April 4, 2018 8:26 pm
Updated: April 5, 2018 7:21 am

University of Saskatchewan professor uses board games to teach history

WATCH: A University of Saskatchewan professor has come up with a unique way to teach history and culture – board games. Rebekah Lesko with the story.


Benjamin Hoy has found a way to combine work and play.

“I think it came from my childhood. I love games, I love them,” Hoy, an assistant history professor at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), said.

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Hoy said a few years ago, he was struggling to teach students about 19th century smuggling on the Pacific coast between Washington and British Columbia.

“People kept dismissing the people who smuggled as criminals, but what they’re missing is that the context really mattered,” Hoy said.

That sparked the idea to create a custom-built board game, called Policing the Sound. It involves customs inspectors, smugglers and merchants.

“Every single time I play the game, every single community smuggles, because the game is built to encourage it. The payouts are better, the punishments are low. At the end of the game, I ask them, ‘Why did all of you break the law? You’re all criminals,’” Hoy said.

“It gives me a chance to talk about the misunderstandings that often happen and the ways history is represented.”

“It’s very different to be told that smuggling was normalized than to actually experience it yourself. Games provide a level of interactivity that takes historical lesson and applies them to your life.”

Hoy has used the game in four different courses.

“If history is boring, then historians have done something terribly wrong,” Hoy said.

Kevin Winterhalt is in his final semester of his history degree. He has taken Hoy’s class and said it can be helpful when professors go beyond lectures and PowerPoint presentations.

“Sometimes it’s things like games, or engaging in other forms of learning that can help steer you to a conclusion you may not have gotten otherwise,” Winterhalt said.

Hoy has also studied how Indigenous people are represented in board games.

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In 2016, Hoy created an escape room puzzle to teach about plagiarism and citations.

Hoy said he plans to create a university course focused entirely on games and history.

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