Mobile Media Learning shares innovative uses of mobile technology for learning in a variety of settings. From camps to classrooms, parks to playgrounds, libraries to landmarks, Mobile Media Learning shows that exciting learning can happen anywhere educators can imagine. Join these educator/designers as they share their efforts to amplify spaces as learning tools by engaging learners with challenges, quests, stories, and tools for investigating those spaces. In addition, Mobile Media Learning shares tips, guides, and plans for building your own mobile game or game design 'jam'. Start building mobile learning experiences today!
Mobile Media Learning shares innovative uses of mobile technology for learning in a variety of settings. From camps to classrooms, parks to playgrounds, libraries to landmarks, Mobile Media Learning shows that exciting learning can happen anywhere educators can imagine. Join these educator/designers as they share their efforts to amplify spaces as learning tools by engaging learners with challenges, quests, stories, and tools for investigating those spaces.
In addition, Mobile Media Learning shares tips, guides, and plans for building your own mobile game or game design 'jam'. Start building mobile learning experiences today!
mobile media learning: amazing uses of mobile devices for learning
Copyright © by by Seann Dikkers, John Martin, Bob Coulter et al.
& ETC Press 2011
Library of Congress Control Number: 2012940558
TEXT: The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution”"
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Design & composition by Szu Yuan Scott Chen (www.scottchendesign.com)
by Eric Klopfer
I was sitting in a meeting
recently listening to a presenter from a major media company talk about mobile
device usage by kids. The crowd quickly reacted to the "dated" data on apps and
devices, hankering for more up to date information. The data was only a year
old, but in the rapidly moving space of mobile media, that data is already
stale. While some may lament the rapid pace of change that seems to leave
devices themselves to become quickly dated, I see the vast opportunities that
this rapid change has created for both developers and users of mobile
applications. We've come a long way in the last ten years, creating a norm that
requires justification for developing applications for anything other than
mobile platforms. That is a dramatic shift from the questions we faced a decade
ago, which forced us to justify our pursuit of learning applications on what we
now recognize as primitive mobile devices.
Just what is "mobile" in
this context? I recently passed by a wheeled cart with half a dozen desktop
computers complete with giant CRT monitors. The cart had a big sign labeling it
as a "Mobile Computer Lab". This is not mobile. Laptops aren't mobile in this
context either. Mobility requires the ability to casually use a device on the
go — without sitting down. While this may seem arbitrary it is important in
that it influences the way we use these devices. They aren't only for long
focused sessions, but can also be used for bite""sized interactions taking place
for mere seconds in the context of some other related (or unrelated) activity.
This is the first of several defining factors that Kurt Squire and I (Klopfer
& Squire 2007) outlined as being unique affordances of mobile devices for
learning. The relevance of these five affordances has only increased over time.
" portability — can take the computer to different sites and move
around within a location
" social interactivity — can exchange data and collaborate with other people
face to face
" context sensitivity — can gather data unique to the current location,
environment, and time, including both real and simulated data
" connectivity — can connect handhelds to data collection devices,
other handhelds, and to a common network that creates a true shared environment
" individuality — can provide unique scaffolding that is customized to
the individual's path of investigation.
The devices we had at hand
at the time were stylus driven Palms and brand new color Pocket PCs that
allowed us to use wireless connectivity or GPS (but not both simultaneously).
We were convinced that these devices would some day be ubiquitous enough where
the benefits of these devices could be realized inside the classroom and out. Teachers
liked the simplicity and students liked the personalized experience. Surely the
day would come when every kid would have a Palm or Pocket PC in their hand.
While we may not have bet
on the exact right horse, that day of ubiquitous access to mobile devices is
almost upon us — if only schools wouldn't ban them. Yet, the scale of success
of mobile platforms, as well as the kinds of applications and modes of
interaction, are well beyond what I could have expected. This came from both
developers and users embracing mobile for its affordances, rather than trying
to scale down full sized apps to a smaller screen. I remember when satirical
newspaper, The Onion, released their Palm app with the slogan "The Onion just
got smaller and harder to read." But that is indeed what happened, and still
continued to happen to some degree.
Early developers of games
on mobile platforms struggled to figure out how they would get their games to
work on these devices without a D"" Pad (four or eight way controller found on many
mobile and fixed gaming consoles). Even many of the early iPhone games tried to
figure out ways to make use of an onscreen D"" Pad. But then games like Angry
Birds and Cut the Rope, which were uniquely suited to the touch screen started
to emerge. These were games that used the mobile interface to their advantage
and helped developers and users realize that we should design for these
devices, not around them. Now the tables have been turned and makers of gaming
consoles are trying to figure out how to incorporate some of the mobile
interaction style into their own platforms. It turns out that in many ways
mobile devices are easier to use for many tasks that take into account personal
information, location, and more natural interactions like touch and voice. This
allows the user/learner to focus on what they are doing instead of how they are
The experiences and
activities in this book are not ones that have been designed to work around the
shortcomings of mobile devices, but rather are designed to take advantage of
what is special and unique about them. They are also leading the field into new
that show what is powerful,
interesting and unique about mobile learning. They also start to tackle what is
perhaps the biggest challenge posed by mobile devices in the space of learning
— turning consumers into producers.
Mobile devices have many
affordances, they have come at a cost to date. Limited methods of input,
storage and many so"" called "walled gardens" (heavily restricted methods of software
distribution) have made smartphones and tablets ideal media consumption
devices, but often less suited to production. Empowering the next "creative
class" necessitates breaking that barrier and insuring that young people have
opportunities to consume great media, but also have the opportunity to produce
Again, the authors in this
volume start to tackle that problem, both in the ways that extend the
experience beyond the software on the screen and allowing students to create
that software themselves.
The best days of mobile
learning are still ahead. I fully expect this modality to move closer to the
center in the coming years, and the authors in this volume will lead the way.
by Kurt Squire
Ten years ago, Roy Pea and
Jeremy Roschelle predicted that the story of mobile media (called handheld
computers at the time) would ultimately come down to this: Will educators
confront scenarios of radical decentralizing""
where learners might pursue
passions and interests in an entirely uncoordinated way (and somehow coordinate
them) or will the availability of these massive data exhausts that emanate from
our lives"" captured through portable devices"" create Orwellian scenarios in
which administrators know everything about students' lives?
This story is still
unfolding, but clearly these are themes that educators wrestle with. What
excites me about the work in this volume is the innovative ways that educators
are wrestling with these challenges. Place and story can hold together groups
of learners and be the springboard for coordinated activity. Learners can take
control of their own data, and become more empowered participants in their own
learning. Although we still are working on these issues, as a field, we've come
a long way since those early forays with handheld computers.
The story of how this book
comes about reflects these same tensions. Over the past decade, groups at MIT,
Wisconsin, and Harvard have been discovering new ideas, trying out radical
innovations, and coming back to share our work. This decentralized, mucking
around has been held together by a sense of common purpose, good will, and a
lot of trust, and watching this group develop, evolve, and now begin making an
impact on the world is a real pleasure to see. I might trace the history of
this book to a conversation among Walter Holland, Eric Klopfer, Philip Tan and
myself at MIT, where we were imagining the future of educational games (others
would have their own ways of tracing the story). Could we build educational games
that used the real world as a game board, using digital devices to layer a
fictitious world around it? For me, this idea came to fruition when Jim Mathews
designed Dow Day as a class project, suggesting to me the pedagogical potential
of this technology.
I vividly recall watching
Gunnar Harboe, an MIT Undergraduate trying to get a GPS fix on his hacked
together PDA, and thinking, "No way that this is in schools within the decade."
Within that decade, we now can point to students making games for such
devices, which are becoming nearly ubiquitous. There's a lesson in Moore's law
here worth reflecting on.
This book contains a lot of
stories of people doing amazing things. Most of them were accomplished by
people doing unusual things. Microsoft investing in learning technologies on a
long""term horizon. Eric Klopfer collaborating with Henry Jenkins at MIT, and
then with Wisconsin and Harvard, and each having the trust and goodwill to
maintain a solid collaboration over multiple years and projects.
Two small, unusual, but
critical things that occurred at Wisconsin were: 1) Mark Wagler joining our
team, bringing decades of experience as a master teacher experienced in
place""based and critical learning, and 2) Collaborating with David Gagnon and
DoIT to run ARIS through central University IT rather than a research lab. The
thinking behind this was, "If we run ARIS through University IT, maybe the
University will institutionalize ARIS, and maybe other Universities (with a
similar IT infrastructure) will be able to adopt it as well.
As we watch the number of
mobile games grow exponentially, I'm confident that this was the right
decision. "Letting something go" meant losing any semblance of control over it,
and the trade""off has clearly been worth it. I hope that readers sense the
spirit of inclusion and collaboration that pervades all of this work (which I
trace in no small part to Eric Klopfer), and feel welcomed to join by playing,
or making mobile media learning (or art) experiences on their own.
Chapter 1. Dewey Buys a Smart Phone
Chapter 2. Asking Experts Dewey Questions
by Seann Dikkers
University of Wisconsin —
mobile media learning
New mobile media technology
is moving both information and communication capacity away from central
repositories and into each individual learner's hand. Mobile media learning
includes the instant and ongoing connection of hand”" held devices to online
information and communication for personal growth and increased agency within
professions and communities of practice.
Learning about or how to do
anything is no longer necessarily relegated to scheduled times or places, but
can be accessed personally anytime, anywhere. Yet because the devices are both
relatively young, the ways in which to best use these tools for learning is
still in a compelling state of experimentation and design.
Also, because mobile
devices are becoming more and more ubiquitous, while the tools of production
are simple, powerful, and increasingly free; everyone seems to be doing
something with them. This isn't a slow burn of adoption, it's more of a
bonanza. Those interested in both informal and formal learning are left to
wonder: What mobile media learning efforts show promise? Which can they do
themselves? And most importantly, where are potent examples and models of
mobile media learning?
This book shares a
collection of stories where mobile technologies have been successfully used for
learning. We make the claim that these cases represent more than just creative
lessons; they represent potential for new ways to design learning environments
that can be replicated, refined, and polished for use by you, the reader, this
Each chapter in this book
features a purposefully selected educator from a variety of learning contexts
and content area design goals — yet each leverages
the power of intimate,
instant, and invigorating learning on the move. Mobile media learning. Ideally,
you should be able to look through the table of contents and find a chapter
where mobile media has been used with skillful design in your context. We hope
that you can be inspired to modify and adopt one of these examples and start on
a road to mobile media learning.
Without intentional design
and purposeful presentation of effective learning, coming changes may not make
the most of the new technology available to educators. We argue that educators
are in the best position to see what works for learning, not political figures
or corporate think”"tanks, but those creating spaces for learning. They can see
immediate results, get needed feedback, and make changes quickly to leverage
design for learning the most effectively — they can learn as they construct.
Before specific cases of
mobile media use, this chapter attempts to briefly place experiential mobile
learning into a techno”" historical perspective. If the means of information and
communication shift, so will workplace tasks and skills, and learning will soon
follow. This context helps us to see the work of iterative design as a central
task for educators today, that will have lasting impact if only their knowledge
is proliferated, popularized and integrated at scale. If we want to leap into
the future, we are well propelled by looking into our past — if only for a few
we have been here before.
During the industrial
revolution, the Prussian model of a 'factory school' inspired many. The idea
that schools could be invented that served both the rich and poor at scale was
a noble goal. Industrial giants saw education as job training. For a market
economy of workers and consumers, workers needed to be familiar with an eight
hour shift, standardized breaks announced by a bell, set eating times, and the
capacity to stay in a single location for the durations between. Consumers
needed to be ready to consume lessons taught and buy them in the market. But
were these past goals humane? Good?
Today's schools still
reflect the design solutions that successfully met the demands of the workplace
and market then. But the workplace is changing, and with it a call for
educational change. But are the new demands of the workplace the best designs
for learning? Humane? Good?
Participation in the
culture is finding validation outside of the schoolhouse walls and designs for
learning need to address more than just workplace skills, but civic engagement,
informal learning, production, and purpose in the lives of learners. Learning
is something more essential to the human condition and is well served by an
Since the changes of the
industrial revolution, it's interesting that the voice of John Dewey has
sustained conversation about individualized, constructivist, humane learning.
He often asked questions that went beyond, "How do we prepare students for
workplaces?" But are his questions still relevant today? For instance, what
would Dewey have thought of mobile devices? How would he have thought to use
them for learning?
Let's say he were to see a
mobile device and saw the ways learners could play, create, build, and design
with new, personal, mobile, technologies. Would he see the potential of
individual learning? Interest”" driven learning? Place”" base learning? Data”"
collection? Inquiry? While during Dewey's life technology was centralizing and
polarizing, mobile media individualizes and connects in ways that would have,
and do, foster constructed learning. Dewey's progressive schools would have
been well served with such technology. His constructivist vision would have had
affordable tools to deliver learning at scale. I argue that Dewey would soak up
today's new media and new mobile technology and quietly whisper, "Yes,
experience and education
However, Dewey had a
healthy skepticism of technology. He did understand that student learning would
be enhanced if it was situated in, and grew from, locative activities that
learners themselves thought were relevant and interesting, but that didn't
necessarily have much to do with technologies. In Experience & Education
(1938), Dewey noted a need for experience based learning rooted in life beyond
the classroom, yet "some experiences are mis”" educative... that has the effect
of arresting or distorting growth" (p 25).
