1. A Window to the Past: Using Augmented Reality Games to
Support Historical Inquiry1
James Mathews, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
Recent trends in history education emphasize the importance of engaging students in the
process of doing rather than simply consuming history (Holt, 1990; Wineburg, 2001).
One way to provide students with an opportunity to do history is by developing historical
simulations that engage them in the historical inquiry process. While there is a long
tradition of using simulations in schools, advancements in computer and communication
technology (e.g., cell phones, GPS-navigation systems, video and computer games)
provide unique opportunities for designing and enacting simulations. This study explores
the potential of one such technology, Augmented Reality gaming, to engage students in
historical inquiry by developing their ability to identify and analyze the competing
historical perspectives surrounding a specific historical event.
Recent trends in history education emphasize the importance of engaging students
in the process of doing rather than simply consuming history. Proponents of this approach
argue that instead of simply memorizing a series of names, dates, and places that support
one singular historical “truth,” students should learn how to pose inquiry questions,
select, interpret, and analyze evidence, solve authentic problems, and develop their own
historical interpretations (Holt, 1990; Wineburg, 2001). A subset of the research
surrounding this approach focuses on developing students’ historical empathy or
perspective taking skills. Among other things, the research surrounding historical
empathy seeks to: (1) conceptualize and define historical empathy (Barton & Levtstik,
2004; Davis, Yeager, & Foster, 2001); (2) develop methods for assessing students’ use of
empathetic thinking (Kohlmeier, 2006; Jensen, 2008); (3) understand the multiple
variables that hinder students’ ability to use empathy as part of the historical inquiry
process (Barton & Levtstik, 2004; Davis, Yeager, & Foster, 2001); (4) examine the role
that teachers play in developing students’ historical empathy (Grant, 2001); and (5)
evaluate and improve the design of instructional interventions aimed at stimulating and
developing students’ historical empathy (Portal, 1998; Foster; 2001).
One strategy for developing students’ historical empathy is to engage them in
historical simulations that allow them to investigate an historical event or time period
from multiple perspectives. While there is a long tradition of using simulations for
teaching, advancements in computer and communication technology (e.g., cell phones,
GPS-navigation systems, video and computer games) provide unique opportunities for
designing and enacting technology-mediated simulations (Squire & Jan, 2007; Klopfer,
2008). Within the domain of history, recent research suggests that game-based historical
simulations have the potential to create rich problem spaces that provide opportunities for
students to practice their historical empathy skills and develop their understanding of
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association San Diego,
CA April 2009
2. history as an interpretation of events instead of a set of facts or a singular “historical
truth” (Squire & Durga, in press).
The ongoing design-based research study described here explores the potential of
a specific simulation, Dow Day, to engage students in the historical inquiry process and
develop their ability to weigh competing historical perspectives surrounding a specific
historical event. The game is embedded in a larger inquiry unit that seeks to stimulate
students’ empathetic thinking and develop their ability to critically read and interpret
historical evidence (Portal, 1987; Wineburg, 2001; Nokes, Dole, & Hacker, 2007).
Dow Day is an Augmented Reality game designed to provide students an
opportunity to experience a specific historical event from a first person perspective2. The
game revolves around a series of anti-Dow Chemical Company protests that took place
on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in October 1967. The protests were
intended to raise awareness about Dow Chemical’s production of napalm and stop the
company from conducting student interviews on campus. In the game, players role-play
as journalists who have been asked to investigate the root causes of the protests and
report on why and how they turned violent (Squire, et al., 2007; Maraniss, 2002). The
game itself is played at UW-Madison at the actual location where the Dow Chemical
protests took place back in 1967. During the game the students use a GPS-based
handheld computer to conduct virtual interviews, obtain and read primary documents,
and view historical video clips and photos. At the end of the game they are required to
write a newspaper article from the perspective of the newspaper they work for and select
two photographs that will run with their story. The goal is that by completing the
curriculum and game challenges students will develop a situated understanding of
essential media literacy principles (e.g., photography as a construction of reality) and
develop an experiential understanding of the problems and challenges that journalists
face when attempting to investigate and report on events, especially during times of war
(Squire, et al., 2007). In addition, the game and curriculum aim to develop students’
ability to use historical empathy in order to understand the multiple perspectives
surrounding the events and explain the behaviors of the historical actors.
Conceptual / Design Frameworks
Augmented Reality Gaming / Game-Based Learning
Game-based learning is a paradigm that emerged out of situated learning theory.
As such, video games instantiate many contemporary theories of learning and literacy
(Gee, 2004; New London Group, 1996) and provide models for instructional designers
looking to develop game-based interventions for learning (Shaffer, Squire, Halverson, &
The Augmented Reality (AR) games referred to in this paper are place-based games played on a PDA or
similar mobile device that uses a Global Positioning System (GPS) to create a virtual world layered on top
of a real-world context. As players physically move through the real world environment they can track
their location on a GPS-based map that appears on their screen. As they explore the physical environment
or “game space” players can also meet and interview virtual people or “trigger” virtual data (e.g., water
samples, photos, documents, and video clips) that is connected to specific GPS locations (Kloper, et al.,
2003). The game play, which is based around authentic problems (e.g., toxic spills, urban renewal, non-
point pollution), combines the data that players access on their PDA with their physical location in order to
situate the narrative and the challenges in real-world places (Squire, et al., 2007; Holland, et al., 2003).
3. Gee, 2005). Gee (2007), using a socio-cultural view of learning, suggests that educational
designers have a lot to learn from video games. In particular, designers can borrow
models of instruction that guide, shape, and refine learners’ conceptual development
within rich, deeply situated contexts. He argues that games enable learners to take on new
identities and epistemic frames, confront prior understandings, work through problems in
an embodied way, and introduce counter-examples or cases to produce moments of
cognitive dissonance that lead to new understandings. These elements of learning
combine to create situated experiences that become the basis for understanding.
Similarly, Galarneau (2007) argues that games create transformative experiences that
provide contexts, new frameworks, and experiences for understanding phenomena.
