Playing Art Historian: Teaching 20th Century Art through Alternate Reality Gaming


While technological advancements have brought changes in pedagogy in a range of disciplines, many of the fundamental elements of teaching in art history have remained consistent. However, the traditional model of lecture and slide recognition transfers poorly into online environments, and new modalities of courses offer opportunities to revisit and reconsider these models. In the spring of 2014, Keri Watson taught an upper-level course on Twentieth Century Art History at the University of Central Florida. The course was designated as mixed mode, meeting for an hour and fifteen minutes as a lecture with the remaining content delivered online through Webcourses, a Canvas-driven learning management system. Canvas offers many of the fundamental features of learning management systems, including discussion boards, student groups, and content structures, which can be used to augment the course experience. A course of this kind presents a range of technological and pedagogical challenges and opportunities, particularly when presented to a group of sixty students. Thus, we collaborated on the design of an alternate reality game (a virtual-physical game hybrid using a narrative to build an experience) to transform the course and further explore the potential of online learning. In this semester-long pilot, we ran and evaluated a prototype of an original game entitled “Secret Societies of the Avant-garde” as an experiment in playful learning for art history. The game draws on inspirations from gaming and digital pedagogy. In this overview, we will contextualize our approach to designing the game, and analyze our process and outcomes.


Armstrong, B. E. & Bezuk, N. (1995). Multiplication and division of fractions: The search for meaning. In J. T. Sowder and B. P. Schappelle (Eds.) Providing a foundation for teaching mathematics in the middle grades (85-119). Albany: SUNY Press.

Bogost, I. (2011). Persuasive games: Exploitationware. Gamasutra (May 3, 2011).

Bruckman, A. (1999, March). Can educational be fun? In Game developers conference (Vol. 99).

Connolly, T. M., Stansfield, M., & Hainey, T. (2011). An alternate reality game for language learning: ARGuing for multilingual motivation. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1389-1415.

Engdahl, E. (2014). Alternate Reality Gaming: Teaching Visual Art Skills to Multiple Subject Credential Candidates. Art Education, 67(2), 19-27.

Freeman, S. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410–8415.

Housen, A. (2002). Aesthetic thought, critical thinking and transfer. Arts and learning research journal, 18(1), 99-132.

Kim, J. Y., Allen, J. P., & Lee, E. (2008). Alternate reality gaming. Communications of the ACM, 51(2), 36-42.

Kim, J., Lee, E., Thomas, T., & Dombrowski, C. (2009). Storytelling in new media: The case of alternate reality games, 2001–2009. First Monday, 14(6).

Klopfer, E. (2008). Augmented learning: research and design of mobile educational games (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), 19.

Koepfler, J. A., Goodlander, G., Callahan, B., Sneeringer, T., & Tait, M. (2012). Alternate reality games in casual gaming environments: Exploratory summative evaluation of the PHEON game on Facebook by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. [Technical Report]. UXR Consulting, Inc. Philadelphia, PA.

Lightcap, T. (2009). Creating Political Order: Maintaining Student Engagement through Reacting to the Past. PS: Political Science & Politics, 42(01), 175-179.

O'Hara, K., Grian, H., & Williams, J. (2008, December). Participation, collaboration and spectatorship in an alternate reality game. In Proceedings of the 20th Australasian Conference on Computer-Human Interaction: Designing for Habitus and Habitat, 130-139. ACM.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the horizon 9(5), 1-6.

Squire, K. (2011). Video games and learning: Teaching and participatory culture in the digital age (New York: Teachers College Press, 2011).

Szulborski, D. (2005). This is not a game: A guide to alternate reality gaming. Incunabula.

Whitton, N. (2008, October). Alternate reality games for developing student autonomy and peer learning. In Proceedings of the LICK 2008 Symposium, 32-40.

Yenawine, P. (2003) Jump starting visual literacy. Art Education, 56(1), 6-12.
How to Cite
. Playing Art Historian: Teaching 20th Century Art through Alternate Reality Gaming. International Journal for Scholarship of Technology Enhanced Learning, [S.l.], v. 1, n. 1, jan. 2016. ISSN 2472-5161. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 24 sep. 2017.


modern art; education games; alternate reality; pedagogy