Through Dewey's lens of
Experience and Education, Dewey outlined an educational model that resembles
closely what is being called for by the 21st century learning community. He
called for an experience”" based model for learning that included a study of
exceptional practices (p 51); the premise of this book. His model called for
teacher as judge of worth”" while experiences (p 49), leader of group activities
(p 59), and to take advantage of moments of revelation (p 71). Students should
be guided in social skills, self”" control, and observation (pp 62”" 64); towards
intelligent actions (p 65), connected to the community, growing environments,
organization of facts, and purposeful activities (pp 73”" 88). Today's mobile
media learning resembles Dewey's vision more than not.
Though there are still
potentially mis”" educative experiences, according to Dewey's definition, there
is also growing potential for learning outside the walls of the classroom too.
Mobile technologies today facilitate locative learning without the "whim and
caprice" (p 65) of setting young learners loose in the world without direction.
In this light, Dewey would have bought a cell phone for himself, designed new
experiences, and potentially been a writer for this book — or at least it's fun
to think it so.
what would dewey do?
Would Dewey be stunned by
the amazing progress that has been made? Would he also see largely the same
personalities in the government and business sectors today as he did then? Are
there echos of those pushing for more and more centralization of control,
accountability, and standardization of the learning process? I like to think
Dewey would have been pleased to see many still working for student”" centered
instruction, inquiry, and experiential learning by designing alternative
models, charters, and ongoing innovative work.
As in Dewey's time, brand
new educational professions are emerging (like 'aides', 'special education',
'instructional compliance staff', 'mentors', expanding administration,
and even police officers)
in the school environment. Dewey would see attendance and drop”" out rates,
college admission rates, the rise of Montessori and Homeschooling; and formal
schooling in a period of change. Learning itself is changing and the
surrounding systems are straining to adjust.
There is no doubt that
Dewey would feel familiar with the buzz over new technology — primed to change
lifestyles, and already causing waves of profitable
reforms in business,
entertainment, and public policy. Dewey claimed that experience is both the
means and end of education. The experiences we design are for the core of
learning. For instance, testing may be good in some ways, but it can
potentially dictate the entire experience of education if allowed. Is the
'ability to test' the core experience we want for our youth? Education is the
experience we design. Likewise, what do mobile media provide in terms of
experiences they generate?
Some seek to put computers
in every school (done), interactive whiteboards in
every classroom (getting
there), laptops in every lap (spoken of), and soon we'll
hear call for hand”" helds
in every hand. But do these tools equate to learning
experiences? Dewey may see
a corporate influence on education that simply
buys its way into the 21st
century or a bandwagon effect that has a similar
force and rush as the
industrialization movement of his time — and has clear
financial benefits for
those selling the tools ($1 Billion in Interactive White-
board Sales by 2008). Yet
do all of these efforts amount to stronger education
for our youth? Do these
technologies have a cumulative or direct effect on
learning? Is new media
making us smarter? These efforts are rooted in an
assumption that provision
will have an impact on learning.
The community of educators
that have chosen to participate in this book have
each found ways to design
first in order to understand through experience
and practice. We seek to
understand mobile technology for learning prior to
any call for mass
provision. What applications, experiences, spaces, communi-
ties, problems, verbs,
collaborations, and designs will best leverage a marriage
between already rich real”"
world spaces and technologies that serve, Dewey”"
like, to focus, direct, and
provide a lens for these experiences? Well, here are
some amazing cases of
practice — each showing new elements and visions for
a new kind of locative
learning mediated with technology.
In the following chapter we
use Dewey's targeted questions as a template for
the coming cases of mobile
by Seann Dikkers
University of Wisconsin —
We decided to make the
design of this book transparent. Below you'll find detailed descriptions of the
questions we posed to our authors. Not only did we want to get the most out of
the expertise of the authors, but we wanted to let you in on the process too —
for two reasons.
By showing the prompts for
the cases, you get a sense of what questions the authors were wrestling with and
can see how they framed them. These questions
are the only real common
ground this book has as each author's chapter has their voice, language use,
and even distinct advice to you the reader. At times our experts don't agree,
and we love this. Notably, you'll see as much creativity and ongoing
differentiation of practice as we did — but the questions were a common
starting point. We see these differences as positive. In fact, we wouldn't want
a set of common questions that led to stock answers. We have so much to learn
and great questions lead to great answers even if they diverge some.
Also, to put it bluntly,
you may be a future author for this book. ETC Press has a fairly innovative
publishing model that allows the editorial team to add or update chapters for
each publishing of the book. Mobile media learning is still so new, our authors
are currently on their next projects, and if this book inspires new
practitioners, then we believe this book can and should grow with its
community. If you give mobile media learning a go and find it inspires powerful
learning experiences, then the questions below save us a lot of time before you
Using Dewey's questions,
we've structured this book to provide a collection
of early suggestions based
on field”" tested learning experiences using mobile devices. In Experience in
Education, Dewey asked six key questions for designing education:
” What does traditional vs.
progressive education look like now?
” What experiences are
valuable for the learner?
” How should we address
social control in education?
” What is the nature of
freedom for learning?
” What is the meaning of
purpose for learning?
” How should we reconsider
the organization of the subject matter?
You too can consider the
questions for yourself as you read each case and possibly return to them when
you write your own chapter.
what does traditional and progressive education look
What is being done in and
around teaching and learning using mobile devices? How might this look? That
answer is different for each design effort. In the years to come, models of
'what works' can merge with a philosophy of 'valuable' learning and these will
be the path forward for education. We celebrate that many outstanding
potentials are already in play and seek to show, not tell, what education with
mobile devices may look like.
Given the newness of the
technology, we have gathered stories that show potential in addition to
enthusiasm in multiple settings. In each case the researchers and educators concluded:
a) There were powerful
possibilities waiting, and
b) Mobile facilitates
entirely new ways to think about teaching and learning.
The following chapters
present mobile devices, used as learning tools, in both formal and informal
environments, indoor and outdoor, with and without teacher guidance, and at
times have students playing, searching, working, and designing for themselves.
Notice that each case has already seen learners use the technology so we can
see, physically even, what learning looks like.
what experiences are valuable for the learner?
Dewey's second question
provides clear direction for each of the writers to consider their designs from
the learner's perspective. Value for the state and value for the learner are
essentially different. Common standards have never been good at considering the
individual, but mobile technologies thrive on individual faculty.
This question artfully
redirects our attention from test scores, to learning; considering what
experiences are valuable for learners. If the experience isn't, at least,
considered valuable by the learner or by the local teacher, than no amount of
effort, energy, polish or design will convince teachers and school leaders to
adopt new practices and policies or change the current system.
In each chapter we ask for
the writer to give some sense of the learner's feedback on the experience
itself. The perception of value doesn't equate to measurable outcomes. If I see
an activity as relevant, I may be more engaged, active, and learning at an
increased rate, but we aren't any closer to knowing what I'm learning, how I'm
learning, nor how much I'm learning. Though entirely relevant to constructing
my learning, the degree to which I value an experience isn't neatly measured
and tallied. The only way to measure this is to simply ask the learner, "Was
this valuable? How?" and know that this is an essential part of the problem of
teaching and learning.
how should we address social control in education?
Dewey makes the case that
education is an agent of social control. The goal of an education system is, in
part, to direct and guide a national level of behaviors and competencies that
both serve the society and protect it from harmful behaviors. Education helps
train a citizenry for citizenship as defined by those designing by and paying
for the system. We ask how mobile learning prepares learners for citizenry in a
We address local management
of learners to some degree too. No educator likes the idea of a class of
students running about all willy”"nilly — especially outside the walls of the
classroom. Dewey acknowledges and sets aside both those that worry too much,
and those that are too permissive. There is a balance between control and
license. Learning in any formal setting needs to be organized with better
planning, ongoing improvements, careful organization of the contexts used, and
reviews of growth and play within the activity — even with mobile devices.
Dewey clarifies that the
teacher's role of guide and leader is not that of being the 'boss' in a
workplace sense, but of being a mentor and organizer of activity. The teacher
should plan ahead, respond during, and review after every experience they
orchestrate. They also should value the activity and their role modeling social
skills, problem solving, and enthusiasm to students. Even in informal settings,
the teacher isn't reduced to administration, but is central to the design and
creative application of an experience locally; teachers are central to these
We ask writers to reflect
on the process of planning for, guiding, and reviewing their activities with
mobile devices; and consider the role of the teacher. In reading each section,
educators will present an instructional/organizational guide for practice.
Knowing that all activities will need some localization, you should be able to
see how and what is to be done.
what is the nature of freedom for learning?
Mobile is mobile. Student
movement and use of mobile devices can be leveraged in ways that Dewey only
dreamt of. Even today we are still trying to nail down what are all the ways
possible that the learner can interact with the spaces. The question here isn't
whether or not mobile devices increase freedom, but to what degree and what
shape should that freedom take?
For Dewey, it was important
that a learner at least perceived that their learning was their own — even if
they understood it was part of an overall compulsory system. This meant that
learning was somewhere between the extremes of 'whim and caprice' and clearly
false control. Students should neither be allowed to waste away their time, nor
be given false options (i.e. Do this work, or you're free to go to the office).
The cases in this book
capture a range of applications of mobile devices in terms of freedom for the
learner. Some are compulsory classroom activities and others are purely
voluntary experiences. Every decision of choice is an effort to strike a
meaningful balance between control and permission. Explore the chapters
your own comfort with
learner freedom and how to design with a balanced eye for learning.
what is the meaning of purpose for learning?
In terms of mobile, we find
again and again that new experiences call into question
the very meaning of purpose
for learning. Both the learner and the educator should embrace the importance
of purpose in the experience. Youth bounding through the woods, doing quests in
the city, or even re”"creating their profile to maximize their babysitting time
— these are clearly different from traditional learning: How does 'purpose'
play into the activity? Where do the experiences lead? What new opportunities
do they open up?
When new tools give
leverage in the larger community, schools are often asked to provide students
with experiences that allow them to gain proficiency with those tools. For
instance, if the capacity to read is relevant, than schools teach reading. If
the capacity to compute basic math is relevant, than schools teach math. If the
ability to quickly connect, network, and produce ideas is relevant, than there
will be pressure to teach using mobile devices and computers.
When students ask, "What is
the purpose of this," and we should be willing and able to answer. In fact,
various organizations are claiming that there are 'new media skills' that every
student should have exposure to. Designing with purpose allows for new designs
to address those needs, while at the same time considers the importance of
lifetime learning. The purpose of mobile may not neatly fit into reading and
math scores, but should they? Or are there other valuable purposes that are
Dewey challenges us to
never allow industry to define the entire context of learning and growing as a
human being. Industry may give a nod to music, art, creation, and innovation,
but will never place it in the forefront; because, in essence, they are then
promoting potential competition for consumption. Educators uniquely can ask
what purposes best serve the learner.
how should we reconsider the organization of the
Dewey didn't assume that
segregated subjects constituted necessary distinctions for 'content'. Content
was more broadly defined as 'life experiences' that the organization of
curriculum provided. The researchers and educators presented here have already
begun to ask and find answers to how mobile can activate and enable 'content'
area learning. They have designed for, around, or despite traditional learning
organization while seeking to be educators. The work presented here ,even the
informal examples, all represents efforts to convey content of some sort. These
are learning models.
Each of the following
chapters approaches content in one of three ways.
1. Mobile devices give students
access to traditional subject areas.
2. Mobile devices open up
potential for meaningful interdisciplinary activity.
3. Mobile devices open up
entirely new topics of learning and skills needed to learn.
Dewey also considered
locative experiences to be valid educational experiences. Writers often
consider the larger picture of education and place their work within a larger
context, namely because mobile learning models offer potential to change
learning models. Because this isn't an attempt to construct an academic piece
we give these outstanding thinkers a chance to consider "What if, what may, and
how could education look in the coming years?" and ask them to share their
ideas freely. We do not offer a proposal for reorganizing curricular content, but
we do suggest this is ripe for discussion.
If Dewey had a smart phone,
I believe he'd love this project too. This book is a collection of examples of
progressive mobile research and projects conducted in the field, across the
country, and with learners. We have gathered leading educators and researchers,
that are already asking the above questions, to share with us and collectively
build a window into early mobile iterations for learning. None of the authors
would claim they have the answer to any of these questions, but we believe they
are making headway on all of them through iterative designs for learning with
mobile media technologies.
What will the future of
learning look like? Here are a few possibilities.
Chapter 3. Up River: Place, Ethnography, and Design in the St. Louis River Estuary
Chapter 4. Launching Investigations with Bite-sized Gaming
Chapter 5. Beetles, Beasties, and Bunnies: Ubiquitous Games for Biology
Chapter 6. Mystery Trip
Chapter 7. Mentira: Prototyping Language-based Locative Gameplay
Chapter 8. Place-based Design for Civic Participation
Chapter 9. Re:Activism: Serendipity in the Streets
Chapter 10. History in our Hands: Mobile Media in Museum Adventures
Chapter 11. Mobile Gaming in Public Libraries
by Mark Wagler and Jim
University of Wisconsin —
Madison, Local Games Lab
As teachers, we typically
investigate nearby places with our students, and together design interactive
stories intended for local audiences. As part of a larger research and outreach
project, we built on these classroom experiences to design Up River, a mobile
story and an associated two”" day workshop — intended especially for teachers
and students interested in working as ethnographers and designers to explore
and represent their own local places.
In Up River, players travel
upstream from the Duluth harbor in search of wild rice and native fish species.