Using game-based learning theory as a launching point, a major design goal of the
Dow Day unit is to provide students with the opportunity to inhabit new identities and
interact with the world and the traditional curricular content in new, and hopefully
transformative ways (Shaffer, Squire, Halverson, & Gee 2005). In order to cultivate this
type of experience students role-play as journalists who have been called upon to
participate in a “real-life” investigation (Gee, 2004; Shaffer, 2006). The game and
associated curriculum attempt to situate students’ learning around authentic contexts,
position them as active participants in the journalistic process, and allow them to perform
tasks and use similar language and tools that professional journalists use to investigate
“real-world” problems (Gee, 2004; Shaffer, 2006). As part of this process, the students
read, analyze, and interpret documents (newspaper articles, photographs, charts, graphs,
and videos), pose inquiry questions, and conduct independent research.
The intent, especially considering the limited duration of the game, is not to
assume that the roles will deeply map with the way journalists see and act in the world.
Instead, the goal is to use role-playing and the central game challenge to provide a
context, tasks, and an overall experience that will both engage students and encourage
them to see the event from multiple perspectives, separate them from their own present-
focused positionalities and interpretations (or at least make them aware of these), and
encourage them to consider evidence they might otherwise be less likely to read and
analyze (Barton & Levtsik, 2004; Davis, Yeager, & Foster, 2001).
The design of Dow Day builds on previous research done on AR gaming (Klopfer
& Squire, in press; Squire et al., in press; Squire & Jan, in press). It specifically builds on
the work of Squire and Jan (2007) and Klopfer and Squire (in press), both of which
investigate the potential of AR games to teach students how to conduct scientific
investigations and formulate and defend arguments within specific professional domains.
Klopfer and Squire (in press), for example, found that their AR game, Environmental
Detectives, helped “students understand science as a social practice, as opposed to an
isolated set of facts and procedures”. Squire and Jan (2007), argue that their place-based
AR game, MadCity Mystery, develops students’ scientific literacy skills, especially
scientific argumentation, because it “guides and supports students’ thinking while
enabling them to engage in emotionally meaningful, cognitively complex tasks”. The
design follows Squire and Jan’s (2007) model for incorporating computer and video
game design principles into the design of AR games in order to increase student
engagement and structure the learning that takes place. It goes beyond this previous
work, however, by aligning the game more closely with broader curricular goals and
situating the game within a ten-day gaming curriculum. Some of the key components of
4. the game design include: (1) a compelling task; (2) roles (social configurations); (3)
embedded tools and resources; (4) context and place; and (5) an encompassing activity
system (Squire & Jan, 2007). While their work relates to the study of environmental
science, it provides a framework that can be used to design AR games around a wide-
range of domains and learning goals.
Historical Thinking / Historical Empathy
One of the primary design goals of Dow Day is to actively engage students in the
historical inquiry process by situating their inquiry within an authentic historical problem
space. Brush and Saye (2008), argue that “problem-based learning activities provide
learners with opportunities to move beyond the memorization of discrete facts in order to
critically examine complex problems.” They acknowledge, however, that this “requires
learners to remain engaged in the problem for an extensive period of time, and to weigh
competing perspectives, or critically examine various points of view regarding the
historical problem.” Dow Day attempts to generate this level of commitment by
structuring the students’ inquiry around an historical event and problem space that both
sparks and sustains their interest and provides a narrative arc that pulls individual acts of
historical inquiry together into a coherent, meaningful, and productive process.
Because the game and associated curriculum aims to develop students’ historical
empathy, it relies heavily on the existing research surrounding this area of historical
inquiry. It pays particular attention to research into the design of learning environments
aimed at fostering empathetic thinking and research that explores strategies for assessing
students’ ability to use empathetic thinking.
Historical empathy has been defined in multiple ways. Foster (2001) suggests that
one goal of historical empathy is “to understand people’s actions in the past, by actively
developing an appreciation of the historical context”. However, he also stresses that
historical empathy “does not involve imagination, identification, or sympathy”. Instead,
he argues that it involves developing arguments that are grounded in evidence, but
considered incomplete and tentative. Similarly, according to Jensen (2007), empathy does
not involve understanding or judging historical figures based on contemporary ideals. As
part of their definition, Lee and Ashby (2001) suggest that historical empathy involves
making connections between circumstances, intentions, actions, and consequences.
The design of Dow Day was informed by Foster and Yeager’s (1998) research
surrounding historical empathy and uses their framework, which breaks historical
empathy into the following four interrelated phases:
1. The introduction of an historical event that necessitates some analysis
of the human action. In the game, students explore the actions of
multiple historical actors. They are also encouraged to explore the
complexities within groups of actors and within individual actors. An
example of the former might be getting students to look beyond the
protestors or police officers as a homogenous group and recognizing
the variation within each group. An example of the latter includes
exploring why the chancellor of the university, who was opposed to
the Vietnam War, made the decision to call in city police officers to
remove the protestors.
5. 2. Understanding of the historical context and chronology. The game
attempts to help students understand the context and chronology by
setting the game play in “real time”. That is, by playing the game
from a first person perspective, students are able to develop a sense of
the chronology of the events that took place. Students are also given
additional materials (primary and secondary resources) before and
after the game aimed at building their contextual or “enabling
knowledge” (Rogers, as cited in Foster, 2001, p.172).
3. Analysis of a variety of historical evidence and interpretations. In
following suggestions made by previous research around historical
empathy (and using what was learned from earlier iterations of the
game), students are provided with a range of historical resources
(flyers, interviews, archival video, journals, etc.) representing
different perspectives and interpretations of the events. Because the
students had limited or no experience analyzing primary and
secondary documents, they were given guide sheets to scaffold their
4. Construction of a narrative framework through which historical
conclusions are reached. Students use three primary frameworks for
reaching and communicating historical conclusions: (a) they write a
newspaper article; (b) they participate in small group discussions
where they share their interpretation(s) of the events and discuss why
the events turned violent; and (c) they participate in a game re-design
The design of Dow Day also takes into account Portal’s (1987) and Foster’s
(2001) suggestions for stimulating historical empathy as a means for historical
understanding. Portal proposes a process for developing students’ empathy that includes:
(1) an exploratory stage that allows students to project their own ideas and feelings into
the historical situation; (2) moments or elements of paradox that provide cognitive
dissonance, where students’ pre-existing “scheme of things does not account for the
behaviour of the past”; (3) an appropriate set of primary and secondary resources relevant
to the historical time period and the problem space at hand; (4) the presentation of a
particular person or situation that extends beyond the merely typical to encompass the
unique circumstances of the case; and (5) a two-sided narrative where the inadequately
empathetic relationship between the historical participants leads to misunderstanding,
conflict, and even to tragedy. In his synthesis of the chapters in the book, Historical
Empathy and Perspective Taking in Social Studies, Foster (2001), suggests some key
things to consider when developing students’ empathic understanding in the classroom.
