Anne Frank Confronts Queen Isabella: Learning Phenomena in Historical, Cultural and Social On-Line Simulation Games

Session Title: Anne Frank Confronts Queen Isabella: Learning Phenomena in Historical, Cultural and Social On-Line Simulation Games

Chairs: Jennifer Killham and Miriam Raider-Roth (University of Cincinnati)

I’m at the AERA Conference 2012, and finally getting to blog a conference since I started my new job. My first session is on online simulation games. It started with an argument between two of the presenters dressed and acting as Queen Isabella and Anne Frank (shown posed after the session). 

They have a site called Place Out of Time (POOT) – and has a sister project called Jewish Court of All Time (JCAT). The JCAT project grew out of POOT and attempts to create the same type of opportunities for Jewish day schools.

It’s a great project based at the University of Michigan (yay connections to my roots), and is also a partnership between higher ed and K12 (always exciting!) and a partnership with the Center for Studies in Jewish Education and Culture at the University of Cincinnati (yes! Distance cross-institution collaboration!).

They have lots of people involved: project directors, middle school students, action researchers…

From the University Professor’s View

Presenter: Jeff Stanzler, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
Paper Co-Authors:
Michael Fahy, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor; Jeff P. Kupperman, University of Michigan – Flint)

These are Interactive Communications and Simulations at the University of Michigan. They are trying to create web-based writing projects and simulations that have challenging and dynamic environments.

Courses taught at the U of M and the U of Cincinnati with a university course that accompanies it. The undergraduate and graduate level students are mentoring the middle/high school students in the interaction. How cool is that?! So many possibilities and ideas are coming to mind.

All of the scenarios are based on a trial scenario and each participant comes as a historical, literary or invented characters – and to use the wisdom of history to do purposeful intellectual work. There is a dynamic story built with public and private discussions / interactions among the students. This scenario also includes evaluation of historical evidence. Interaction!! Need some ways to build interaction into online learning? Good ideas here!

Important points to make this scenario / simulation work includes learning communities and self as learner – students work through identity issues looking at who they are and who their character is – and need to do that in a safe way. It’s also important to have a playful  spirit while trying on different voices; and to experience the work of the historian.

If students are portraying a character talking to another character out of time, there is no way they can find the right answer. It generates serious moments of original research to try to imagine what they might say to each other based on historical evidence.

Reference: R.G. Collingwood: using historical imagination. (That’s not the actual reference but an interesting analysis of it.)

In the weekly meetings, the professor and students discuss where the learning moments are.

In working through portraying characters, they start with discussions that have them describe what items their character has brought. Then they examine issues (such as reparations for a historical wrong), and then examine a primary source document of historical evidence – to think from the character’s point of view.

These discussions are all done in an asynchronous discussion board – their pictures are representing

In the class, Jeff works with the mentors (graduate/undergraduate) to have them think through how to get the students to respond in a way that is more thoughtful – and to build on the comments students have had so far.

From the Communication Researcher’s View

Presenter: Jonathan D’Angelo, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Paper Co-Authors:
Susan Kline, The Ohio State University

Reflecting on the simulation scenario: Online educational games are becoming an increasingly popular way to increase students’ subject knowledge while engaging them in critical thinking. Students these days aren’t very good at arguing, but these are important skills. This scaffolded interaction is a way to push them harder. So for example – the conversations are actually between a middle/high school student and the undergraduate/graduate student – this way students are talking with someone a bit smarter than them to push them harder in their conversation.

The research part of this project was hypothesizing that students would express greater awareness of other perspectives and that their argumentation skills would increase. As might be expected, they  found a significant increase in awareness of other perspectives and argumentation skills over the 10 weeks of the course/project.

Theoretical explanation: “Cognitive apprenticeship is taking place… instruction is mediated by mentors who engage in conversation via online communications – the mentors are showing students rather than explaining how to perform in an argument.”

Teachers don’t generally use Place Out of Time to teach argumentation – they use it for world history. But this skill seems to be a by-product.

We are thinking of rewriting the Griggs History of World Civilizations classes, and this type of simulation would be an excellent format to include or to base the class on.

From the Teachers’ View

Presenter: Aimee DeNoyelles, University of Central Florida

Paper Co-Author: Miriam B. Raider-Roth, University of Cincinnati

The teachers participating in this project were from Canada, Florida, and other locations across the country. In addition to the simulation, they had an online learning community for the teachers who were using JCAT in their classroom. Almost all of them had never even used a simulation in their classroom or tried to integrate it in their curriculum.

