turnbull

Greta Turnbull's philosophy classes participate in "Reacting to the Past", a learning style that incorporates acting and role playing.

Finding the balance between having both a fun and productive learning environment can be a challenge, although Greta Turnbull, an assistant professor of philosophy at GU, is able to do just that through a learning strategy called "Reacting to the Past."

This strategy is similar to a role playing game such as "Mafia" or "Dungeons and Dragons." Turnbull assigns each student with a character to research and later play in the class.

Students spend a month preparing for their role, learning tactics and strategies to become the character they play throughout the class. When enrolled in the course, students learn the core skills taught in philosophy while studying a specific role and giving presentations. 

“The thing that Gonzaga does so well, that I love, is that every faculty member I know, we are always trying to think through 'how do I make this information I'm giving, especially in the core, valuable to my students?'” Turnbull said. “How do I help them see that it helps them in their real life and I think reacting is an absolutely fantastic way to do that because becoming these people helps in ways to see in which…these issues relate to you.” 

While teaching at Boston College, Turnbull became aware of this learning technique and began implementing it into her lessons.  

Turnbull began to build her own games for her classes. As more games were created, Turnbull found herself researching how 'Reacting to the Past' is connected throughout the nation. With time, she has been able to build a community both within her students, as well as other professors and philosophers who use this technique.  

“I was teaching a logic class, and I started falling in love with the way games really helped motivate my students to participate in class or engage in the material in a way that was creative,” Turnbull said. “You want them to be able to have the opportunity to interact with the material, not because I said they should but because they want to.” 

The course is mainly student-led, promoting students to work skillfully with others. Turnbull hopes the course will help students overcome any issues they may have with public speaking. Students are required to work with peers in order to convince one another to pass certain laws. 

Students receive grade points by achieving their character's objectives, such as certain laws being passed. In order to "win," a student's character must get what they would have wanted in history. 

“We rewind the clock, pretend that whatever happened in that movement in history never happened, and you get to decide and work out with people what happens,” Turnbull said.

Overall, the course has been positively accepted by students. Time in class is spent enjoying the learning environment on top of a deep understanding of the material. 

“It gives you the understanding that you need to have prepared in order to succeed as opposed to sitting and being passive," said senior Caroline Hamm. "You have to actively be a part of the learning experience. You have to be prepared, you have to be ready. People will take advantage of you if you don’t know what you're talking about. It can get intense.” 

Hamm felt the excitement in preparing for the course and was happy to recommend the class to any student looking for a philosophy class. 

“I like how it’s competitive, and you have to do a lot of detailed research," Hamm said. "It makes you want to understand the material, as a different motivation. That really pushes you to learn [the material] for the competition as opposed to a test.”

Catherine Brown is a staff writer. 

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