Some of these include: structuring students’ inquiry around a paradoxical or puzzling
situation; developing students’ conceptual background without swamping them;
encouraging students to ask critical questions; structuring students’ analysis without over-
6. scaffolding their thinking and learning; providing opportunities for them to write final
narrative accounts that are rooted in evidence.
Finally, the design of Dow Day considers the research surrounding ways to
measure students’ ability to use historical empathy. Downey (1995) developed a
framework for assessing students’ historical empathy that was further developed and
utilized by Jensen (2008) and Kohlmeier (2006). The framework suggests that students
who exhibit historical empathy should be able to: (1) recognize that the past is different
from the present; (2) understand the context under which the historical events took place;
(3) recognize that there are various perspectives from the past; and (4) use historical
evidence when making arguments and/or writing their newspaper accounts. I also added a
fifth component which looked at students’ ability to recognize how their own perspective
shapes(-ed) the way they look at historical evidence and contexts.
Research Design and Methods
The conceptual frameworks discussed above were used to design the
game/curriculum and develop strategies for assessing students’ historical empathy. This
integrated conceptual framework was then operationalized and tested using a design-
based research methodology. The research design process for Dow Day borrows from
two design methodologies: design-based research (Barab & Squire, 2004; Brown, 1992;
Collins, Joseph & Bielaczyc, 2004) and rapid-prototyping (Tripp & Bichelmeyer, 1990).
While there is overlap between these two models, the main design principles fore-
grounded were: (1) get local stakeholders (educational researchers, teachers, students,
etc.) involved in the design process as “co-designers”; (2) use rapid prototyping in order
to get early and ongoing feedback from stakeholders (Tripp & Bichelmeyer, 1990); (3)
test the design decisions, learning goals, and hypotheses in natural settings (i.e., schools,
classrooms, and game or fieldtrip sites) across numerous iterative cycles with the aim of
developing domain specific understandings; and (4) use each iterations to modify the
design of the game/curriculum and the theoretical frameworks used to conceptualize the
learning that took place (or didn’t take place).
To date, the design of Dow Day includes three iterative design phases that looked
at the interplay between the core game design principles (e.g., role, challenge, resources),
student engagement, and students’ capacity to use historical empathy as part of the
inquiry process. The first and second iterations are briefly presented here in order to
contextualize the third iteration, which is the main focus of this article.
Phase One – Proof of Concept: The main goal of this iteration was to get
the mobile devices in the hands of students in order to see how they
responded to both the technology itself, the user interface and the game
content/challenges. One goal was to identify major flaws in the game
interface and make broad assessments related to student engagement and
historical reasoning. Changes were made at this point to make the game
play more intuitive, integrate more video, and reduce the amount of text.
7. A key consideration was looking at game flow and tracking students’
interest levels as the game unfolded.
Phase Two – Historical Thinking: This iteration looked more closely at
whether Dow Day might prove useful as a context/learning environment
for developing students’ historical inquiry skills. The focus here was to
look at students’ general engagement, but also their willingness to “dig
into” additional resources related to the event and/or historical time period
(e.g., to what extent would they be interested in reading additional
documents outside of the game?). This phase also began to explore the
students’ ability to critically analyze primary documents, use historical
empathy, and develop evidence-based arguments. The key results, which
align with previous research surrounding students’ use of heuristics and
historical empathy were: (1) students were interested in the central
historical problem and motivated to complete the game tasks; (2) by
completing the game activities students were able to recognize and explain
different perspectives surrounding the events, albeit at generalized levels;
(3) students exhibited limited understanding of how to critically use, read
and interpret historical evidence in order to develop historical arguments;
and (4) the students understanding of the historical context was not very
deep, which made it difficult for them to use historical empathy. When
used as a starting point for further questions, however, the game provided
a context for challenging students to think about how their own
perspective(s) shaped their inquiry and interpretations. It also provided a
context for students to explore some of the underlying ethical and moral
issues surrounding and the decisions that individuals and groups made.
Phase Three – Curriculum Integration: Based on findings from the second
iteration, the game was re-designed with the primary goal of encouraging
students to think more critically about the complexities of the time period,
the actors and their actions, and the consequences of these actions. The
changes for phase three were based on findings from phase two, and on
the research surrounding historical empathy and game-based learning. The
key changes included: (1) embedding the game into a larger inquiry unit;
(2) introducing additional contextual information related to the historical
time period and the chronology of events; (3) providing students with
additional resources/evidence representing a wider range of perspectives;
(4) building in more opportunities for students to formally report out their
findings and emergent thinking; (5) integrating instruction/scaffolding to
support students’ ability to analyze historical documents; and (6)
introducing additional contextual information related to the historical time
period and the historical actors.
Dow Day was developed, piloted, and implemented across the three design
iterations mentioned above, each involving a different group of high school students.
8. While I consulted with history teachers when developing the initial design, to date, I have
served as the lead facilitator during each of the interventions. The changes made to the
game and curriculum as a result of this current study, however, will be organized in a
way that will allow teachers to use them in their own classrooms. At that point the
research agenda and theoretical context will be expanding to look at ways that teachers
take up the materials and make use of them to meet their own local needs, perspective,
teaching style, etc.
The third iteration started with ten eleventh and twelfth-grade students from a
small alternative high school in a suburban school district. One of the students, however,
switched to a new school during the study, so data gathered about her was not analyzed
for this study. The nine students in the study included in the analysis include two African-
American students (the only two females), one Hispanic student, and six Caucasian
students. All of the students struggled in traditional school settings for a variety of
reasons. This was the case in History, where seven of the students failed at least one
semester of U.S. History. Only one student reported History as their favorite subject. Six
of the students agreed or strongly agreed that it was important to study history in school,
but only half of those thought that students should be required to pass a U.S. History
course in order to graduate.