Along the way they become physically immersed in the estuary, exploring tourist
attractions, industrial sites, restored habitats, and fishing piers. To
complement these real”" world experiences, they also access geo”" located stories
and science via their mobile devices. In the workshop, participants engage in
mobile design activities that can be further developed back in their
duration: 2”" 3 hours
location: In the estuary formed by the St. Louis River as it
flows into Lake Superior at Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin.
Place is the core of Up
River — it is the context for collaborations and designs, subject for inquiries
and documentation, locus for hands”" on and virtual experiences, and a complex
system whose dynamics are progressively revealed through the storyline.
We designed Up River by
immersing ourselves in the estuary. As we headed upstream from Duluth, then
back downstream on the other side towards Superior, we probed every possible
access to the St. Louis River. We explored boat launches and beaches, parks and
forests, backwaters and rapids, campgrounds and historic sites, and many wharfs
and other private businesses — if there was a path to the river, we followed
it. During these field excursions we met a variety of people connected to the
estuary; at the same time we began identifying locations and stories that would
later help us immerse players in the same environments.
st.louis river estuary
The St. Louis River flows
179 miles and drains a 3,634 square mile watershed. The lower river opens into
a largely wild, 12,000”" acre estuary before it finds its outlet in the highly
industrialized Duluth— Superior harbor, the world's largest freshwater seaport.
Here's how we describe the estuary at the beginning of Up River:
The St. Louis River is the
largest of the U.S. rivers that flow into Lake Superior.
As it nears the lake, the
river broadens out into an "estuary," or "drowned river mouth." The estuary is
a mixture of water from the river coming downstream and water from the lake
A variety of waterfowl and
other wildlife use the estuary for breeding and migration including about 54
species of fish (e.g. lake sturgeon, walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, and
Up River takes place in
three major locations, each presenting a unique view of the estuary. While
water, resources, and contaminants flow downstream, the narrative guides
players upstream — from a tourist district, to the hub of ping and industry,
and finally to a restored wetland. The story begins in Canal Park, once a
warehouse district, and now the center of Duluth's entertainment industry, with
restaurants, hotels, shops, and tourist attractions. Here a local chef sets the
stage by giving players their main quest:
Hi there! I'm hoping to
make a meal tonight based on local ingredients and I need your help. While a
lot of restaurants here in Canal Park serve walleye, most of it comes from
Canada. Also, the "wild" rice they have on the menu is usually commercially
raised. I want my meal to be as local as possible, so I need you to bring me
fish and wild rice from the St. Louis River estuary. You can start by
collecting information here along the Duluth harbor, but you'll need to head
upriver in order to complete your mission.
As the players explore key
sites along the St. Louis River, they meet a variety of contemporary people,
both real and fictional, who live and work in the estuary. In Canal Park, they
interact with a fishing guide, ship watcher, rice vendor, and several
recreational and commercial fishermen. They also meet historical figures, such
as Henry Schoolcraft, a 19th century geographer and ethnologist, who shares
original journal entries describing the harbor area in the early 1800s, long
before it was altered by large scale European settlement and industrialization.
Some people appear on the
players' mobile devices as virtual characters, while others are real people who
agreed to serve as prearranged interview subjects. Some of them serve as guides
and help players complete sub”" quests, while others simply share their musings
about the estuary, or even attempt to distract players from their main quest by
encouraging them to engage in side activities, such as watching a cargo ship
entering the harbor, eating at a local restaurant, or doing some sightseeing.
Unable to catch a legal”"
size walleye, or purchase "real" wild rice, players must travel several miles
upriver to the second location, Rice's Point, where they encounter a dramatic
change in environment. Here in the center of shipping and industry in the Twin
Ports, surrounded by ships and docks being loaded and unloaded with cargo,
players can look across the deep river channel to Connor's Point in Superior,
or just a little upstream to the sewage treatment plant. A new group of virtual
characters await them — a fisheries specialist, a boater, an invasive species
researcher, and a conservation coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service — as well as documents exploring the history of sawmills at Rice's
Point, the impact of the sewer plant on water quality, and the invasion of
Still searching for that
elusive wild rice, as well as additional fish species, players must travel even
further up river to their final location, Grassy Point — a restored wetland
representing what the river might have looked like before industrial development
and heavy dredging. Located next to the farthest upstream wharf still in
operation on the river, this was once the site of several lumber mills. While
the mills played a central role in the industrial and economic development of
Duluth, they also caused severe ecological damage. As players explore Grassy
Point, they learn about the industrial past through photos and historical
accounts, but also about the efforts to restore the area and improve it as a
habitat for fish and birds. It is here they encounter John Turk, who shares a
story about gathering wild rice just across the river as a child in the 1930s,
several birders who help players identify different bird species, and an angler
who describes how the restoration improved fishing in the area.
While exploring Up River,
players learn about the natural ecosystems of the estuary. They learn that wild
rice won't grow in deep or swift water; the round goby is an invasive species
introduced through the ballast water of ships; restored industrial sites, like
Grassy Point, support a range of aquatic plant and bird species; and
decomposing waste uses up oxygen needed by fish. More significantly, they
experience the estuary by walking on the shore of Lake Superior, standing at
the end of a pier above a deep river channel, and exploring the wetland where
Keene Creek enters the St. Louis River.
Players also learn about
the cultural systems of the estuary. They walk past tourist attractions such as
the Lake Superior Marine Museum, see charter fishing boats and 1,000 foot cargo
ships travel through the shipping channel, explore a boat launch in the middle
of the industrial section of the harbor, and walk past an active wharf with
enormous piles of dry bulk commodities. On their mobile devices, they interview
virtual fishermen and dock workers; shop from a rice vendor; and go fishing.
These interactions, and the stories players hear, help connect them with the
people and places in the estuary.
Most importantly, Up River
draws attention to past and present interactions between the cultural and
natural ecosystems in the estuary. At Rice's Point, for example, players are
asked to consider the connection between natural resources flowing down the
river and sediments and contaminants flowing into the estuary. The following
text accompanies an historic photo of a large log flotilla that was taken at
The lumber industry
dominated Wisconsin's Connors Point [the point directly across the river from
Rice's Point] between 1860 and 1909. White pine logs felled in the St. Louis
watershed were floated downstream. By 1894 at least fifteen sawmills were
located along both sides of the St. Louis River. These sawmills, along with
iron works, shipbuilding yards, and other industries, introduced
a heavy load of contaminants
into the estuary.
The logging boom ended
quickly so that by 1925 only one sawmill remained in Duluth, and the white pine
forests, which once seemed inexhaustible, had disappeared. After the trees were
clear cut (deforestation), the rainwater that once infiltrated the forests now
runs off more quickly, carrying eroded soil with it. Much of the resulting
sedimentation ends up in the lower St. Louis River, degrading the ecology of
Learning about the estuary
through the stories of people who live and work there helps players "see
beyond" what is in front of them, making transparent some of the complex
systems at play in the estuary.
Ethnography is central to
Up River. Not only did we conduct research using ethnographic methods, we
designed the story itself to guide players in practicing simple ethnographic
techniques. By ethnography we mean everything from people watching and
conversations in everyday life, to the systematic observation, recording, and
analysis of cultural phenomena undertaken by professionals in many disciplines.
Up River represents a
distinctive genre of mobile storytelling. Instead of relying solely on
fictitious or historical characters, it emphasizes contemporary real people
whenever possible. Up River also encourages players to observe, interview, and
record real people, places, and interactions. Indeed, Up River served as a
model during our workshop for how readily ethnographic documents can be
incorporated into a mobile story. Many teachers were intrigued by this approach
and easily began generating ideas for how they could conduct ethnographic
research with their own students.
Our first step towards
designing an ethnographic story rooted in place was to immerse ourselves in the
estuary. As we visited multiple sites up and down both sides of the river, we
took hundreds of photos and conducted extended field observations. This gave us
an entree into the rich culture of the estuary and provided a frame of
reference for the many conversations we initiated during repeated visits to our
core locations. By referencing what we were learning about local places,
practices, people, and events, we were able to further immerse ourselves in the
estuary and develop even more nuanced questions and understandings. We slowly
discovered a local network of people who live, work, and play in the estuary;
most were eager to share their experiences and ideas.
Since many of the people we
talked with were fishing, we began thinking of how to include fishing in our
mobile design. For that we needed more information. Web resources for this
geographical area are bountiful and answered most of our basic questions (e.g.,
related to fish populations, water quality, invasive species, commercial
fishing). We were also grateful for interviews conducted by landscape
ecologists on our research team and the vignette they wrote about fishing for
our project web site. What we were missing, however, were personal stories tied
to the specific places we wanted to include in Up River. For that, we needed to
conduct longer, recorded interviews in the field.
One of our favorite
locations to conduct field interviews was Boy Scout Landing, a boat launch just
above the historic Oliver Bridge, some twelve miles upriver from Lake Superior.
The small landing, which includes a fishing pier, boat ramp, and tiny sandy
swimming beach, is on the Duluth side of the river, between the mouth of
Sargent Creek and River Place Campground. Across the river, on the Wisconsin
side, the land is undeveloped — with wetlands in the foreground and forest
behind. In addition to providing easy access to the river, Boy Scout Landing is
also a great place to meet anglers.
On one visit we met a young
man who lives in the neighborhood, fishes at the landing, and used to swim
there. He told us that it is mostly local people who fish on the pier, except
during the spring walleye run, when the fish head upriver from Lake Superior to
spawn — "on opening weekend, they come 20, 30 people on the dock."
As we talked more, he told
us that he catches a lot of bass and catfish in the river, as well as some
invasive species like white perch, gobies, and roughies, but then added, "I
really like fishing for northern and muskie, they're more fun to catch." This
sparked him to show us some of the lures he uses, including a top”" water
spinner that works well in shallows because the vibrations attract fish, and a
floating rapala that moves side”" to”" side and works because "it looks like a
dead or wounded fish." We also talked a bit about sturgeon and he pointed to
another fisherman on the dock who caught a fifteen”" pounder. But since they are
it's illegal to keep them,
so they unhook them as fast as they can.
When we asked him what he
does with the fish he catches, he told us that he eats some, but mainly catches
them for sport, then releases them. "A lot of mercury in the water, and they
say the older the fish and the bigger they are, the more mercury they contain."
Before we left, he told us that fishing has gotten better in the area and that
he sees fewer diseased or unhealthy looking fish — something that was common in
Extended field interviews
like this helped us develop a feel for the people and places in the estuary. We
conducted many of them, in multiple locations along both sides of the river. In
the end, they were invaluable because they provided ideas and content for our
design and made it possible for us to more accurately present local people,
stories, and issues in the final version of Up River.
One of our main design
goals was to give Up River an authentic real”" world feel. Our extended
fieldwork and documentation helped in this regard because it allowed us to
build our narrative around site”" specific media and stories. We also used
photos and videos we took in the field to more accurately "place," or situate
the final story. For example, players see Mark Howard, a commercial fisherman,
at Howard's Fish House & Farmer's Market where we interviewed him. Wearing
his white apron, and talking with expressive gestures, he describes one
environmental threat to his profession:
Most of the effects on the
fishing that have happened here have been through the introduction of exotic
species, the smelt, the salmon, zebra mussels, the gobies, the roughy fish; and
they have competed with the native fish for food sources and habitat and eaten
Smelt are carnivorous; they
are the most devastating thing to ever come here... They ate all the baby white
fish and herring and the walleyes and the perches that were there in the bay.
They would come in en masse and just wipe out everything when they spawned.
Similarly, we used a
picture of Don Nelson's charter fishing sign to help players find his boat in
the harbor, an image of a restaurant's menu to clue players into the source of
the food they serve, and a link to a Facebook page depicting a local
organization's effort to clean up Grassy Point. We also took photos of people
standing in the same location where players encounter them in the story as a
way to connect virtual interviews to real”"world places.
present”" focused ethnography
While stories from the past
can be found in Up River, the narrative emphasizes the present”"day practices,
beliefs, expressions, and social fabric of the local culture. Even when stories
about the past are used, they are framed in a way that draws us toward the
present. Consider the following text, transcribed from an audio clip that
appears in Up River, excerpted from a much longer interview conducted by one of
the landscape ecologists on our project:
There was some huge beds of
rice on the St. Louis in the early 30s. And I did a lot of wild ricing in the
1940s, late 40s, and into the 1950s, and that's when it started to disappear.
But all these bays above the Oliver Bridge, and below the Oliver Bridge, were
full, full of wild rice. Big Pokegama Bay, Allouez Bay had a lot of rice, every
bay here was loaded on both sides, the Minnesota side and the Wisconsin, there
was more rice on the Wisconsin side than the Minnesota side. Every bay here was
loaded, was loaded with wild rice.
When players encounter the
speaker, John Turk, a lifetime resident of Oliver, Wisconsin, they get more
than bare historical facts. Through a contemporary storytelling style — the intimacy
of his voice, his cadence, word choice (e.g. lots of dates and place names),
and especially his rhetorical patterns (e.g. the accumulative impact of
repetition) — John communicates his present and deep connection to the estuary.
This is not an abstract past, but living memory passed to the present. His
voice sounds authentic, his personal experience lends authority. Additionally,
while John's story depicts wild rice harvesting in the 1940s and 1950s, the
narrative in Up River encourages players to ask questions about current
cultural practices surrounding wild ricing.
We want players to observe
and to interview. Thus we designed Up River to kindle attention to and
interaction with the local environment. Early on, players look for native fish
at the Nels J., a former fishing boat turned seafood snack stand on the shore
of Lake Superior. Using a dialogue script, players ask: "BTW ” what's the story
of the Nels J.?" The attendant replies: "The boat was once used to fish on Lake
Superior. You can learn more by reading the posters on the kiosk right in front
of us." Instead of placing the text and photos from the kiosk in Up River,
which would focus their eyes on their mobile device, we use character prompts
to guide players' attention to their physical surroundings.
