New Blog/Homepage

January 23, 2009

A little while back I merged this blog with my other blog onto

So if you want to see what I am up to these days you can find new posts there.

Conversation Piece For THATCamp

May 31, 2008

This is just a quick post to get out a first pass at a rubric for assessing games for use in history classrooms for THATCamp. Click the image to see a bigger, more readable version.
History Games Rubric First Draft

Most approaches to evaluating games, or at least most of the approaches I have come across are not discipline specific, and I think that is a really bad thing. Even within the humanities each discipline has a distinct epistemology, distinct set of goals for teaching, and a distinct role to play in curricula.

The rubric is my attempt to bring together existing models of reviewing both games and historical works and adapting them to needs of a history classroom. Most videogame reviews are written for the consumer. They answer the question, should I buy this game? Historical book reviews serve a different propose. First, like the game reviews they tell the historian whether or not they need to buy the book. Beyond that the reviews are a forum for critiquing the work, often the original author will respond to the criticism. In the altruistic sense the reviews are a critical tool in refining our understanding of the past, helping define future paths for scholarship.

In reviewing games as educational tools we are fundamentally asking a different set of questions. For the purpose of Playing history the most direct audience is teachers and the question the review should answer is should I use this in my classroom, and if so in what capacity and how should it be integrated.

Many of the issues in games reviews come into play in a sideways sort of way. One of the biggest values of games is in the literature is the notion that they are engaging, a rich way to get kids involved in learning. I think much of that richness comes from the very features that make a game commercially viable. The story line, the graphics, difficulty, soundtrack etc. are all relevant to the value of the game.

Similarly the historical book review offers some good functions. The viewpoint of the work, its historicity. Beyond a resource for teachers, one of the ultimate goals of Playing History is to build a network that can offer substantive feedback for developers. In this capacity it would be ideal for these reviews to comment on what the game does in relation to other games and where it takes the field.

Another day, Another blog,

November 12, 2007

File this under shameless plug. My fiance and I, in part inspired by this course have started a new blog. Posts at, will explore the history of children’s non-fiction literature. You can see the first few posts. The first post explains what its all about, the second analyzes a few images from children’s books about curie and Albert Einstein, the third post takes a quick look at kids books about Osama bin Laden. If you like what you see consider adding it to your daily feeds!

How Research Databases Changed My Life!

November 11, 2007

Does anyone else remember the joy of the first moment when you realized what Proquest’s Historical New York Times does? Sitting in a library resource presentation, the librarian clicked in the little search box and in a few seconds was searching the entire full text of the hundred some years of history of the New York Times. Not only is it a fantastic way to kill a weekend, as a historian interested in twentieth century America its a indispensable first stop for almost any research project.

In particular, these sorts of databases provide a amazing platform for jump-starting projects. For a specific example when I first started exploring children’s books about Marie Curie and Albert Einstein I made a brief virtual stop at the OCLC’s Worldcat. From their advanced search pane I was able to search for the keyword “Albert Einstein”, and only English language juvenile literature. I could then sort and search them, (This was one of those moments where Zotero would have been a godsend) but most importantly the OCLC counted them for me. When I did the same search for Marie Curie I found, much to my surprise that there are more children’s books about Curie than Albert Einstein, or for that matter any other scientist. By switching Juvenile to non-Juvenile in my search perimeters it was easy to see that this is exactly the opposite of trends in books about scientists for a adult audience. (Yes I know “Adult Audience” is a clumsy term, it is really too bad that ‘adult biographies’ sounds like something that would be bought at an adult bookstore)

With about half an hour of work I had acquired information about over a thousand books, cataloged the information, and was already brimming with questions all because of the amazing aggregate power of Worldcat. Now this was by no means definitive, and I did end up spending 7 hours paging through the 19 editions of the H. W. Wilson Company’s Children’s Catalog on a upper floor of an obscure library finding out which of these books were recommended to libraries over the last hundred years, but I may not have had the impulse to do so if not for the quick and easy search power of Worldcat.

In short both examples demonstrate the way the research database has transformed how we start projects. I will post a few more links with some other ideas for ways things have changed tomorrow!

A Use Case for Playing History: Games for the Classroom

September 24, 2007

Kevin Ryan a 9th grade world history in Fairfax Virginia is planing out a unit on Vikings. Looking over his lectures and activities he realizes it would be great to have his students spend half a lesson using a game or interactive to introduce the subject . Kevin logs on to playing history and searches for Vikings, specifying that his students have 30 minuets for the game or simulation. Because he already has an account with Playing History the results are tailored for him, only returning games relevant to a 9th grade audience. The search returns several resources, each listing weather they have attached lesson plans or links to lesson plans in sites like Yahoo Teachers or Teach Ade. Because the searches privilege freely available web games and games with positive reviews from other teachers the BBC’s Game Viking Quest is one of the first search results. When the Kevin clicks on Viking quest he can see reviews from other teachers, the beginning of lesson plans from sites like Yahoo Teachers and Teach Ade, related content from Teacher Tube and the filtered by his ip address the Virginia State Standards and National Standards that the game engages with. The most salient feature of this page however is a screenshot of the game linking directly to the game, which Kevin can now preview. If he decides the game is useful he can email the games information to his class, save it to his calendar, or add it to his website or account with a variety of other teacher web services, all with just the clicks.

Time from Kevin starting his search for the resource to finding a game or simulation which fits his specific needs: Two Minuets.