The Game and Curriculum Intervention
The game itself, which takes approximately 1.5 hours to play, is designed to be
part of a larger inquiry-based unit. The broader curriculum contains additional resources
(primary and secondary documents) that support and expand what the students learn in
the game. For example, additional contextual information intended to deepen the
students’ understanding of the historical context and chronology. The curriculum utilizes
guide sheets to scaffold students’ analysis of the documents as evidence. The analysis
guides provide a simple framework for helping students practice using sourcing,
corroboration, and contextualization heuristics (Wineburg, 1991; Nokes, Dole, & Hacker,
During the unit, students: (1) read and analyze documents (newspaper articles,
photographs, charts, graphs, and video clips) that provide an initial contextual
understanding of the historical time period from both a local and national perspective; (2)
begin a journal of questions and thoughts that they will use throughout the unit; (3) travel
to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in order to play the game at the actual
location where various protest activities took place; (4) select and analyze additional
historical documents representing a range of perspectives; (5) write a newspaper article
based on the observations and interviews they conducted during the protests; and (6)
participate in a game critique session and make suggestions for how the game and
curriculum could be improved.
Data Sources and Analysis
Key data sources include the artifacts students created during the unit (e.g.,
photographs they took during the game/site visit, notes, and articles they wrote at the end
of the unit), pre- and post-surveys, pre- and post-historical inquiry tasks (e.g., asking
students to analyze an historical document), classroom and in-game discussions and
9. Students’ historical empathy was analyzed using the work of Jensen (2008),
Downey (1995), and Kohlmeier (2006). As such, I looked at the students’ ability to do
the following: (1) recognize that the past is different from the present; (2) understand the
context under which the historical events took place; (3) recognize that there are various
perspectives from the past; and (4) use historical evidence when making arguments
and/or writing their newspaper accounts. I also added a fifth component which looked for
students ability to recognize that their own perspective shapes(-ed) the way they look at
historical evidence and contexts. I attempted to track these identifiers over the course of
the unit in order to identify shifts in students’ ability to think more complexly about the
events and demonstrate historical empathy, especially in relation to particular design
elements. I followed a similar process in analyzing students’ engagement, but focused my
analysis on students’ self-assessments, time off task, increases and decreases in
participation and willingness to complete specific tasks, and the general thoroughness of
Dow Day: A Place-based Augmented Reality Game
The intent of this section of the paper is to provide readers with a sense of how
the game is played. Players start the game by receiving two primary documents. The first
is an excerpt from a newspaper that lists all of the interviews scheduled on campus on the
day the game takes place (October 18, 1967). Noticeably, Dow Chemical is only one of
many companies conducting interviews on campus that day. Why have they been singled
out? The second is a copy of the front page from the Daily Cardinal, a student paper that
highlights some of the key players and perspectives surrounding the planned protests.
The headlines of the paper read, “U Promises Crack-down On Dow Co. Obstructors,”
“SRP Defeats Dow Protest Proposal” and “U Activists Disagree On Demonstrations”
(The Daily Cardinal, 1967). Together, these documents are designed to provide a context
for the protests, create some initial entry points into the simulated time period, frame the
campus as a contested space, and introduce students to the idea that the anti-Dow protests
and the university’s official response were publicly and privately debated, multi-faceted,
and not inevitable. This last point is critical in that our pre-interviews showed that before
playing the game most students (even those who had previously studied the Vietnam War
in school) held solidly black-and-white views of the time period and anti-war protests in
After reading these documents players are given a GPS-equipped PDA with the
game already loaded and paused on the start-up screen. As soon as they tap the start
button players are presented with a brief introductory video and a one-paragraph
introductory text. The short video provides additional background on Dow Chemical and
highlights some of the events leading up to October 18th, including archival footage of
anti-Dow and pro-Dow protests that occurred on campus the day before. The video also
includes short interview clips introducing some of the key characters that players meet
later in the game including; the chief of the university police force, the chancellor, a Dow
Chemical supporter, and students opposed to Dow’s presence on campus. From a
narrative standpoint the goal is to draw players into the emotion surrounding the conflict,
reconfirm the multiple perspectives surrounding the event, and build-up initial suspense.
10. Figure 1. Screen Capture: Introductory Figure 2. Screen Capture: Game map
Upon exiting the introduction, a map of the campus appears on the player’s
screen. Players are informed that they are represented by a red triangle and told that the
people they are expected to interact with in the game are represented by yellow squares.
Finally, they are told that the things characters tell them in the game and the game objects
that appear on the map will provide clues for what steps or actions to take next. With that,
the players are given the green light to begin exploring the game space.
The first game character players see on their map is the editor of the newspaper
they work for. By walking to the square representing the editor’s location in the physical
world the players activate (or trigger) a virtual interview with him. The editor is a
fictitious character who introduces the players to their overall game task (conducting
interviews and writing an article in time for the evening paper) and gives them their first
quest or micro-challenge. Both of these are delivered via a text-based dialog box.
During their “conversation” with the editor he directs their attention across the
street to where one of the Dow Chemical recruiters is walking on his way to an interview.
The editor says:
Hey wait! See that guy across the street in Library Mall? No, the one
with the black overcoat. He is one of the Dow representatives. I ran into
him yesterday, but he did not have time for an interview. He is talking to
one of the reporters from the Daily Cardinal. Why don't you run over
there and see if you can get any information out of him. When you're
done don't forget to head up to the Chancellor's office. Hurry and we'll
see you later. Good Luck.
11. Interestingly, it is not uncommon for players to look across the street in an
attempt to see the recruiter, who of course, is not physically there. Instead, the recruiter is
represented on the game map as a new (and previously invisible) yellow square. As
players walk across the street to interview the recruiter, they see their own icon (the red
triangle) moving across the map in the same direction they are walking. Once the player
is within range of the recruiter (a pre-determined distance manually set by the game
designer), the player hears a chime and the interview dialog box appears along with a
picture of the recruiter. As before, after completing their interview the player’s screen
returns to the map view and several new locations/characters appear. The game proceeds
in this manner as players navigate the map based on the locations they want to visit and
the people they want to interview. Players are not required to take notes during the game
because all of the data (including photos, video, documents, and interviews) they gather
or unlock during the game is stored on the handheld and easily retrievable. Players can
also share content they gather in the game with other players by using the IR-beaming
capabilities built into the devices.
In addition to conducting virtual interviews the players can also gather virtual
documents (flyers, press releases, etc.) via the handheld computer and physical
documents that have been placed in physical locations around campus. The content in the
game consists mainly of primary documents and archival video and photos. Interview
text is built from original newspaper accounts, oral interviews, and official documents
released by the university, student groups, police agencies, and the state legislature. The
types of content players encounter in the game includes:
1) Game Map - The map helps establish a physical setting for the narrative and sets
the spatial boundaries of the game. As a game tool, it also helps players navigate
the physical game space (e.g., the map helps them identify key buildings
mentioned in the interviews and game documents).