Similarly, after learning
about the industrial past and subsequent restoration of Grassy Point, players
are given a set of questions nudging them to observe the current activity at an
While the sawmills are no
longer here, there is still a lot of commercial activity in this area. How has
commercial land use changed over the years in this location and why? What do
you think comes and goes out of the wharf just to the west? What are those big
piles? Where do those resources get used and how? Check your inventory for a
wharf report that might help you answer some of those questions.
This prompt, along with the
additional details delivered via the wharf report, encourages players to notice
and ask questions about the various materials being loaded and offloaded there.
It also reinforces what they learned moments earlier about the actions taken to
restore Grassy Point from a contaminated industrial site to a relatively
We also nudge players to
talk with and even interview real people. Immediately
upon arrival at Rice's
Point, for example, players receive a phone call from the Chef with an
ethnographic assignment — interview live people at this site, and record these
interviews (and perhaps take photos) with your mobile device:
Just heard there are
several people out at Rice's Point right now you'll want to talk to. They might
be walking around, so use their photos to find them.... Look for Mark Howard, a
fisherman, and Pat Collins, a conservation coordinator.
So we can remember what you
find out, I need you to document it.... Tap the "MORE" button at the bottom of
your screen to use your digital recorder to capture audio interviews. Short
clips! Save your battery! There's a camera, too, if you want to show me some
Up to this point players
have only conducted interviews with virtual characters by selecting questions
from a list and reading pre”" scripted answers. In case some players might
hesitate to approach a real person, Up River makes the task easier by
suggesting kinds of questions they might ask:
Find Pat Collins. He's ...
with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ask him if it is OK to eat fish you
catch at Rice's Point, or is the water cleaner and the fish healthier if you go
farther upstream. For sure he'll tell you how WLSSD, the local sewage treatment
plant, has changed water quality in the St. Louis River Estuary. Also ask him
about habitat restoration in the estuary and whether it has improved fish
spawning and the availability of wild rice.
Design pulls together
everything we worked on across the project. We planned, built, and refined Up
River and the associated workshop by continuously highlighting place and
ethnography. In this section we present a few of the additional goals,
opportunities, and strategies that guided our thinking as we designed Up River.
participatory design with partners
Up River was designed as
part of a larger research and educational outreach project, "Stressor Gradients
and Spatial Narratives of the St. Louis River Estuary," in which a multi”"
disciplinary team gathered, analyzed, visualized, and disseminated scientific
and cultural data.
Limnologists and aquatic
ecologists at the University of Minnesota — Duluth and University of Wisconsin
— Superior sampled multiple estuary locations to determine the relationship
between human impact (via sediments, nutrients, and contaminants) and
environmental indicators (water quality, wetland plant and macroinvertebrate
communities). Landscape ecologists from the University of Wisconsin — Madison
and Bemidji State University combined this data with ethnographic interviews to
create a series of vignettes — developed around five core themes (shipping,
fishing, mining, recreation, and wild rice) — to represent human— ecological
relationships in the estuary. Outreach specialists and educators from Wisconsin
and Minnesota Sea Grant developed educational materials and programming.
Our role, at the Local
Games Lab of the University of Wisconsin— Madison, was to design a mobile story
playable in the estuary. Throughout the design process, we repeatedly tapped
the knowledge, professional expertise, and creativity of our project partners,
including people we met in the field and teachers and students at the workshop.
Early in the project, we implemented a two”" part design jam where we introduced
our partners to mobile storytelling by having them playtest a prototype we
designed for Grassy Point. After they provided feedback on our design (which
was later incorporated into the final version of Up River), we asked them to
brainstorm and mock”" up their own story set in the estuary. In teams of two or
three, they quickly came up with story ideas and components on sticky notes,
arranged them into a narrative, and reported out to the group. The initial,
rough narrative for Up River was born at this session.
We located Up River across
three key places, a minimum we thought for exploring the many aspects of a
large estuary. We chose locations that would highlight the cultural and
scientific research of our partners and pull together the five core themes of
the entire project. We also wanted sites that would offer a variety of cultural
and ecological features; provide rich sensory and cognitive experiences; and represent
past and present uses and conditions. While seeking sites that were easily
accessible, we also wanted to direct users upriver and away from the Duluth
Lakewalk, a primary destination for visitors
and school groups. In part,
this was driven by our belief that in order to "experience the estuary" one
needs to explore less”" travelled areas that also exemplify its richness and
Our project team sometimes
referenced "flow" as a unifying theme for the estuary. Natural resources like
taconite (from iron mines), grain, salt, and coal flow in and out of the
estuary in ships, trucks and railroad cars. Sediments and contaminants flow
into the river through outfalls and tributaries, then downstream with the
current. Meanwhile, lake water flows upstream as the result of a seiche effect,
fish swim upstream (in the St. Louis and its smaller tributaries) to spawn, and
the development of industries and settlement of neighborhoods historically
flowed upstream from the harbor cities.
We integrated flow into our
mobile story, and hence movement into our narrative, by having players head
upriver to catch native fish and find wild rice. This was accentuated through
the design, as virtual characters point players to sites or experiences further
upstream — "you'll find better fishing up at Rice's Point" — and the quest
structure requires them to complete tasks across multiple sites. In the end,
players experience the river as it transitions from a heavily dredged outlet,
to a fast moving channel in the center of the harbor, to a wide river with
grass”" filled bays.
As John Muir famously said,
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything
else in the Universe." We designed Up River to help players better understand
the estuary as a complex cultural and ecological system. To achieve this, we
imagined storylines that highlighted one of our five "spatial narratives" —
fishing, mining, recreation, shipping, and harvesting wild rice — and how each
of these human activities stress or are stressed by the environment. Alone,
however, this was not enough.
We discovered we could more
readily create a complex representation of the estuary by combining at least
two of these themes in our narrative. When we paired fishing and harvesting
wild rice, the idea of finding ingredients for an estuary meal emerged — and we
had the main quest for our players. It was easy, then, to bring in secondary
connections to shipping and recreation. In retrospect, it almost feels as if Up
River wrote itself, given how obviously the narrative fits the needs of our
project — and triggers investigating the estuary. In truth, we spent a lot of
time exploring locations and developing our own understanding of the estuary
before finding a narrative that "clicked into place" some of the complexity in
Sometimes Up River can feel
as loaded as a Lake Superior freighter. Feeling a tension between providing
rich details, but avoiding too much content, we regularly reminded ourselves
that players can go to the project web site for more information. What they
needed, particularly in the beginning, was a lighter touch to get them engaged.
Enter the Chef — depicted as a cartoon cook, demanding and always in a hurry —
who serves as the player's employer, the stage manager who hands out primary
and secondary quests, and rewards players' success or failure.
After taking a moment to
sample oysters from a fish stand, the player is immediately
busted: "Hey, taking a
break already? What are you eating? Oysters? Those aren't from the estuary.
It's hard to find good help these days!" The nearby Ship Watcher commiserates,
"Chef giving you a hard time? He fired me because I'm not a work maniac like
him. What's he got you doing?" When the player buys "wild rice" from the Street
Vendor, the Chef comes back to scold, "Hmmm . . . looks like you got fooled!
That's cultivated 'wild' rice raised by farmers, not the rice that grows in the
wild." Still, the Chef can be kind and occasionally encourages players to keep
their chin up.
While teachers can use many
approaches to cultivate student interest in studying local places, a well”"
designed interactive mobile story or game can engage, inform, and structure
student field experiences, and lead to an extended place”" based project. We
wanted Up River to immerse teachers and students in the estuary, but also serve
as a model for how they could design a similar experience with their own
students. Not only could Up River serve as a hook to get teachers and students
interested in studying the estuary, it could also hook their interest in
designing similar place”" based mobile stories in their own school or community.
We embedded Up River in a
workshop, so that teachers and students would have time and support for envisioning
and planning their own place”" based mobile projects. Up River was first
implemented in a two”" day workshop with eight secondary teachers from the
region, fifteen of their students, and some of the professionals involved in
the larger project.
Participants worked through
the first segment of Up River while still indoors in Duluth's Great Lakes
Aquarium, accessing digital content without experiencing its real”" world
context. When they next braved November weather to play the final two segments
outdoors, players had to visit specific GPS locations in order to interact with
virtual characters and obtain other geo”" specific multimedia via their mobile
We facilitated debriefing
sessions after playing Up River for two main purposes: one, we wanted feedback
for future re”" designs; and two, we wanted participants to transition from
thinking like players to thinking like designers. Several students reflected
that it felt "more real" and "more interesting" when they played out in the
real world, because playing indoors is "not the same as being there."
Participants reported several software and design bugs that interfered with
their play, which we noted for possible fixes. Students in particular thought
we should reduce the amount of reading, replacing some of the text with more
designing with ARIS
We created Up River with
ARIS, "a user”" friendly, open”" source platform for creating and playing mobile
games, tours and interactive stories," available free at http://arisgames.org.
We included a "how to" session in the workshop during which participants
learned how to use the ARIS authoring tool in order to design their own
stories. In this semi”" structured learning environment, participants were
guided through a basic design sequence, but then had time to ask individual
questions and experiment on their own. As individuals and pairs completed their
designs, they shared them with each other in order to work out technical issues
and receive ideas for improvement. As is typical, several teachers and students
quickly learned the basic functions of the software and emerged as experts,
moving around the room to assist others.
The pedagogical power of
ARIS comes less from students playing stories designed by others than from
students researching and designing their own stories. As participants began to
develop a deeper sense of the core ideas — especially the confluence of place,
ethnographic fieldwork, and mobile”" based storytelling — we asked them to begin
planning a similar project they could implement at their own school. Using a
template we created, each school team brainstormed possibilities. As part of
this process, we asked them to consider places, issues, and themes relevant to
their community (and curriculum goals), as well as data, organizations, people,
and any additional resources that might assist them in their design journey.
After reflecting on their
ideas, each team picked one to develop further. At this point, they created a
map and began to place people, items, and locations that might appear in a
final mobile story. One of the teams developed a mock”" up of a story exploring
the history of a local running path. Another school, situated near the St.
Louis River, presented an idea for studying their community and adding it as a
new location to Up River. Other groups planned to investigate the effect of
river pollution on human health, the impact of logging on natural habitats, the
relationship between land use practices and water quality in a local river, and
changes that have happened to a riverside town.
As we discussed next steps
with teachers at the workshop, we developed a set of talking points for how
different school teams might be able to move forward given their specific
needs, interests, and context. With this in mind, we end by sharing nine rules
of thumb that emerged from the workshop, as well as from our own experiences as
teachers and designers.
1. start small
Create a simple tour before
embarking on a more complex effort to design a mobile game or interactive story
with lots of moving parts. Experimenting with many simple (and smaller) ideas
helps build your fluency with the tools, clues you into what does and doesn't
work, and often sparks ideas for more complex designs. Some teachers start by
designing something for their personal use in order to learn the tools and
experiment with different design ideas. Another strategy for starting small is
building a tour or story around a single person or location, versus multiple
people or locations. For example, imagine walking through a park with a
biologist as she points out and discusses different invasive species, or
touring a neighborhood with a resident who has lived there for 40 years as he
tells stories about things that have changed; but now while you walk through
the physical park or neighborhood, the biologist or resident you encounter are
virtual characters on a mobile device.
2. start local
Build something that
revolves around your school, schoolyard, or immediate neighborhood as a way to
build your fluency with ethnographic fieldwork and mobile design. This allows
you to experiment with the technologies and teaching strategies without having
to organize lengthy field trips.
3. pilot your teaching
Implement a small design project
with a subset of students. In some contexts, this might mean running an after”"
school workshop or organizing a field trip for a group of highly interested
students. Or you might organize a design competition, allow students to design
a mobile”" based story to meet another class requirement, or organize a workshop
similar to the Up River workshop. These experiences can be used to test
learning activities and build your and your students' capacity for doing
ethnographic and mobile design work.
4. collaborate with
At the Up River workshop,
teachers and students learned how to use ARIS in teams. Several students picked
up the software quickly and helped teach other students and teachers. In some
cases, students' previous gaming and media design experiences came into play,
as it helped them understand some of the language embedded in ARIS (e.g., quest
structures, NPCs, items) and develop design ideas. Also, engage students as co”"
designers when you develop pilot projects, by actively seeking their advice for
how to improve the project and embedded activities. These same students can
serve as experts or classroom assistants when the project is implemented more
5. experiment with design
Build students' interest
and expertise with the tools through game jams, where they build games that are
not related to any specific content. This allows students to initially explore
the tools and design processes, before adding the constraint of specific
content or concepts. Later, students can use their understanding of the tools
to design media that aligns more closely with your specific curriculum area.
6. look for content”" rich
places and issues
While all places are rich
in content, we have found it useful to design mobile stories around places and
issues that are already well documented with source materials readily
accessible for classroom use. For example, one reason we selected Grassy Point
as one of our locations was because we found a rich cache of photos, text, and
video associated with this place.
