Technology and Pie: Low-Tech Games for Learning

“The increase in student engagement is beneficial not only for the students but for the instructor, as well. When your students are engaged, it is infectious.”– Corinne Auman

On Thursday, February 21, OIT hosted a “Technology and Pie” session that provided an introduction to the use of “low-tech” games for learning. Instructors Kate Freedman (History Dept.), Katherine Jones (Sociology Dept.), and Dr. Evan Torner (German Dept.) joined us us to demonstrate and discuss how to use low-tech games to create engaging learning experiences for students and instructors in higher education.

The event began with pie (blueberry, apple, and chocolate cream!) and an introductory game, A History of Women On Parallel Earth 3*, which we used as an ice-breaker for our 28 participants.

After Kate walked the group through a debrief, Evan, Katherine, and OIT’s Sam Anderson facilitated a general discussion about games and learning that touched on:

  • The definition of a game (e.g., a structured form of play operating under agreed-upon constraints or rules to achieve an objective)
  • How games can be useful in the classroom (e.g., promote motivation and interest, cognitive learning, and affective learning)
  • Why “high-tech” games may not be preferable to lower-tech games in learning environments (e.g., more expensive, time-consuming to learn and modify, quickly become obsolete or out-dated)
  • Concepts for designing low-tech games for the classroom (e.g., affordances, constraints, and incentives)

This discussion was followed by a break-out session of 4 different groups/games in which participants had a chance to play and discuss a low-tech game designed for use in a higher education classroom (click on the hyperlinks to see the instruction sheet for each game):

  1. Gender Reversal*: Explores concepts about gender roles and stereotypes for college students.
  2. Cap and Trade*: An introduction to issues related to environmental policy and political and news media influence in the United States.
  3. Native American Monument*: Applies concepts related to women’s history and political influence.
  4. Geisterbahn*: A supernatural-themed game for students learning German.

Following the break-out session, each group talked about the purpose of their game and shared thoughts on how it might be used in the classroom. The conversation reflected on themes related to pedagogical approaches for implementing games, their benefits, challenges, and impact on engagement.

Although the instructors attending this session had a range of viewpoints on using low-tech games in the classroom, there seemed to be a consensus that a pedagogy that incorporates specific learning goals with game-like learning concepts could be beneficial for students and instructors.

Speaking about such benefits, Auman [Auman, 2011, p160] wrote:

…Allowing students a more active role in the classroom, and giving them more responsibility for the material covered and learned, increases their motivation to pay attention in class, as well as think about the material outside of class. This increased engagement and motivation may also lead to deeper learning and greater long-term retention of the class material. The increase in student engagement is beneficial not only for the students but for the instructor, as well. When your students are engaged, it is infectious.

 In the future, OIT is planning to host additional game-related events, including discussion groups and workshops focused on the design and implementation of games for higher education learning environments. Please look for announcements in the coming semesters. If you would like to discuss ideas and options for incorporating games into your classroom, drop us a line at the Instructional Media Lab ( or 413-545-2823.


A History of Women On Parallel Earth 3 is based upon “San Tilapian Studies” by Emily Short (

Auman C. Using Simulation Games to Increase Student and Instructor Engagement. College Teaching [serial online]. Fall2011 2011;59(4):154-161. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed February 25, 2013.

Cap & Trade designed by Jason Morningstar and is licensed Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Sharealike.

Geisterbahn created by Evan Torner, based upon Dread by Epidiah Ravochal.

Gender Reversal Game originally written by Roger Straus. Published in Teaching Sociology, April 1986 and in the ASA’s syllabi and teaching materials set for sex and gender (Thorne, et al. 1985).

Native American Monument created by Kate Freedman (


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