to join the project, even if it meant quite a bit of work implementing it in our classrooms.
The Quebec CEGEP education curriculum requires an “Ethics and politics” class be taught, and we decided to integrate in “The Needs of Others”, a Reacting scenario based on the Rwandan crisis of 199,4 where players reproduce the UN Security Council and must debate what to do. The game spotlighted the French-Canadian general Romeo Dallaire and did not demand an extensive knowledge of the American constitution.
Nothing was in French, so we needed to translate most of it, which seemed at first an incredibly demanding feat as we were also teaching almost full time. We asked the author of the game, Kelly McFall, if we could translate his book, and he graciously agreed. We contacted the editor and publisher, and asked if we could use the translations legally by paying a fee per student, and they generously accepted as well. The cost was then included in the printed textbook price paid by the students.
We did not have the funding to pay a professional translator, and we wondered if achieving our goal was even possible. However, after doing some research online, we discovered the European platform deepl.com, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to translate texts. The quality of the translation was impressive, and, despite having to carefully reread and rework the texts to correct mistakes, a large part of the work was done painlessly and automatically. This program allowed us to complete the translations at a rate that was unimaginable at the start of the project.
Between the textbooks, the handouts and the role sheets, translating all the material involved in a Reacting game was quite time-consuming, even with the help of AI. We had to scan the book, extract the text via Adobe Acrobat Reader, put it in a word document, and readjust the layout. We then passed it through the Deepl translating service and reviewed everything carefully. For the Core Text sections, most were already available in French online, so we just made sure we used the right versions.
After all this work, the time finally came for my first Reacting class in the second part of the winter semester 2020. Then, the Covid pandemic started, colleges in Montreal had to move to 100% online, and the project was in jeopardy. Thankfully, with the help of fast internet, reliable wifi and the community of the Facebook group Reacting Faculty Lounge, I managed to get enough support to move everything online on Zoom and Slack.
At the end of the semester, while many of my colleagues were complaining about the low quality of online teaching, I had found a very effective pedagogy that adapted to online learning marvelously. I received some of the most positive comments of my career from students who really enjoyed the intensity and dramatic qualities of Reacting.
Since then, Frédérique and I have been busy translating other games. So far, alongside “The Needs of Others,” we have translated “Threshold to Democracy,” “Food or Famine 2002,” and “Enlightenment in Crisis.” We are sharing these translations with the Reacting Consortium community, and you can find them all here. We are glad to share this ground-breaking pedagogy.
About the Author
Vincent Thibeault obtained his master's degree from the University of Montreal and has been teaching philosophy at Collège André-Grasset in Montreal, Canada, since 2017. He realized that he needed to change direction within his own teaching practice and explore other pedagogical methods to engage with his students on a deeper level. The integration of technology in education and the gamification of teaching are his most recent areas of interest in pedagogy. He uses simulations from the Reacting to the Past series in the classroom, a method which he hopes to introduce and promote within the French speaking world of education.
Blog Author Questionnaire
One word to describe faculty: Cooperative
Two words to describe your school: Innovative, Open-minded
Three words to describe students: Passionate, Courageous, Enthusiastic
Four words to describe favorite games: Competitive, Complex, Strategic, Intense
Five words to describe Reacting: Dramatic, Immersive, Interactive, Nail-biting, Revolutionary