7. teach ethnographic
Fieldwork is critical in
any place”" based learning. The practices we described above for immersing
ourselves in and documenting the estuary need to be developed by teaching
fieldwork skills. Observation, for example, requires more than "pay attention"
and "take notes" — students need examples of very specific things to pay
attention to. Students need more than a list of questions to engage in
successful interviews — they need demonstrations and practice in class of how
to follow up on answers, so that listening is emphasized more than asking
questions. Students also need practice in class with using cameras and digital
recorders — even a short lesson in class can improve the quality of video and
photos. Although observing places and interviewing experts are important for
studying ecological environments, these techniques should be supplemented by
monitoring with digital probes. Finally, field data must be analyzed and
discussed before students understand it well enough to select data to represent
the place they are studying.
8. consider multiple uses
If you are doing a project
around a particular place or issue, a mobile media game might be the only one
of the things students design. They could also use their ethnographic work to
publish a book, organize a photo exhibit, or start a website where others can
add their own stories. Also consider contributing the media you create to the
public domain (e.g., through Creative Commons) so that others can use it in the
future. Use release forms to obtain permission from people early in the
process, since it is easier to get permission when you initially interview or
photograph someone than to secure it later. Finally, develop a system for
archiving fieldwork documents and media for use in future projects.
9. cultivate partnerships
Identify and recruit
partners who can help with all aspects of the project. Our
partners in Up River were
invaluable. They shared content and resources,
helped us understand key
concepts, provided feedback on our design, and
helped us connect with an
audience of local teachers and students. Partners
can make classroom projects
richer for students and help teachers design more
complex place”" based
While acknowledging the
constraints associated with integrating new content, technologies, and
practices into the curriculum, we believe that engaging students in
ethnographic fieldwork and design presents unique place”" based learning
opportunities. The complexity and richness involved in designing ethnographic
mobile stories increases students' motivation, provides wonderful opportunities
to learn new skills and content, and develops students' under-standing of local
human and ecological systems. Perhaps most importantly, it encourages students
and teachers to ask new questions about where they live and fosters a
connection to place. We hope our own adventure inspires you to explore your
local community. We'll see you upriver!
by Bob Coulter
Litzsinger Road Ecology
Missouri Botanical Garden
A flock of fifth graders
stepped off the bus at the ecology center, ready to start their field
investigation. They had studied ecosystems in their classroom, and learned all
the right terminology: producers, consumers, decomposers, and the like. Armed
with notebooks, they had been well prepared by their teacher to make the most
of their time in the field. There were notes to be taken, measurements to
record, and comparisons to be made. One element would be different, though:
Students would spend part of their morning working in teams with an augmented
reality game called "Who Rules the Forest."
Teams of students equipped
with handheld computers explored the site, meeting different virtual game
characters inspired by the Missouri bottomland forest ecosystem. Each character
made an impassioned defense of why they are the most important part of the
ecosystem. Clarence Cottonwood went for the size angle, arguing that he was the
"biggest and baddest" part of the forest. Bella Beetle on the other hand went
for the functional argument, noting that without her and other decomposers the
forest floor would be littered with dead plants and animals. Harriet Hawk saw
her usefulness in managing rodent population levels. Each species made a
balanced, scientifically valid point about their significance in the overall
ecosystem. At the end of the game, each team was challenged to identify the
most important member and justify their selection. As they did this, they based
their argument on what they learned from the virtual characters, the field
observations they were prompted to make during the game play, and whatever
other knowledge they brought to bear on the task. As you can imagine, this
provoked some lively discussions as students debated different points of view.
In the end most students
came to the expected conclusion that all parts of the ecosystem were
interdependent. A few of the more creative thinkers pushed the game further,
arguing that in fact Stewart Soil was most important. The others could be
replaced by another of its type (e.g. Clarence Cottonwood by Ollie Oak), but
that without soil, the rest of the ecosystem would collapse. In short, nothing
else could replace the functional role of the soil. Experienced teachers know
this is not uncommon: In a productive learning environment students often
surprise us with the depth and clarity of their thinking.
This game is one of several
developed by the Missouri Botanical Garden in partnership with the Scheller
Teacher Education program at MIT to promote environmental investigations in a
fun and challenging way. Other examples of projects we've developed include a
watershed study conducted in a local park and a scavenger hunt within a
cemetery. For the watershed project, students started the game by meeting a
stream ecologist who challenged the students to investigate a water quality
issue in the park. While the specific investigation was fictional, it was based
loosely on an actual issue that the city and the Environmental Protection
Agency were working to resolve. The challenge here was to decide — based on the
clues within the game — which of several possible sources was causing the
pollution. The game mechanism guided the students to observe actual pollution
sources within the park to help them decide which were significant and which
aligned with the clues to the mystery posed at the beginning of the game. The
net benefit to the student game players was a greater awareness of their
neighborhood park as an ecological space, and an enhanced understanding of key
water quality issues. This experience in turn provided a foundation for
subsequent water monitoring undertaken by the students in their after”" school
science club. Lest we think these projects are only useful in the sciences, an
early prototype we developed supported students in a 99% African”" American
neighborhood as they came to understand why they were practically surrounded by
Jewish cemeteries. A scavenger hunt type of game had players "meeting" the
people who were buried there, reading what history could be gleaned by the game
designer from Census records, and in many cases being "introduced" to relatives
and neighbors of the deceased who were buried elsewhere in the cemetery.
Through the game experience, students gained an increased sense of what their
community used to be.
While each of these games
only lasted 30”" 45 minutes, their educational value endured much longer. Beyond
the enthusiasm that you would expect from students playing a game with new and
"cool" technology, the real benefit was in the continuing discussions sparked
among the players. The relatively short time investment in the game play laid
the foundation for rich, longer”" term investigations. For example, the
ecological studies that followed "Who Rules the Forest" were enriched by the
students' understanding of interdependence; the group playing the watershed
game embarked on a long”" term monitoring and stewardship project with a greater
awareness of the park as part of a larger ecosystem; and the grave”" walkers
started a study of local history imbued with a sense of those who came before
them. In each, the game proved to be a catalyst for something much deeper than
a typical introductory activity. While your neighborhood will have slightly
different opportunities, the same type of experience is easy to create.
In our experience, when you
get kids outdoors exploring in an authentic problem”" centered environment they
will take their thinking past textbook orthodoxies and see things more
creatively and more thoughtfully. The mobile augmented reality platform
provides a vitally important resource for higher”" order thinking, as it
motivates students to observe more closely and integrate different elements of
their understanding. This chapter explores ways to use augmented reality in the
context of very short games designed to introduce new fields of study. While we
have yet to try it, augmented reality (AR) games could also be used as a
capstone near the end of a study. There, the challenge might be to integrate
and apply what has been learned to solve a more complex mystery.
In either case, these are
games a teacher can generate in a couple of hours and deploy on the school
grounds or in a local park. In an age of prescribed, locked”" down curriculum,
this bite”" sized entry to AR gaming can be an appealing place to start. With a
minimal investment of classroom time, students can have a meaningful experience
that carries through into other parts of the curriculum.
Now, on to specific design
promoting place”" based education
As a conceptual framework,
place”" based education (Sobel, 2004) takes students away from the anonymous
anytime / anywhere framing of knowledge found in most commercial curriculum
packages. Instead, students are rooted in the place they know best: their local
community. Botany is explored through plants in the schoolyard, park, and
nature preserve; history through the town's past. From this launching point,
students can encounter the world. How are the plants in the rainforest
different from ours? Why? Or, How did our community change with the coming of
the railroad? This anchoring in the immediately surrounding area doesn't work
for all curriculum areas, of course, but where it is possible the local frame
provides a solid base from which to work. In our experience and that of others,
this connection to the local makes the learning more meaningful, and it has the
potential to spark a greater stewardship concern. People are much more likely
to act to preserve what is important to them.
building environmental literacy
Paired with this emphasis
on the local is the premise that solid, age”" appropriate environmental literacy
should be a pervasive part of the game design. In the examples given earlier,
the forest game embeds accurate characterization of the different denizens of
the forest, along with higher”" order concepts such as prey”" predator
relationships, food webs, and interdependence. The watershed game embeds
examples of both point and non”" point source pollution, and examples of the
types of testing that indicate water quality problems.
In most cases, these same
tests are ones that the students will be doing as they take responsibility for
monitoring the stream in the coming weeks. The art form here is to include
science at a level just sophisticated enough to engage and challenge the kids,
extending but not overtaxing their growing understanding of environmental
concepts. Textbooks are notorious for being jargon”" laden. There is no virtue
in simply turning a game into an electronic dispenser of poorly understood
terminology. Rather, a good game environment
provides the story,
characters, and artifacts around which new scientific terms make sense.
personalizing and anchoring
Looping back to the place”"
based curriculum frame, anchoring the game play in the local space helps
provide a context for students as they wrestle with environmental concepts. For
example, the nitrate level in the stream becomes more important to students
when it its their stream that's affected. This all comes together as students
make the links between recent rains, the seasonal fertilization of the golf
course up stream, and the nitrate levels found in the water. Taken together,
the creative fusion of a place”" based approach to education and a focus on
developing environmental literacy shifts students away from memorizing the
textbook and toward building a strong conceptual network.
using gaming 'hooks'
Underneath these meta”"
level goals, there are specific game design techniques embedded in these
projects. First, in order to fulfill their role of sparking interest and
understanding, the games need to have lively and creative "hooks" such as
playful characters and a compelling story line. We knew that the players we were designing for had
experienced science as a very academic endeavor, with an undue focus on
reciting formal terminology as a sign of understanding. To lighten the mood a
bit, we designed the game with a playful twist, embedding fun characters such
as Bella Beetle and Susie Squirrel into the game. Designing for other audiences
might suggest other important considerations. What is important to note here is
that the characters didn't become caricatures. While the game play was fun, it
was grounded in authentic, age”" appropriate environmental science.
keeping a limited scope
Along with a good hook, we
felt it was important to maintain a light touch and not try to "cover" the
entire curriculum scope in the short duration of the game. We wanted the kids
to understand the big picture and to have just enough of a conceptual structure
that they could build on as they continued their study. Even if being
standards— based is an important design consideration, it doesn't mean that all
standards need to be covered that day. As teachers, we need to resist the
pressure to make the games all things to all people. Good design is often a
process of subtraction more than it is of addition.
watching our language
Another design goal was to
literally "watch our language." As noted above, there is a danger in science
education of becoming terminology”" driven, infusing our curriculum prematurely
with the official language of science. While we want the kids over time to
learn to speak the language, the design process needs to take into account the
students' current level of comprehension. In one case, we found this language
gap to be a real problem, as we took the forest game that was initially
designed for highly literate fifth graders off the shelf to use with a more
mixed”" ability group of fourth graders. While they managed to get through the
game, it was clear that they hadn't absorbed nearly as much of the subtly
embedded environmental concepts. Instead, they spent more time decoding the
language on screen. It's also likely that they had less outdoor experience and
a weaker overall science curriculum, so concepts that the fifth graders from
one school assimilated well were rather fuzzy for the fourth graders from
another school. Taken together, it reminded us that a game designed for one audience
may not be appropriate for another, even if the age difference isn't all that
For the teacher or
environmental educator looking to design games such as these, there are a few
other considerations we have found to be worth considering:
Picking a Good Location
The first consideration is
— to steal a line from real estate — is "location, location, location." The
three examples described at the beginning of the chapter each leveraged what
was available in the specific locations where the game was to be played. The
forest game took place in the bottomland forest of our ecology center; the
watershed game in a local park with a stream running through it; and the
cemetery game in an historic local cemetery. On the other hand, some project
ideas just don't lend themselves to the space available. One school, for
example, made a valiant effort to help students engage in tornado readiness
through an augmented reality game. Unfortunately, there aren't many locations
on a school yard that have clear relevance to understanding tornadoes. The end
result was a game that had students move from place to place on the school
grounds, but the specific locations weren't at all relevant to building
understanding. They were simply directed to different parts of the parking lot
to learn something new before moving to another spot. The game was just a fact”"
gathering event that was functionally independent of the space in which it was
played. The key here is to be a good location scout and use what is available.
Don't force the game where it doesn't fit. There may be a better way to engage
students than through a mobile game.
Time and Context
Another consideration is to
be aware (and plan for) where the game fits in the larger educational context.
The forest game was planned to be just one part of the morning that students
were spending at our ecology center. The time they spent at our site in turn
was just one component of an ecology unit that would include classroom work,
explorations in the woods near their school, and return visits to the ecology
center. Thus, the game was designed as one component of a fairly intensive
program in which the students would be participating daily. On the other hand,
the watershed game was designed for an after”" school environmental club that
would be meeting weekly, with the inherently variable attendance pattern that
after”" school programs tend to experience. Given this difference, each game had
to be designed somewhat differently. The game targeting the more intensive
study could have more "hooks" that would be revisited over the course of the
ecology unit, while the watershed game had to have a more narrowly constrained
range in order to keep focus on the most important program goals.