2) Game Text – Text appears in the game as: (a) Interview text (pre-scripted virtual
interviews that players trigger during the game); (b) In-game directions (e.g.,
“enter the building and head down the hallway to your left”) that help guide
students actions; and (c) Descriptions. Descriptive text is primarily inserted into
the game as a narrative element when no video is available to communicate the
same idea. It might include something like, “As you walk into the building you
hear a loud commotion coming from the next hallway over.” It is also used (much
in the same way the text was used in early text-based games) to encourage players
to take certain actions without explicitly directing them to do so. In the example
above, after reading the text, players head around the corner in order to find out
what the commotion is all about.
3) Physical Environment and Spatial Layout - The physical world (e.g., buildings,
university students, sidewalks, hallways, spatial layout of buildings, etc.) is
important to the experience because it helps situate the story, provides continuity
between the past and the present, and increases the level of authenticity. Walking
in the physical world facilitates historical imagination by helping players imagine
how the place might have looked in 1968. In combination, the physical world not
12. only helps immerse players in the simulation, it also merges the simulated world
into the physical world and vice versa. (Holland, Squire, & Jenkins, 2003).
4) Real-World Text – This is part of the physical environment mentioned above, but
specifically refers to signage and other text posted around campus (e.g., names on
buildings, signs above office doors, etc.) that help players navigate the space. This
can provide additional content for understanding the nature of the protests and
adds to the authenticity of the game. Players also have the opportunity to
encounter four historical markers erected by the university that relate the specific
time period or concepts that appear in the game (e.g., there is a historical marker
related to anti-war protests on campus along the game route that many students
read that marks the death of a student that resulted from a bombing that took place
on the campus during the Vietnam War).
5) Photos, Video and Audio – The game takes advantage of multimedia capacities of
the handheld computers to represent the content across modes. There are photos
for each character the players interview and there are videos at a majority of the
locations that show players the events as they unfold in front of them. The video
is primarily archival footage that was shot in the same location where it appears in
the game. So, as players stand in the same hallway the protestors occupied in
attempt to disrupt the interviews, they watch footage of the hallway as it looked
when it was filled with protestors. Similarly, students stand at the front doors of
the same building when police arrive in riot gear and watch as the protestors are
6) Virtual Documents – These are documents delivered on the handheld computer.
They are usually handed to the player by a particular character in the game. For
example, if players decide to interview one particular protestor early on in the
game he hands them a flyer containing information about the protests. Like all of
the documents in the game, the flyer is a reproduction of an original document
from the time period.
7) Physical Documents – These are similar to the virtual documents, but they are left
for the players to encounter in the physical world. There are two times in the
game where students read actual hard copies of documents. One is a press release
from the chancellor of the university that players obtain in front of the
chancellor’s office when they attempt to interview him. The second is a map they
get when entering the building where the protests took place.
8) Informal Interactions with Non-Players – Occasionally, players will interact with
people who are not playing the game. These interactions include, people asking
questions about what the players are doing, players asking non-players for
directions to a particular campus building, students getting caught in hallways or
sidewalks just as classes are let out, and people discussing the content of the game
with students. This last example, while rare, can be especially rewarding because
it provides students with a first-person perspective on the events. In one case, a
13. group of students playing Dow Day came across two university students setting
up an anti-Iraq war display on campus. This impromptu meeting helped the
students raise questions about anti-Iraq War protests on campus and encouraged
them to make connections between current and historical events on campus.
As mentioned earlier, the players do not access the game content as if they were
simply taking a walking tour of the area. Instead, they access content as a reporter
charged with investigating the events as they unfold in real time. It is this combination of
media-rich, location-based content intertwined with the game structure that shapes
players’ experiences. Henry Jenkins (2003) uses the term “memorable moments” to
describe the logic by which games operate. Jenkins argues that aesthetically, games are
less about telling formal stories, and more about setting up interactions that result in
memorable moments for the player. The design attempts to facilitate these types of
experiences by using multimedia and place to link players with the past. For example,
allowing players to watch video footage of demonstrations that occurred in the same
location where they are standing, helps elicit emotional reactions from them. These
moments increase players’ role identity, make the game challenges and overall narrative
seem more authentic, and promote a sense of being there. (Squire, et al., 2007).
Findings and Discussion
By analyzing each of the students’ work across the unit, I was able to identify
some individual and collective patterns related to their engagement, ability to analyze
historical documents, and capacity to use historical empathy. I begin here by pulling
together some of the key themes that emerged. I then turn to individual cases as a way to
exemplify and contextualize my broad findings and introduce some additional themes
that impacted individual students’ capacity to use historical empathy.
Consistent with earlier iterations of the game, all nine of the students exhibited
and self-reported a high level of engagement when playing the game. Students mentioned
that the game was more “active”, “fun”, “interesting”, and “interactive” than the way they
usually studied history in school. A consistent theme was that students mentioned the
game-like qualities of the experience, including the role-based design, narrative structure,
and game-like challenges as being important to their experience. One student said,
“[playing the game] was a really good way to learn about the protests because it was very
engaging. I really enjoyed how it tried to pull you into the game as a person with a
specific role in the game. Getting to feel like you were really part of the event by having
a role in the game.” He added that, “it was a good way to learn because it lets you be
active in a game world and it’s not boring. You could explore it in the way you wanted
to”. Another student said that he “liked it better than reading out of a textbook or sitting
and listening to someone explain it. I was interacting with it, like I was a part of it.” Still
another student said that she liked “how it follows the story. It makes you want to go to
the next person to learn more about what it is and how they handle it.”
This does not mean that the students considered Dow Day to be in the same
14. league as commercial video games. Still, they described Dow Day as being game-like and
in some instances, discussed it using gaming terminology. In addition, for some of the
students, the game-like qualities of the experience amplified their interest. This might
suggest that taking on a role, completing quests or challenges, interacting with non-
playing characters (NPCs), and navigating a game space is a model and experience that
makes sense and resonates with some learners. It should be noted that eight of the nine
students considered themselves gamers with extensive experience playing video games.
The most common criticism of the game was that it included too much reading.
