What if instead of simply reading about Odysseus’s journey, you could experience it with him? John Fallon, an innovative middle school teacher, had the idea to craft an alternate reality game (ARG) to help build enthusiasm for classics like the Odyssey in his seventh-grade class.
Rather than merely reading about the adventures of Odysseus in English class, students can walk a mile in his shoes by channeling the skillset of the Greek hero who masterminded the Trojan Horse and outwitted the Cyclops.
ARGs are designed and run by development teams called ‘puppet masters’ who combine the digital and the real to deliver intricate narratives that blur the line between reality and fiction. Players enjoy a great deal of agency as they solve elaborate puzzles while they negotiate a world of phony websites and documents, midnight phone calls, and park bench envelope exchanges, to name a few of the tactics that can make these games indistinguishable from everyday life.
Fallon noticed that students became more engaged in the Odyssey through the ARG than when he had taught it through traditional teaching methods, and that “‘they did a better job of making their individual versions of Odysseus more clever and better problem solvers rather than just a cardboard cutout hero who bashes his way through problems. This likely stems from having experienced some difficult problem solving of their own in similar circumstances.'”
Other educators and programmers have also experimented with ARGs to help students learn about Japanese internment camps, code-breaking, and other lessons. While there is still significant debate about the efficacy and practicality of implementing ARGs and other immersive learning techniques in the educational system on a wider scale, Fallon and many others believe that they pose an exciting new opportunity to expand student learning in unique ways.
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