Once the game is designed,
it's time to go out into the field. The first rule here is one that I learned
in my professional internship many years ago: Always do a dry run yourself
before trying a project with the kids. For one of our first AR ventures I was
running behind schedule and tried a game "live" with kids that hadn't been play
tested. We quickly learned that a setting in the game kept the students' play
time to ten minutes, half of which was actually burned up waiting for the GPS
signals to lock on to the handheld units. Imagine our collective frustration
when the games timed out, with no real recourse other than to go back to school
and re”" load a fixed game file on to the handhelds. If this wasn't bad enough,
it happened on an unusually cold and windy day. Needless to say, it wasn't the
best start we could have had. Blue”" lipped students rarely enjoy what they are
Even if there are no overt
design problems like these, there are a number of potential challenges to
address when you are "live." One common problem is the inherent variability of
GPS signals and the accuracy of the aerial photography upon which the game is
based. It's best to test ahead of time to see what safety considerations might
come into play. Your carefully positioned creekside target may well put the
kids right in the water. Quite often, the accuracy issues can't be overcome,
and you need to use some design kludges to focus the player's attention. In the
woodland game, we learned pretty quickly that our intended locations rarely
triggered exactly where we wanted them to. Bella Beetle may be at work
decomposing a log in the woods, but she would "trigger" on the students'
screens perhaps 15 feet away. Even on the same day, she would be in one place
for the first group of players and another place for the next group. Woodland
projects seem to have particular problems with this, as the tree canopy
interferes with the GPS signals. Given this, we took to using small utility
flags to mark the intended locations. Pragmatic, but not perfect. The cemetery
game worked out a bit better, in that we could "pin" the locations to known
grave markers, each showing a picture of the intended target on the screen. So,
if students are looking for a specific name on a headstone, the marker is built
into the landscape.
On the day you are
unveiling your game, resist the urge for a major introduction.
Give the kids just enough
of a hook into the project to get them started. For example, you could tell
them that they are being asked to solve an environmental mystery, and that they
will pick up clues along the way. Explain that the mobile media is there to
guide them. Then give them just enough direction to operate the units and get
out of the way. Let them figure out how to navigate— the icons on screen will
tell them if they are getting closer or farther away from their target. After
the first stop or two, they will be confident navigators.
If anything, you will have
to slow them down to notice relevant clues at each site. We have found it
helpful to have students work in pairs, alternating roles as the navigator
(with the handheld) and recorder (noting clues and other data on a sheet with a
clipboard). This shared effort sparks discussion about what is being observed,
and it helps to have this dialogue going when students are called on to make
strategic decisions. As the game moves forward, students should be encouraged
to use what is in the game and in the field to add to their knowledge store,
working toward resolving the puzzle or dilemma that frames the game.
The game itself, of course,
should always have a clear ending point. Even if the specific answers offered
by each team may vary, all of the kids should know when they are done and what
the next steps are. Often, this next step is to reconvene as a group and use
what has been learned to answer the puzzle that started the whole quest. If so,
perhaps the last stop in the game can remind the students of the initial
question and encourage them to review their notes in preparation for the group
discussion. While the game itself is over at this point, your teaching role has
just begun. Your skills as a discussion leader will be paramount.
Before moving on, one final
note on implementation: We always make it a point to tell the players never to
let the handheld guide them to unsafe places, such as out into traffic or into
a creek. We also try to have an adult leader such as a classroom teacher or one
of our volunteers at least within eyesight of each group, unobtrusive but
available to help as needed. While we want to promote independence, we also
need to manage real and perceived safety concerns. In many neighborhoods,
turning young students loose with expensive smart phones can make them crime
targets. More generally, parents and schools today are much less comfortable
turning students loose to explore the neighborhood than they used to be. You'll
need to address these concerns in a way that is right for your kids and your
As you might expect,
virtually all students enjoy playing these games. The risk here is accepting
the positive feedback too easily as a sign of the program's success. As the
saying goes, any day on a field trip is better than a day in the classroom.
Throw in some new smartphone technology and you have an instant winner.
Generally, kids will latch on to new technologies with a great deal of
enthusiasm. The challenge for us as designers and educators, though, is to
filter students' responses to see what the real educational value is. For that,
we need to look at the ways students engage with the problem at hand, and not
just bask in their enthusiasm as a sign of how talented we are as game
At a basic level, we want
to know whether students are connecting more deeply with their community
through the game play. Do they observe more carefully? Are they thoughtful
about what they see? In the watershed game, we noticed that students who lived
in the neighborhood and played in the park quite often still discovered new
things as a result of the game play. For example, the dog walk area at the edge
of the park went from being peripherally noticed at best to being a central
player in the unfolding environmental mystery. We also need to be attentive to
what players do with the information they gather. Are they processing deeply,
or just rushing to complete the game? For example, there is an inherent
tendency among kids to like the cute puppies at the dog park, but we need to
note whether the kids think analytically about the impact of the dogs and their
waste. It was rewarding to hear a student discount the dog walk as a possible
cause of the pollution problem, correctly noting that "the doggy doo thing is
too far away from the stream."
Since the premise of these
brief games is to be a catalyst to subsequent learning, we need to be watching
for how the gameplay feeds into later experiences. A number of anecdotal
observations show increased understanding and awareness of community issues in
later work. For instance, students who are out testing water quality have been
more attentive to what is upstream from their testing sites instead of just
taking the test results "as is," and our budding forest ecologists show more
systems”" level thinking as they analyze food webs and prey”" predator
relationships. When there is a hawk overhead, we've seen nurturers in a group
want to protect the songbirds, while other kids were ready for the hawk to make
a kill. Both responses show that the kids "get" the interactions unfolding in
front of them. Back in the classroom, it is not uncommon for students who had
played the forest game to pepper later discussions with how a change would
impact the game characters. For example, one girl noted that "if there were
fewer rodents, Harriet Hawk would go hungry and die." All of this provides good
feedback to us as game designers, suggesting that even brief AR gaming
experiences can have a powerful impact on students' interest and disposition to
Looking back on our work
with these bite”" sized AR games, we are pleased with the progress made to date.
We're confident that students can gain a great deal from a fairly short
experience, which speaks well to the viability of AR gaming to be a useful
enhancement to a time”" crunched curriculum. Based on this early success, we see
a great deal of potential for others to adopt AR gaming as part of the regular
school day, in after”" school settings, or as part of a field experience offered
by a local cultural institution.
The technical demands
aren't huge: Each iteration of the augmented reality software lowers the bar in
terms of the technical skills needed by the game designer. This allows greater
focus on the most important element— designing the students' experience. Where
do you want the students to go? What should they experience while they are
there? How can you talk through the virtual characters to the student game
players, guiding their perception and building conceptual structures? What will
students do with what they learn through the game environment? This is where
the real teaching and learning takes place.
Mobile learning through
augmented reality is a powerful tool, but it is not an end unto itself. Using
new technology doesn't make one a 21st century learner ”" only an educator can.
But it does help to have the right tools for the job. AR can be one of those
tools — I invite you to try it out.
Sobel, D. (2004). Place”" based education:
Connecting classrooms and communities. Great Barrington, MA: Orion.
by Louisa Rosenheck
MIT Scheller Teacher
Thalia is a 9th grader on
her way home after school and volleyball practice. She's tired after a long day
and not looking forward to the pile of boring homework she is supposed to do,
so she's thinking about skipping it. She gets on the bus, sits down, and takes
out her smartphone. She puts in her earbuds and turns on her current favorite
music. She sends a few texts and checks Facebook. Then she switches to the web
browser and navigates to a game called Invasion of the Beasties. In this game
she has to genetically engineer a monster so it will be able to defeat the evil
enemies. Thalia likes this game because it has quirky characters with funny
pictures, and it's fun to advance through the levels. Her teacher has assigned
everyone in her intro biology class to play the game, but Thalia doesn't think
it feels like school. It's obviously about mRNA — there are nucleotides and
amino acids — but it's like a puzzle you have to figure out and she wants to
see if she can beat the game before her friends do. Plus she's always on her
phone anyway, and she can fit this in on the bus and between classes. Thalia
has played five rounds when it's almost time to get off the bus, so she puts
her phone away, knowing that the game has saved her progress so she can pick up
where she left off later tonight.
Ms. Geary is a high school
biology teacher finishing up some grading and getting ready to head home as
well. The quizzes she's grading are tedious so for a quick break she opens up
the teacher web site for Invasion of the Beasties, which she has assigned her
students to play. She checks to see who has the highest score today, and while
the usual students who reliably do their homework are indeed in the top five,
she's pleasantly surprised to also see Thalia listed there. Ms. Geary has
always seen Thalia as a perfectly capable student, but it's been hard to get
her engaged in any of the biology content she's taught this year. Looking at
the stats, she is happy to see that Thalia has been playing about 30 minutes
each day this week, and considering the high level she has reached, Ms. Geary
knows that Thalia is understanding the topic of mRNA and the translation
process. If she wasn't able to use the Universal Genetic Code, she wouldn't
have earned such a high score in the game, so the data is very promising. Ms.
Geary closes the page and reminds herself to congratulate Thalia in the morning
and make an effort to encourage Thalia to share the strategies she's developing
with other students. While these mobile biology games are fun and engaging for
many students, one of the most valuable things Ms. Geary has found is the way
they also stimulate content”" rich, authentic conversations.
what are UbiqGames?
Invasion of the Beasties is
just one game in the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program's series of
Ubiquitous Games, or UbiqGames. A genre of mobile, casual, educational games
developed at MIT, UbiqGames have a number of unique characteristics pertaining to
the games' format, content, and feedback mechanism. In this chapter I'll start
by describing the design principles of the UbiqGames genre, then give four
examples of Ubiquitous Games designed for biology. Next, I'll explain the
UbiqGames approach to how this style of game can be implemented in schools and
support existing curriculum. Finally, I'll present feedback from students and
teachers who experienced these games as part of their intro biology course.
UbiqGames are designed for
the small screens of smartphones, but they are browser”" based games rather than
apps, so they can also be played in any browser on a desktop, laptop, or
tablet. In addition, player logins enable game data and progress to be stored
on a server. UbiqGames are casual games, meaning they are quick to learn and
can be played in short amounts of time — with play sessions lasting 5”" 10
minutes. This can work well for learning games since students can play in
frequent, short bursts, during interstitial moments of their day, without taking
up precious class time.
The games are closely tied
to the curriculum and focused on one topic. Additionally,
they are often simulation”"
based, giving students the opportunity to play around with the content and
explore at their own pace, as often as they need to. This allows students to
engage more deeply with the material at the same time they are exposed to the
concepts in class.
The Teacher Portal is a web
site teachers use to track student progress. The data”" logging system collects
player information which is then displayed to teachers so they can easily track
participation. Along with game data such as score and level, the games also log
other types of data that describe play patterns such as how long players spend
in each area of the game, and how many times they log in. In addition, teachers
can collect data that will reflect how well a student understands the material
and therefore help teachers assess their progress. These data are displayed in
the Teacher Portal to let teachers quickly see how much their students are
playing, and what they are getting out of their play time.
From their unique format,
content, and feedback capabilities, we can see that UbiqGames and the
accompanying Teacher Portal are designed to be engaging for players and facilitate
deep learning, while providing a feasible way for teachers to integrate them
into their curricula and lesson plans. UbiqGames can be a valuable tool for
teachers who are looking for a flexible way to incorporate mobile games into
the often constrained classroom environment.
ubiq design goals
The UbiqGames approach was
designed to address some common challenges of teaching high school science, for
Engagement: Students are not engaged with biology topics.
Good games are naturally engaging and motivating, and can
highlight the intrinsically interesting aspects of biology.
Pacing: Students don't all learn in the same way or at the same pace.
Simulation-based games let students "mess around" as much as
they need to and make mistakes or progress at their own pace.
Exposure to content: Students stop thinking about typical lab activities or
traditional homework once it's been completed.
Students play UbiqGames more frequently throughout the week,
increasing the number of times they are in contact with the material.
Limited school-based technology: Teachers can't always schedule time in the computer lab or with
the laptop cart; there isn't enough time to give up class periods for online
UbiqBio utilizes out-of-class time and can be played on a
variety of devices, anytime and anywhere.
Limited student-based technology: Students may have limited computer access both at school and
More and more students have their own phones and even their own
smartphones with internet access which they can use to play UbiqGames.
Feedback opportunities: It's hard for teachers and students alike to monitor their
The Teacher Portal collects relevant data and displays it for
both teachers and students to quickly see how they're doing.
the UbiqBio project
Our biggest UbiqGames
project to date has been the Ubiquitous Games for Biology (UbiqBio) research
project, funded by the NIH from 2009”" 2011. We worked closely with biology
teacher consultants to design and pilot the games and create supporting
curriculum to help facilitate transfer. We then worked with a group of Boston”"
area high school teachers to implement the games in their classrooms. During
each relevant curricular unit in the semester, teachers introduced the UbiqBio
game in class and loaned their students Android smartphones provided by MIT.
Teachers chose to assign the game as homework
(or in some cases for extra
credit), and students played outside of class over the course of the week”" long
that unit and especially at the end of it, teachers used class time to tie the
game content back into their curriculum. They drew on examples from the game
and facilitated discussion around in”" game metaphors and strategies, thereby encouraging
transfer from the gameplay to a broader context. Specific ways of doing this
which teachers found most effective will be presented in the Curriculum Design
section of this chapter.
During the implementation
of the games, MIT researchers collected a variety of data including content
assessments, surveys, observations, interviews, and user”" generated log data.
One goal was to analyze this data to learn more about the efficacy, engagement,
and feasibility of the UbiqBio games and approach. Another goal was to learn
more about what types of casual games would best engage, motivate, and teach
students. By studying these aspects, we were able to paint a clearer picture of
the successes and challenges of UbiqGames for biology while also learning more
about best practices for designing educational games in this genre.
a suite of games
Each of the four UbiqBio
games covered specific standards— aligned curriculum points in the areas of
Mendelian genetics, mRNA and translation, evolution, and food webs. We worked
with teacher consultants to identify these as areas with which students often
struggled. Each game also had a unique game mechanic, premise, and visual
style, resulting in a diverse suite of games that balanced cooperative and
competitive play, realistic and fantastical worlds, and simulation”" and
narrative”" based games. An overview of each game is presented here with some
discussion of the most interesting features of each.
beetle breeders: mendelian genetics
Premise: Customers want to
buy beetles with certain traits and it's your job to breed them! Choose the
contracts you want to work on, then mate the right beetles to produce the
desired offspring. Use your knowledge of Mendelian genetics to work with
increasingly difficult patterns of inheritance and maximize your profits. How
much money can you earn in the beetle business?