As part of their re-design plan three of the students suggested including more videos and
providing audio that read the text out loud. A couple of students also suggested that the
game interface should be changed, so that students could not skip through the readings so
easily. These suggestions, along with the students’ comments on surveys and during
interviews suggest that the students did not consistently read the game content during the
game. It is important to note, however, that all of the students returned to the game text
and videos in order to write their article. In this way, the initial game experience provided
a general context for the inquiry, introduced the students to the multiple perspectives
surrounding the events, and helped them generate micro-inquiry questions (via their
journaling and informal discussions). It also sparked their curiosity and engaged them on
an emotional level.
The increased motivational capital created opportunities for developing students’
historical empathy because it encouraged them to read and analyze a wider range of
primary and secondary resources, which in turn exposed them to more perspectives and
encouraged them to see the complexity within similar perspectives. This follows Brush
and Saye’s (2008) argument that problem-based learning “requires learners to remain
engaged in the problem for an extensive period of time, and to weigh competing
perspectives, or critically examine various points of view regarding the historical
problem.” Reading more was important because students encountered more perspectives
and detailed information about the context were more likely to develop nuanced views of
the events. They were also more likely to encounter and more points that that facilitated
cognitive dissonance. Both of these are related to Roger’s (as cited in Foster, 2001,
p.172) notion of “enabling knowledge”.
One design choice that worked to maintain students’ engagement and scaffold
their analysis and empathetic thinking was dividing the game into multiple parts. Each of
the parts was supplemented with a debriefing session (question and answer session /
discussion), journaling, and structured document analysis. This break allowed students an
opportunity to return to some of the material in order to dig in a bit more deeply. It also
provided an opportunity to analyze the historical evidence they gathered in the game.
This strategy seems to have worked on two levels: (1) it provided an opportunity to check
students’ understanding before they got too far along in the inquiry process, and (2) it
spread their interest in the game over a longer period of time. For example, a couple of
students commented that this approach kept them interested because they were eager to
interview more people in order to see how the events unfolded.
This strategy speaks to one of the challenges of game and curriculum design -
creating a flow that keeps students emotionally engaged while also challenging them to
think more deeply about the content and use the skills (i.e, historical empathy and
document analysis) that the game is built around. This also relates to Foster’s (2001)
15. suggestion that interventions should scaffold and guide students’ inquiry without
drowning them in information or limiting their ability to explore the problem space. In
this case, the game seems to have worked as an introductory experience that motivated
the students, albeit to different extents and for different reasons, to stay interested in
doing the difficult work of analyzing the documents that were the centerpiece of the post-
Historical Thinking / Historical Empathy
Overall, but to varying degrees, each of the students demonstrated some growth in
their capacity to analyze historical documents and use empathic thinking to make sense
of the historical content, actors, actions, and consequences. Consistent with previous
studies related to historical empathy, however, this depended on multiple variables,
including: the students’ past experiences and practice using historical heuristics to
analyze historical documents; their personal positions, perspectives and interests; and
their preconceptions and preexisting knowledge related to the time period under study
(Davis, Yeager, & Foster, 2001).
All of the students demonstrated an ability to identify various perspectives
surrounding the events. This was demonstrated in their discussions, journals, document
analyses, and final newspaper article. In addition, the students’ understanding of these
perspectives was strengthened as they came into contact with additional resources,
especially those that presented conflicting perspectives. For example, at the start of the
unit, most of the students talked about the participants as four distinct groups: students,
university officials, police, and Dow Chemical Co./Dow recruiters. By the end of the unit
each of the students demonstrated an awareness that these groups could be divided into
further sub-perspectives. For example, all of the students recognized that there was
disagreement within the student body as to whether or not to hold the protests. They also
recognized that there was disagreement amongst the protestors as to whether or not to use
more aggressive techniques to stop the interviews.
Students were also increasingly able to use critical reading skills in order to
analyze historical documents and accounts related to the events and showed increased
capacity to look for bias or point of view across and within documents. For example, on a
very basic level, all of the students made comments or wrote things that demonstrated
their awareness that a particular perspective someone held might impact the way they
perceived and subsequently reported on the events. Students also made attempts to
corroborate accounts and evidence across documents and used this technique to develop a
more nuanced view of the historical context and chronology. They also became more
capable of using evidence and counter-evidence to support their own arguments. This
increased capacity to use sourcing and corroboration heuristics was primarily a result of
the structured reading guides provided as part of the curriculum. It was also heightened
for those students who had more pieces of evidence available to them as a result of
reading and analyzing more historical documents.
None of these developments were dramatic or consistently exhibited or applied. In
addition, the students failed to make gains in some other key areas associated with
historical empathy. For example, there was little development in the students’ ability to
see the past as different from the present or recognize (at least without prompting) that
their own perspective and position impacted the way they interpreted the historical
16. events. All of the students also relied heavily on processing the events from a position
rooted in the present (Barton & Levtstik, 2004). Generally speaking, the students also
made little growth in their understanding of history as an interpretive act or explicitly
recognized that their conclusions were tenuous. While they recognized that different
historical actors could have different perspectives, they were less cognizant of the notion
that different historians could interpret the events differently. Even the students who
consistently referred to textbooks as biased or interpretative texts, inconsistently applied
an interpretivist epistemology to the tasks and problem at hand. Students were also not
explicitly aware of their own acts of interpretation. Most ironically perhaps, the students
did not recognize the game itself (at least not while playing it), as an historical
interpretation with its own inherent biases.
The task of writing a newspaper article was one strategy that helped separate
students from their own perspective and build evidence-based claims. The students were
more likely to rely on evidence and explore the events from multiple perspectives. This
came primarily as a result of students’ perception that the newspaper article had to be
“neutral”. One danger of this approach is that it can potentially guide students towards a
belief that newspapers and journalists are bearers of an “official” and non-interpretive
(i.e., “just the facts”) truth. I sought to address this by: (1) asking the students to produce
mock-ups of stories from multiple perspectives; (2) exposing them to multiple
interpretations of the events from different news sources, and (3) holding whole group
discussions about journalistic interpretation and bias.
While this was not related to my initial research questions, one theme that
emerged during the study was students’ interest in discussing and reflecting on the ethical
and moral positions at play. Initially these evolved from students’ own perspectives and
experiences. As the unit progressed and students analyzed more historical resources, their
ability to identify and extract the ethical issues at play increased. Their understanding of
these issues, however, mostly remained universalized or de-contextualized from the
specific historical context. Still, by the end of the unit most of the students saw the ethical
and moral issues in more complex ways.
