education, technology, and everything else

Civilization and World History

Posted by Miranda on March 3, 2007

During the last two trimesters at Kimball Union Academy history teacher Lyn Lord has been using Firaxis Civilization III in her World History classes. When I first installed it in the lab I must admit that I could see the fun factor but not the educational one. However, over time I have changed my mind.
The students began by playing the game only during class periods. They quickly became fascinated and would come down after classes were out and play. It became common for me to leave for the day and still have several students in the lab, playing Civilization. At first in the early part of the term students were just.. well, playing, Then they became serious about it, or as serious as you can get I guess. They worked on their civilizations. They took notes (well, Lyn did require it).
Some technical glitches had to be discovered and worked out.
Here are some things we learned along the way:

The game has to have the CD in the computer to play. We had to have one CD for each machine in the lab. (and yes, I’m aware that hacks exist for that, we wanted to be legal though) The CD is particular to the install so that we had to label all the CDs and computers and make sure that when the student played, they had the particular disk for that computer.

Then, after installation we had trouble. Students couldn’t open a new game. Turned out that Civ III needs to change the resolution and we had the lab machines locked down with a Windows Server Group Policy that did not allow access to the Control Panel for students. Ditto with access to the C drive, which Firaxis needs to save the game.
I had to make a new Group Policy that allowed access to C and access to the Display module of Control Panels, then make sure that policy applied only to the group of students playing the game and only in the lab, nowhere else.

Civ III saves to C, it will not save to a network location. So if a computer dies, the saved games of the students using that computer are gone. I have to be honest here and say that I was the unwitting cause of tragedy at the end of the first term when I re-imaged the lab computers, not knowing that the civilizations were going to continue on through the next. I felt simply awful but luckily the students were not far along and forgave me after many abject apologies on my part. We had to teach the students to back up the saved games by going into Program Files\Firaxis\Saves and copying their saved game, then going to their network drive and pasting it in there. This actually helped in other ways as well as back-up. When the lab was busy after class time the student could go to any machine, go to his or her H drive and copy their saved game back down into the Saves directory of any computer and pick up where they left off.

Next week they will do presentations on their civilizations, what decisions they made along the way and why. I’ll be setting up a computer with Civ III on it in the classroom, together with a projector to facilitate that. I can’t wait to hear the presentations. In fact I’d like to film them and will, if my son will give me a quick video camera lesson.

I do know that even if they learned nothing at all from playing this game (which I think is unlikely) there are three classes of students who are a lot more enthusiastic about history than they were and the tech lab has been a really fun place to be this last trimester.

Next fall we hope to have copies of Civilization IV, which has a lot of refinements. I also want to set up the lab on a separate subnet or something to facilitate the students playing against each other. I think that would add a lot to the experience.

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