Beetle Breeders facilitates
learning for students by allowing them to play through just one or two
contracts per session, and still get the experience of trying different crosses
and seeing the results right away. One thing that sets the Beetle Breeders game
apart from the others in this series is the richness of the biology content. A
basic Punnett square mechanic lets students experiment with a wide variety of
inheritance patterns, which makes it relevant to a larger chunk of the genetics
unit. Players work their way up through the levels of the game encountering
more complex tasks as they go. This keeps the game interesting and makes it
easy to see their progress as they move through the curriculum.
invasion of the beasties: mRNA & translation
Premise: Strange and scary
monsters are taking over! You must genetically engineer your own band of
monsters so they will be suited to fight each opponent. Use the Universal
Monster Genetic Code to research which proteins you need to synthesize. Adjust
the nucleotides in the RNA strands and match the correct amino acids to create
polypeptide chains without mutations. If you're successful, the resulting
phenotype will give your monster the ability to defeat the enemies!
The biology content in
Invasion of the Beasties is more specific, focusing on the concept of the
Universal Genetic Code and the relationship between nucleotides, amino acids,
and phenotypes. There are three levels of increasing difficulty, but since the
game covers fewer biology concepts, "beating the game" feels more attainable.
More than our other games, this one is very narrative”"based and character”"
driven. The illustrations bring the game to life and players enjoy giving each
other tips on how to solve the puzzle of which phenotype will defeat each
enemy. The highly simplified models of biological systems (such as amino acids,
the universal genetic code, and genetic engineering) require teachers to
highlight and explain the differences between the game and real biology, but
they also make the content more accessible and fun for the students.
island hoppers: evolution
Premise: In a world full of
islands each with their own bunny population, small changes to the environment
can have noticeable evolutionary effects. You have the power to make
environmental changes on your own island, such as increasing temperature,
adjusting the local flora, and even introducing a virus. By collecting data
over many generations and looking at the proportion of certain traits in your
population, you will discover evolutionary trends and learn to predict future
Island Hoppers poses an
interesting design challenge because our goal is to take a very broad topic,
evolution, which often contains many misconceptions for students, and break it
down into bite”" size chunks. We ultimately do this by specifying formulas for
the back”" end simulation which enable players to fast”" forward through time
step by step to research each relationship. One element unique to Island
Hoppers is the graphically represented data and the use of histograms to
display the breakdown of certain varieties of bunny traits. Reading graphs is a
very important skill in science which is sometimes overlooked, so teachers
value this feature. At the same time, the graphs provide information on whether
players are making the right moves, so students are motivated to learn to read
chomp!: food webs
Premise: Mysterious species
are connected in complex food webs that are under attack. Aliens have been
chomping on these ecosystems and each time they decimate one species, it has a
drastic effect on the other interconnected species. Players must examine the
relationships between species to understand and predict the population
increases and decreases. If they can use this knowledge to determine which
species was the latest victim, they will be able to restore the food web to its
The main goal of Chomp! is
to give students practice reading the energy flow of a food web. It presents
just two modes of difficulty, offering relatively less gameplay than the other
games. Like Invasion of the Beasties, Chomp! utilizes fictional species
content, which in this case compels players to think about the predator— prey
relationships rather than relying on prior knowledge of real species. Because
each food web is generated procedurally, no two players get the same sequence
of puzzles, though the generated food webs do increase in complexity. As a
result, instead of students' sharing the specific solutions they find for each
puzzle, they are encouraged to explain the overarching concepts in order to
help each other.
UbiqBio games ideally
should be fun as standalone games, but we don't expect students to learn
everything they need from the game on its own. On the contrary, the design of
the implementation and surrounding curriculum are equally important. UbiqBio
games are designed to be implemented in conjunction with the relevant unit in a
biology course and teacher facilitation is essential to their success. Teachers
can use UbiqBio games to introduce a concept, to explore it more deeply, or as
additional practice or review. Here is a typical implementation example of
using a game in the middle of a unit to let students gain experience with the
Introduce genetics, genotypes, phenotypes, and Punnett squares.
day 2: Demo
Beetle Breeders game and assign students to play 20 minutes a day for the rest
of the week.
days 3 and 4:
Continue teaching various inheritance patterns as students use out”" of”" class
time to explore these concepts in the game.
day 5: Debrief
the game with students, discussing their breeding strategies and how the game
is like or unlike real genetics.
Because transfer is one of
the most challenging aspects of any educational game, we worked with teachers
to design curricular materials that would address the issue of transfer
explicitly. For instance, given the implementation above, these are some of the
possible ways to connect the game content to the class content:
Problems that get students thinking in the same way they will need to in the
game, such as determining the possible phenotypes of a child with two blue”"
do”" nows: Tasks
with a format very close to what students need to do in the game, such as
selecting parents for a cross or completing a Punnett square.
Activities that extend the premise and characters of the game, such as working
backwards to identify the parents of a given offspring.
in”" class examples:
Ideas students come up with using the game as a frame of reference, such as
identifying the number of spots beetles have as an example of a polygenic
Questions that challenge students to compare strategies
they used in the game, such
as: How did you choose which beetles to mate?
think”" abouts: Prompts
that encourage students to think about how the game concepts relate to their
own lives, such as: What traits have been passed down in your own family?
Both concrete materials as
well as guidelines for best practices are an important
part of the UbiqBio
approach, and were refined throughout the implementation
of the project. We relied
on teachers to explicitly connect the games to their curriculum, frequently
tying the game mechanics and content back to the unit once all students had
that shared experience.
UbiqBio in schools
As mentioned previously,
these games have already been used in high schools as part of a research study.
During the spring semester of 2011, high school students at three Boston”" area
schools used all four UbiqBio games as part of their intro biology course. We
worked with six teachers with a total of about 200 participating students. The
grant provided smartphones with data plans (but no voice or text capability) so
that each student could access the games anytime, anywhere, and in frequent but
short bursts, as they were designed to be played.
At each point in the
semester when the class came to one of the relevant units, the teachers would
sign out a phone to each student and assign the game to be played as homework,
usually over the course of about a week. Teachers attended a professional
development session for each game and curriculum materials were provided as
described above, but each adapted those to better fit into their existing
curriculum and preferred activities. During the time students were playing each
game, teachers could access the Teacher Portal to monitor student progress and
get a sense of how they were doing. Available data included how often and how
long students were playing, and how far they had progressed through the content
of the game. Teachers either assigned students to play for a certain length of
time each day, or to play through a certain level, both of which they could
confirm through the web site.
For the most part teachers
were able to use the games according to plan, though there were some
challenges. Many of the difficulties were technology”" related: phones
malfunctioning or students forgetting to charge them, games running slowly on
3G networks or bottlenecks when many students played simultaneously, and
school”" based internet going down when teachers had planned to demo a game in
class. These issues are inevitable in any educational technology initiative,
and certainly had an effect on our goals of giving students easy access to the
In addition, students are
already using their own phones for many things in their lives — texting, music,
Facebook, etc. — and being able to do schoolwork on the same device makes the
transition more seamless, as opposed to using an "extra" device as they did in
this case. We expect that a few years from now when more students have
internet”" enabled mobile devices of their own, many of these issues will disappear.
Finally, one of the main
departures from our ideal UbiqBio scenario was that teachers ended up spending
more class time on the games than they had hoped. It often took longer than
planned to hand out phones, demo the game, and make sure everyone knew what to
do, sometimes taking as much as a full class period. While these are essential
activities, designing more tutorials and instructions into future versions of
the games would move more of the start”" up time from in”" class to outside”" of”"
class and provide students with the tools to figure things out on their own.
This would simultaneously enable teachers to dedicate valuable class time
toward deeper discussions of the game content.
Despite some of the
challenges, teachers and students alike were excited to be using mobile biology
games as part of their classes, and overall they enjoyed the experience.
Through the variety of research methods that we used, we were able to get a
good sense of what factors contributed most to the UbiqBio experience.
the student experience
Of the students that played
the UbiqBio games, 77% thought they were fun, for a variety of reasons. There
was definitely a "cool factor" of getting to use a new smartphone, but students
also found the games fun and even addicting and said that playing the games did
not feel like schoolwork. As one student put it,
"It like gives you
excitement in what you're doing. Homework, no you just sit there and you're
like 'No, I don't want to do this.' You want to burn the paper. But no, the
game, you're just like 'Wow, I want to keep going and going.'"
This type of response
indicates that we were able to meet our goal of designing games that were fun
and engaging. In particular, students especially liked Invasion of the Beasties
because of its wacky characters and humorous art style, which suggests that
narrative is an important part of mobile game design.
Even though students were
assigned to play the games, they also enjoyed doing it and often played a good
deal more than they were required. Sometimes students would sit down to play in
one long stretch, and they most often played at home, but they also took
advantage of the ability to play one round at a time while waiting for the bus,
riding in the car, or between classes. Only 18% of UbiqBio students thought it
was not easy to find time to play, and interviews revealed that the mobility of
the games did contribute to students' willingness to use them since it was easy
to play in any room of the house, or wherever they happened to be. Naturally no
single learning tool will address the needs of all students, but with the
majority finding these games fun and easy to fit into their busy lives, this
approach is likely to be welcomed by many teachers.
Competition played a
significant role and was a motivating factor in the play experience for many of
the classes. Some teachers sparked the competition by using the Teacher Portal
to announce the current leaders each day and even offering extra credit to the
winner. However, students also got into the competitive spirit on their own,
asking their friends what level they were on to assess the competition and
staying up late some nights in order to have the highest score by the next
morning. One student explained,
"We felt like we were
competing because people come in and say 'Oh, I'm in this level.' and then
people are like, 'You are?' and then it's like 'I could beat that, I could beat
that.' so it gives you motivation to go beat them."
Although we didn't include
a built”" in leader board or direct in”" game competition, these are clearly
things that many students would be enthusiastic about for future UbiqGames.
We did find examples of
students who were typically struggling or disengaged with class but then became
engrossed with certain games. A few of them even surprised the whole class by
earning the highest rankings. Their teachers were always thrilled to see that
happen, and we feel that it demonstrates the ability of games to appeal to
different types of learners and the value in providing opportunities to try
things out on their own in a safe space.
Students' main reason for
liking UbiqBio was that the games were fun, but 76% of them also felt that the
games helped them learn. They recognized the fact that playing the games was
more active than doing worksheets and they thought being able to really see
things happen and make changes to the beetles, amino acids, etc. by themselves
could help them understand the ideas. For example, after playing Beetle
Breeders, one student said:
"With the Punnett Squares I
think that helped me ” to understand it. ” I've taken this class before and I
haven't gotten it, that's not something I'm good at. ” It made me feel better
because instead of having to sit in class and take notes there was a better way
to learn how to do that. ” I feel like now I get it more, I understand it
Students said they would
have liked to see more graphics and more action in the games, but our
simulation”" based designs were definitely a good start.
There were elements of
certain games, such as Punnett squares and food web diagrams, which reminded
students of their experience in the games when they appeared on tests and may
have helped them transfer knowledge to these more traditional assessments.
However, we also noticed that students saw the games as largely separate from
class. Based on interviews with students, there appeared to be very few times
when students were playing the game and consciously thought about something
from class, or vice”" versa. This suggests that future games and curricula might
be improved by emphasizing connections between in”" class and out”" of”" class
activities, and facilitating transfer between formats.
the teacher experience
Teachers also found UbiqBio
interesting and useful. They had fun playing the games themselves, and all 6
teachers reported that their students were engaged with the games. They felt it
really made sense to have activities that kids could do on devices they already
know and love, especially ones that were so easily integrated into their
existing lesson plans.
The Teacher Portal proved
to be an invaluable tool for teachers, and despite not being as polished or
user”" friendly as we the designers had hoped, five out of six teachers said
they did not find it at all challenging to use. One teacher described her use
of the web site:
"I looked at the teacher
portal ” at least once a day. ” If I noticed there was a student that had ”
very low points ” then I knew that I needed to catch up with that student and
find out what was wrong. ” And so it just gave me some more details of where my
students were at."
Using the site, teachers
could identify who might need more encouragement or help with the game, as well
as who deserved recognition and might be able to give that help.
At the end of the semester,
all of the teachers reported that they felt the UbiqBio games helped students
learn biology content and practice related skills. There were a number of ways
that teachers could tell UbiqBio was helping their students learn. Some felt
that the games
provided more background
for students so that when they covered the concepts in class, teachers could
use game content as examples and the students could already identify with that.
They also noticed that certain students had gained confidence using the
concepts on their own in the game. One teacher, describing the in”" class
"The kids that played [the
games] that normally wouldn't be doing a lot of work, were much more willing to
give their opinions. They answered a lot of questions and answered them well."
students was one effect of UbiqBio that genuinely surprised a number of the
teachers. One of them said,
"I was surprised about how
much the students helped each other out. Many times students that didn't get it
were offered help by another student in the class that did. I didn't think the
games would generate that much cooperation."
In this way, the games
started conversations about biology content that wouldn't normally occur and
teachers were thrilled to see that.
trying the ubiq approach
Teachers considering using
the UbiqGames approach in their classrooms, whether with these or other mobile
games, will want to think through some key aspects of the curriculum design:
” What do you want students
to gain from their individual gameplay time?