The following student profiles are designed to exemplify and contextualize some of
the broader points made in the previous sections. The cases also highlight differences in
the way that students approached the historical problem and suggest some key design
elements that might be missing from the game/curriculum.
Student One: Kristin
Before the unit, Kristin stated that she found studying history in school boring and
not relevant to her life. She also listed History as her least favorite subject, in part
because her teachers traditionally relied on textbooks to teach. Kristin considered herself
a good reader and said that she read a lot outside of school, but was not interested in
reading books or watching television shows about history. She also did not play video
games outside of school. The most interesting aspect of the curriculum for Kristin was
watching archival video clips. She reported that the game content and game experience
engaged her and said that she liked role-playing as a journalist. She also said that the
game was easier to read and understand than a textbook and felt that she collected and
17. remembered a lot more information than if she had studied the content from a textbook.
Kristin completed all of the game tasks and the associated activities, but she reported
slightly lower interest in the game than other students. While she completed the article,
Kristin found it difficult to do so. She attributed part of this to not knowing how to write
a newspaper article and not feeling completely engaged in the activity. When given the
chance to write an opinion piece, however, Kristin found it easier to write the article. In
the end, she wrote an article that presented an interpretation of the events based on some
of the evidence she gathered, especially evidence gleaned from the virtual interviews and
video clips. She ended the article by stating her own opinion. While her work was more
thorough than any of the other students, by the end of the unit Kristin was saturated with
the experience, and ready to move onto something else.
In order track Kristin’s thinking during the unit I looked at her journal, her
document analysis sheets, and her final article. I also interviewed her at several points
and observed her conversations with classmates. Below are the notes that Kristin
recorded in her journal.
Notes From Part One:
I don’t understand why they are protesting. Where does this happen? UW-Madison. Who are the
people getting interviewed? What is Dow exactly offering? Jobs? Students don’t want Dow on campus.
Notes Form Part Two:
Protesting Dow. Who wants to come for job interviews? Dow makes stuff that kills people in wars.
People want them to come. My opinion is that they should be allowed to come. It’s as much their right
to be there as all of the other companies. If people don’t want them there they should just not interview
and maybe inform people with posters and flyers about what Dow is and why they don’t like them.
Obviously, if that many people protest no one would be interviewing for the job, so why make such a
big deal about it?
• It says that it is in fact students who are starting problems when they don’t let
people walk through the halls even when they are reminded the rules.
• No one talks about how Dow does other things besides napalm and how there
are other interviews for the government
• A UW student leader said sit-ins would stop if Dow left, but that’s not
happening. All of the students know they might be arrested. I still think it’s their
fault that things got violent.
• After seeing the violent videos I believe everyone is at fault. The police
shouldn’t have been beating people so terribly just because they wouldn’t move,
but the people should have listened to the authority members and walked out.
But, because people were so violent people were violent back to protect
• A police officer, very biased, said police tried defending themselves. The only
way to know is to see a video of when police entered. Who was violent first?
In an interview after the game Kristin explained her interpretation for why the
protests turned violent:
18. I think that the protestors have a right to express how they feel and speak
their mind, but I think that they over did it a lot and went too far with it.
But, I think that the police were too violent and they didn’t really need to
get that far. So, it’s hard to say who started it in the first place. When the
police first went in there some people were saying that the police started
getting violent first and then the police were saying that the kids were
violent first. So, it is really hard to say. My opinion at first was that the
students were doing the right thing, but after more information my opinion
changed and I kind of thought that the protesting wasn’t that necessary. I
feel like Dow has a right to be there, so they can’t really stop that from
Given her underdeveloped understanding of the time period and the specific
dynamics and circumstances on the UW-Madison campus it seems unreasonable that
Kristin would have developed a more nuanced interpretation of why the events turned
violent. However, she is beginning to ask questions about people’s motivations, point of
view, and actions. In addition, while drawing conclusions, Kristin recognizes these as
tentative and suggests that she needs more information in order to make a final
assessment of the situation. She also brings in evidence from the game text to support her
reasoning. For example, she quotes one of the student leaders and uses the video footage
as evidence. However, the only time that Kristin raises questions regarding someone’s
interpretation of the events is when she writes that the police officer was “very biased”.
Kristin seems to value eyewitness accounts over other evidence when developing
arguments. She also holds a relativist epistemology that suggests that history consists of
people’s opinions of what happened.
After the game, Kristin along with the other students were asked to choose
additional resources that interested them or got them closer to understanding why the
events turned violent. They were given access to ten documents (e.g., photos, newspaper
accounts, maps, flyers, official reports, meeting notes, video interviews, diaries, etc.)
each representing various perspectives, but were only required to select four. This
approach was aimed at increasing students’ choice and challenging them to prioritize
evidence and resources that would best help them develop some conclusions (Foster,
The first document that Kristin chose was a flyer put out by a group of students
attempting to organize a university-wide strike in response to the violence used against
the demonstrators. Kristin started her analysis by stating that the flyer is from the
Committee for Student Rights and suggests that they are in favor of going on strike. She
then suggested that the document was biased because “they don’t see the point of view
from Dow or from the people who work at the university.” She also noted that while it
does not have a date on it, it was written after the protests. She also wrote that the
committee was “upset about how things turned violent and they want to do something
about it.” Kristin also used corroboration by linking back to statements made by
characters in the game: “There were interviews that agree with this document saying that
the police were violent but then there was an interview with a police officer that showed
how students were starting the violence and the police were only defending themselves.”
Kristin ended her analysis by making a comment regarding the language used in the flyer.
19. She wrote, “the language tells me that this is a student who really wants people to believe
that the students weren’t violent at all during the protesting. Was this person there? Are
they leaving parts out or were students really not violent? Kristin used these same
techniques across the other documents that she analyzed in the steps leading up to her
final article. Kristin’s analysis, which was scaffolded by a historical analysis sheet,
demonstrates her capacity to make connections between what she learned in the game,
her emergent questions, her opinions, and new information. It also shows that she used
the documents to further her understanding of the context and piece together the
chronology of the events.