They used a WordPress site to host an online asynchronous discussion (JCAT Talk) for teachers to talk to each other as well as Adobe Connect for realtime conversations (they used video, poll, collaborative note taking, and chat. The teachers voted on the topics they would discuss each time. Adobe Connect was nice for live; but it was incredibly hard to get the time zones lined up. A few mic issues were challenging also.

Because they tried both, they had some questions about which method was better, so they did an action research project to think about their process. They did a mini-cycle of research – analyzing each week’s communication – both JCAT Talk and Adobe Connect – and used that for the research as well as to plan the next week’s interactions.

Teachers reflected on “self-as-teacher”: juggling their roles as character and identity, as well as teacher responsibilities – how it works; and to discuss the challenges.  Challenging and practical reflection happened more often in Adobe Connect. Teachers also reflected as the “students-in-relation”. Connect allowed for immediate feedback when discussing issues such as how to help students maintain their characters’ voices. Teachers bridged between the mentors and the students.

They recommended using the Connect and Talk (synchronous and asynchronous) to be complementary – not duplication. Some people preferred the Connect and some preferred the JCAT Talk. Connect was where they shared challenges more than in the asynchronous JCAT Talk. I’m really interested in this comparison and use of both synchronous and asynchronous and people who are thinking through which to use  when and what the challenges are for each.

From the Action Researchers’ View

Presenters: Jennifer Elaine Killham, Susan P. Tyler, University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati’s contribution to this project is the action research of the mentoring relationship – particularly from the mentors’ perspectives. They started the research as participant observers, then analyzed the posts, interviewed mentors, and then did detailed analysis.

The mentors were University of Michigan pre-service teachers.  Interesting that the researchers are at one university and the participants are at another. This is the type of cross-institution collaboration that I’m seriously interested in!

Mentors were encouraged to bring a complex subject such as geopolitical conflict to the playground where students could understand: fair and not fair. Same concept – at a level that students can understand.


  • For research formats and presentations at AERA: That one project can have three research projects examining different angles of the rich online community.
  • A little thing: interesting to see what seemed to be an age difference in the look of the PowerPoints. The younger researchers seem to be influenced by Presentation Zen in how their Powerpoints look. And from a newbie perspective – how a PowerPoint of just visuals makes you listen more carefully because the words aren’t there in bullets where you can read them faster than the presenter can talk.
  • Creative destruction: the idea of using new high end technology rich learning environments to destroy other low end teaching practices.  (via Discussant Jeremiah Isaac Holden, University of Wisconsin – Madison)
  • Wow! For my first 2012 AERA session, I’m super inspired and my brain is swimming with ideas.
  • Thinking about a small private university where I work (Andrews University), do we have the support and resources to pull off a collaboration like this between multiple universities and supporting many K12 schools? I hope when things settle down with our merger that we could do at least one major project like this that we run and improve every year.
  • In looking at where all the presenters and paper authors that work, I’m thinking about collaboration: There are two “heavyweights” in the collaboration whose work spaces make room for significant time on the projects – U of M and U of Cinncinati. But around them are many others contributing – and there is mentorship going on with the professors and doctoral students, as well as the relationships with the K12 schools/teachers.
  • Every “situation” that arises out of the scenarios is seen as an opportunity. An opportunity for learning. Every student has an adult keeping an eye on them as mentorship.


Papers presented at this session were

1.    Mentoring in Online Simulation: Shaping Preservice Teachers for Tomorrow’s Roles Jennifer Elaine Killham, University of Cincinnati; Susan P. Tyler, University of Cincinnati; Miriam B. Raider-Roth, University of Cincinnati

2.    Being an “Agent Provocateur”: Utilizing Online Spaces for Teacher Professional Development in Virtual Simulation Games Aimee DeNoyelles, University of Central Florida; Miriam B. Raider-Roth, University of Cincinnati

3.    Argumentative Discourse Skill Development in Online Educational Simulations: How George Carlin Can Teach Critical Thinking Jonathan D’Angelo, University of Wisconsin – Madison; Susan Kline, The Ohio State University

4.    “A Placement at Masada”: Supporting Novice Teachers in the Jewish Court of All Time Project Michael Fahy, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor; Jeff P. Kupperman, University of Michigan – Flint; Jeff Stanzler, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

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