Reacting to the Past was introduced at UGA by Professor Nancy Felson (Department of Classics) in Fall 2003 as a two-year pilot project, with the aim of gradually integrating 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, Honors Program, and Willson Center for the Arts and Humanities. Since 2016, Reacting to the Past at UGA has been housed in the Division of Academic Enhancement.
Reacting has been introduced into Residential Colleges, Student Learning Communities, First-Year Experiences, Freshman and Sophomore composition classes, and multicultural classes. The program has been shown to virtually eliminate absenteeism, inspire students to become agents in their own learning, and win overwhelmingly positive feedback from students.
This award winning pedagogy transcends traditional disciplinary divisions and gives students a unique opportunity to engage in active learning. Invented by Professor Mark C. Carnes, Barnard College, to enliven his American History classes, it now is available across the curriculum.
Reacting consists of elaborate games, set in a specific time and place. Students play sustained roles in a structured 4-week game, speaking and writing in character on issues of the day. Games may be embedded in otherwise traditional courses, or two games may be played in a single Reacting course. The instructor, as 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, over a four-week period, 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. Students engage in active learning, collaborate with other students, develop citizenship skills at a time and place other than their own here and now.
Over 250 colleges and universities use Reacting pedagogy in some manner: either as a mandatory freshman experience, a capstone course in one’s major, or an elective. 19 Reacting games are available and twelve more are in development. Feedback has been wildly enthusiastic.