Kristin rarely (and never without prompting) demonstrated an ability to recognize
that the past was different from the present. Instead, she focused her analysis on more
universal concepts such as authority and freedom of speech without trying to understand
how these values were shaped by the historical context. Kristin’s own perspective never
overshadowed her ability to entertain new evidence. This was not the case for all of the
Student Two – Aaron:
Aaron was a student with previous experience using document-based inquiry. Of
all the students, he also held the most nuanced view of history and could fluidly
conceptualize and discuss history as an interpretation of events. Aaron considered himself
a strong reader and said that he liked to read in and outside of school. He was, however, a
reluctant writer at school, especially when it came to expository texts. The central
problem space interested Aaron and he was motivated to play the game and found it
interesting. While Aaron was more reluctant than Kristin to engage in the out of game
reading activities, he actively participated in small group discussions. During discussions
and reading exercises Aaron used his previous experience analyzing historical documents
to develop his interpretations, even when unprompted.
Aaron consistently expressed an anti-authority streak that made him at times both
critical and dogmatic. His anti-authority position manifested itself in his views towards
school, teachers, the government, and the police. His general distrust of authority made
Aaron critical of many secondary resources and “official histories”. However, it also
made him less critical when the available evidence contradicted his own position or
worldview. Similarly, Aaron’s capacity for historical empathy was also reduced by his
emotional connection to and sympathy for the students. Still, Aaron was capable of
rethinking his position and argument, albeit reluctantly, when confronted with new
evidence. For example, Aaron broadened his interpretation of the police actions to allow
for some complexities. He eventually made a distinction between the university police
force and the city police force. He also moved away from analyzing the violence as an
isolated event and began to broaden his interpretation to include the broader context and
the events leading up to the violence. This led him to claim that there were some good
faith efforts made by the university to solve the conflict in non-violent ways. It also made
him consider that the chancellor did not act rashly when he made the decision to call in
the city police. When asked whether his own perspectives impacted his analysis and
interpretation, Aaron quickly acknowledged that it had. While Aaron demonstrated the
capacity to separate himself from his own perspectives when analyzing individual pieces
of historical evidence, he was not consistently able or particularly motivated to do so,
20. when constructing larger narrative arguments.
Student Three – Peter:
Peter was another student who held strong anti-authoritarian views. In contrast to
Aaron, however, he was a “reluctant reader” in and outside of school. He also had no
previous practice doing document-based inquiry and exhibited a much narrower view of
history as an interpretive act. While Peter could raise questions about historical
documents when provided a guide sheet, he was not able to translate this to a larger
concept of history itself as an act of interpretation. Like Aaron, Peter was very
emotionally engaged in the historical events under study and drew quick interpretations
of the events from his “anti-police” position. Peter made progress during the unit in terms
of his ability to use heuristics, but it was much harder for him in comparison to other
students to move from his own position and initial interpretation of the events. For
example, Peter demonstrated that he could analyze a source for its “bias” or positionality,
but was more likely to do so when it supported his personal perspective or line of
reasoning. Peter also struggled to see the past as different from the present and relied
heavily on generalized beliefs about police behavior. He used his own past experiences
with the police in order to explain the actions of the police during the Dow Day protests.
He also projected himself into the situation and explained how he would have responded
to the police (i.e., by fighting back). In doing so, however, he did not acknowledge the
historical context and failed to realize his own bias. At other times during the unit,
however, Peter was able to concede that the events were more complex than he had
originally thought. In addition, Peter became increasingly capable of analyzing historical
While it was easy for Peter to identify multiple perspectives surrounding the
events from a broad level, it was more difficult for him to identify nuances within these
perspectives. He was also reluctant to use evidence to develop his interpretations of the
events, and as mentioned, his pre-existing perspective diminished his ability to use
empathic thinking. When he was challenged about inconsistencies in his thinking,
however, via small group discussions, Peter’s interpretation became increasingly
evidence-based and more complex. For example, Peter chose an eyewitness account (a
hand written letter that was written by a student who had observed the protests) as one of
his supplementary readings. In analyzing the document Peter was confronted by some
new evidence suggesting that there were students who might have initiated the violence
at the protest. This led Peter to modify his interpretation. It also encouraged him to look
for additional evidence that supported his existing narrative. In the end, while Peter was
able to concede that there were some students who might have been partly responsible for
the violence or that the violence came as a shock to the university officials, he never
moved far from his original interpretation.
Peter’s motivation to project his identity, his authentic interest in the rights of the
protestors, and his anti-authoritarian views encouraged him to stay engaged in the inquiry
process. This line of thought aligns closely with Barton and Levstik’s (2004) notions of
“caring about”, “caring that”, and “caring for”. Peter’s “caring” sustained his interest, led
him to look for additional evidence to support his positions, and motivated him to engage
in debate with other students.
21. Educational and Design Significance
As mobile technologies become increasingly ubiquitous there will be more
interest in using them in formal and informal learning contexts. Research in Augmented
Reality (AR) gaming can prove important in this area because it emphasizes the use of
mobile devices for more than simple content delivery. In particular, Dow Day provides a
starting point for further discussions about the use of mobile devices and AR games for
outdoor and place-based learning. Finally, Dow Day provides a model for how an AR
game might be integrated into a larger curriculum.
As with other curriculum-centered interventions, Dow Day (or other AR games
for that matter) should not be viewed as a lay down curriculum. While Dow Day provides
a rich context for developing students’ empathetic thinking, the role that teachers play in
the learning process cannot be overemphasized. Teachers need to help students make
sense of the content and be prepared to challenge their students’ thinking at key
moments. As such, more work needs to be done, not only on developing more effective
AR games, but also on researching how teachers pick up and use these games in their
classrooms. In line with this, future research should also inform the design of
professional development that addresses teachers’ needs specific to the use of AR games
(e.g., technological, pedagogical, and content needs). In the end, while AR games can be
used to simulate complex problem spaces and enliven case studies, teachers remain core
to the successful integration of these games into the curriculum.
One way that teachers might use AR games in their classroom is to engage
students in empathetic thinking around important, but controversial social,
environmental, and political issues. Being able to examine controversial issues from
multiple perspectives and learning how to negotiate and design solutions to complex
social problems is necessary for participation in a pluralistic society (Barton and Levstik,
2004). Future AR games could be developed around controversial issues that students
care deeply about. In turn, these might be used to encourage students to reflect on their
own positionality and perspective, help them better understand the issue from multiple
perspectives, and challenge them to design negotiated solutions.
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