” How does that experience
relate to your existing lesson plans?
” How will you make
connections between in”" and out”" of— class formats
” and concepts?
” How will you encourage
student collaboration and discussion?
After studying the ways
that UbiqBio games were used in six teachers' classrooms, we know that while
each game had its pros and cons, these are some of the guiding questions which
are key to a successful implementation. When thoughtfully integrated into a curriculum,
we have seen that a successful UbiqGame can be a powerful tool for learning in
any content area. They engage and motivate students with a wide array of
learning styles and background knowledge. Like other good educational games,
they help students understand concepts more deeply and practice skills at their
own pace. With proper support they are easily integrated into existing lesson
plans and leave in”" class time for the most valuable activities. Lastly, being
mobile, connected, and personalized, they provide students with educational
experiences that fit the way they live their lives.
At the time of writing, our
four UbiqBio games are still under development,
being cleaned up before
being released to the public. Once the games are stable
and the log data is
reliable, the games and Teacher Portal will be available for
free on the MIT Scheller
Teacher Education Program web site. Interested
teachers will be able to
create an account, manage their classes, and access the
games and related curriculum
materials. For the most current information,
education.mit.edu or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It takes a lot to design,
develop, and research a suite of mobile games, and we
would like to acknowledge
everyone who played a major role on the UbiqBio
team. Thanks to Professor
Eric Klopfer, researcher Judy Perry, developers
Susanna Schroeder, Fidel
Sosa, Jose Soto, and Grafton Daniels, artist Amanda
Clarke, and teachers Amanda
Tsoi, Lauren Poussard, Lisa Curtin, Rebecca
Veilleux, Leo Medina, and
by John Martin
University of Wisconsin—
Madison, Academic Technology
In this GPS”" assisted game,
campers embark on a "typical" 4”" day trip. But once they're far across the lake,
their reason for hiking changes! Through their communicator — their only
connection to base camp — they hear terrible news from camp. With periodic
updates, they figure out what's happening, and play the lead role in saving the
camp (while learning much more than usual about the land they're hiking
duration: 4 Days
location: Wilderness of
The Mystery Trip is an
outdoor interactive adventure that increases engagement
with "and connection to"
place, helps build interpersonal relationships, and helps increase outdoor
acumen. It was based on a trip sent out in the 1920s”" 1940s that required too
much set up time to sustain, but was updated and run using MIT's Outdoor AR
platform on Windows Mobile devices and Bluetooth GPS units, between 2005”" 2009.
Flying Moose Lodge is a
deep woods summer camp in Maine that allows 10”" 16 year”" old boys to go out on
four”" day trips each week, where they canoe or hike in small groups. Extended
outdoor adventures typically provide opportunities to learn a number of things
in a context that is neither contrived nor artificial. The setting is authentic
and the consequences are most”" often natural, rather than imposed by a
constructed rubric or educational plan. In addition to increasing technical
skills such as canoeing or fire”" building, participants learn things that are
hard to teach in a structured setting, such as the ability to improvise (e.g.
how do we set up an effective campsite in these conditions), to think fast
(e.g. it's about to rain, do we continue on route X, or find another?), to live
with decisions (e.g. we should have stayed with our original route because this
one is less protected), to accept with a certain level of grace that one cannot
control all the factors one has to face (e.g. weather, terrain, group
dynamics), and to appreciate the control and opportunities that one is afforded
(e.g. attitude, skill”" building, planning, a sunny break from rain).
Since 1993, I have helped
direct the camp, and with other staff had noticed that while canoe trips taught
campers to canoe well enough because every stroke of the paddle required
concentration on the skill, they weren't learning many skills on hiking trips.
Trails were, in the words of one camper, "like interstate highways" — there was
no real need to think about what one was doing until the exit (trail junction).
Consequently, campers talked about sports, girls, school, video games, etc.
rather than about the experience they were engaged in, or about the camp
community they were operating as part of. Decades ago, when campers would stay
for eight weeks at a time, good outdoor skills, tight communities, and a deep
sense of belonging would eventually emerge. As camp sessions became abbreviated
because of other summer commitments, we also noticed that campers connected
less — both with each other and with environment. We looked to emerging GPS
technology, and MIT's Outdoor AR to recreate an old trip that hadn't been run
since the late 1940s. A revitalized Mystery Trip provided an opportunity to
address these issues by immersing the campers in an intense group”" narrativized
adventure. The old Mystery Trip, as described by a camper who participated in
it in 1927, appeared to be something that mobile technology could support and
Towards the end of each
summer, while the older boys were doing manly things on the Allagash or at
Katahdin, we others took part in the wild pursuit of thieves, kidnappers, and
other nefarious individuals.
That first summer of mine,
quite unexpectedly, as we were about to set out on our regularly scheduled
trips one Tuesday morning, we were all called together and the cold facts were
put before us. Something terrible had happened; I am sure that I don't remember
what. Plans had to be changed at the last moment, and all our energies were to
be devoted to helping the local authorities, whoever they were, hunt down the
criminals and bring them to justice. At the same time we would uphold the honor
of the camp, and in all probability bring fame and fortune to ourselves and our
Assignments were quickly
made. For the sake of expediency, the original trip groupings would be
maintained, but we would travel unexpected paths. All of this had been well
arranged beforehand; and I can visualize the counselors now constructing the
complicated plot in the evenings after we had gone to bed. Now they were ready
to play it out.
I can't remember much of
that first Mystery Trip except that it rained. It rained all the time. The
villains, whoever they were, had left clues and trails as they challenged
us to track them down.
Coded messages were found and deciphered. The net was slowly tightening. In
tracking those undesirables, we learned more than we at the moment wanted to
know about following trails in the woods. I clearly remember looking for stone
cairns on the mountain side under what were certainly not the most favorable
This was too fun to let it
remain in the archives — even with the rain. Present day campers were recruited
to create a modern narrative equivalent, and came up with a story about the
camp being taken over by a rival camp. It's a simple linear narrative with 13
1. start of trip:
Campers embark on a 4”" day "Trails" trip, where they're told they'll be hiking
some mountains in the 5000 acre wilderness next to the camp. I give them a
"Communicator" (Windows Mobile device) and explain that we'll be trying to keep
in touch with them in case anything happens. They canoe across the lake and get
to the base of the first mountain when something happens.
2. across the lake:
As they hike up the mountain on the trail, the communicator
buzzes. It's the assistant
director, looking beat up and not responding to any of their questions. He
suggests that the communicator might have been damaged in the melee, but he
hopes they can hear him. He has terrible news. The camp was invaded. He doesn't
know by whom. It was chaotic. He managed to escape, and is spying on the
invaders, so he'll keep them informed, but they need to get out of there
because the invaders know about their trip. Go to the secret campsite on the
top of the mountain and wait for more information, but stay off the main trails
and be sure that no one sees them!
3. top of mountain:
At the top of the mountain the communicator buzzes again. The invaders are
setting up a radio tower. We can use the communicator as a receiver, and if we
triangulate the signal maybe we can decode it and figure out how to defeat
them. Get to the top of three more mountains to collect the signal. But camp
here for the night.
In parts 4”" 13, they make
their way around swamps, through brambles and briers, up (and down) three more
mountains to capture and triangulate the signal being sent out by the invaders.
This triangulation provides enough information to decode the signal, which is
then modified and rebroadcast in such a way to send the invaders away. Suffice
to say, there are a number of huge holes and logical leaps in the story that
always motivated good”" natured debates and theories within the groups to explain
what was actually happening in the narrative, and how triangulation could or
could not provide decoding clues, etc. While our first instinct was to try to
close the logical fallacies, we decided that if it encouraged the formation of
arguments and peer”" to”" peer learning, it would be foolish to take them out.
To capture and triangulate
the signals, and in the spirit of moving the narrative forward, the campers
inevitably take more difficult and less”" used paths ”" sometimes
bushwhacking. They operate
in stealth mode and employ Leave”" No”" Trace principles. Instead of talking
about girls and classes and baseball, they talk about what might be happening
in the narrative, learn map”" reading and way”" finding, and help each other
through difficult terrain.
Essentially, during the
four days they hike up the same mountains that they had planned to hike, and do
all the same things they would have done without the interactive narrative. But
the addition of the interactive narrative dramatically changes their attitudes,
motivation, and participation in the trip. They feel central to the trip and to
the camp because it's up to them to save it.
Camper 3: On a regular trip you
just want to get to the next campsite, but on this
you have to get to this
mountain to stop the radio signals”
Camper 4: And you don't know
what's going to happen next! That's really fun!
designing mystery trip
In designing a wilderness
trip, our first concern is safety. In addition to the standard practice of
keeping campers in groups of 3”" 6, supervised at all times by licensed trip
leaders, we employed additional safeguards. Recognizing that they may stray
from established trails, we sent each group with an additional GPS unit. We
thoroughly briefed the trip leader on both the terrain they'd be traveling
through, and the narrative that would structure their trip and kept the whole
experience within 4 miles of the camp.
Beyond safety, I wanted to
motivate and engage campers to participate in activities. Primary in our design
goals is the need to make the design compelling.
participation comes competency and expertise in both interpersonal and outdoor
skills, feelings of belonging and community, and a better understanding of and
respect for nature. These are the desired outcomes of any camp activity, but
they depend on active engagement by campers. If a camper does not want to be
involved in an activity, he will not get as much out of it. We believe that
nature offers plenty of problems to engage in and solve provided that campers
have a reason to solve them.
Engagement was leveraged at
the beginning of the design process by recruiting campers to make the game; to
design something that would be used by their peers and potentially coming
generations of campers. We sent the first group out with a notebook, GPS, and a
description of the original game, and asked them to come up with their own
story. They returned with a largely empty notebook (writing was too much like
school), and some vague ideas and character descriptions, which we molded into
a game (Wild Moose) primarily through discussion.
The next round of campers
were then able to play that game. They were asked to play it and modify it
based on their own ideas. They initially weren't impressed with the game the
previous group had created, but having a concrete example of a game to play was
enough to motivate them to "do better" and think through ideas more thoroughly.
They had a complete narrative (Mitchville: Where It All Began) with characters
and locations, which we were able to plug into the game editor the next week.
In this design, we used a
very simple linear narrative and stretched it out over 16 square miles. The
narrative just offered a framework for them on which to build their own team's
adventure. As they played they continued to ask, "What happens next?" This
approach to design and writing was enough to motivate the campers to crisscross
over the mountains, through forests, and around swamps as they role”" played a
rag”" tag group of spies.
implementation of mystery trip
Over the course of three
summers, about 40 campers and staff "played" through the Mystery Trip in groups
of between 3 and 6 people. Each group prepped for a basic hiking trip, and as
they were headed out, I asked them to carry a "communicator" that we were
trying out to try to keep in touch with trip groups. Most realized there was a
game in action after the first communication from me, but there was a kernel of
doubt throughout in some of the campers. Since the game narrative suggested
that the camp was being taken over by a rival camp, and participants could see
the camp from a distance, but only barely make out that some movement was
occurring there (movement which was simply routine weekly maintenance), they
could not really be sure what was happening.
Camper 1: "I liked the espionage. Actually
that was really fun. ... we have
no evidence to actually
disprove the game, so because of that, it was kind
Camper 2: "you actually have imagination
because it says things that are
going on that aren't really
going on, so it's just kind of neat like that. So
you can imagine what's
happening in the game instead of just hiking."
When they returned to camp
I interviewed each camper individually or in groups about their experience and
what they would recommend changing. Each group built on the ideas of the
previous group, and redesigns became part of the process itself. Each
implementation had challenges, surprises, and lessons for other iterations.
The challenges of running
this game in 2005, at a wilderness camp that didn't even have electricity were
numerous. We charged the devices in camp vans; software updates required
driving into town twenty miles away; the Windows Mobile devices and Bluetooth
GPS units were fragile and sometimes did not survive swims ("I forgot it was in
my pocket"); and my one day off was typically spent writing up notes and
tweaking the narrative based on participant suggestions. But the most
frustrating thing was the battery life of the devices, further shortened on a
number of trips due to campers playing Bubble”" breaker and other games at night
after hiking. In the morning, the "Communicator" has a dead battery. We found
that having the counselor hold the device at the end of the day, and sending a
second fully”" charged device alleviated the battery problems. There were no
game”" related injuries in any trips.
the player experience
The sheer scope of a game
to structure a four”" day hiking trip allows a lot of breathing room in the
game. In our experience, the simple narrative was allowed and enhanced by the
mobile device, but was not centered in the device. We had no riddles to solve,
but instead let the lay of the land between points provide the challenge.
Similarly, we had no ecological lessons or morals embedded in the game, but
instead let their own experience hiking and camping together supply the space
and time to reflect on the lessons and morals that emerged.
The most surprising result
was that the simple phrase "they're coming after you!" almost always prompted
campers to bush”" whack to their next destination.
Camper 7: "You think that you don't want to
go on the trails because
the other camp would be
there waiting for you..."
Given the choice, all
groups reported going off trail, while the trip leaders maintained that they
continued to practice many Leave”" No”" Trace principles. By choosing to go off”"
trail, they greatly increased the difficulty and skills needed to complete
their trip. Off trail, the trees are closer together, terrain is uneven, and
the direction of travel is uncertain. On a trail, there is a general set of
expectations: that it leads where you expect it to; that it's recognizable and
somewhat passable; that others have gone this way and survived. After a few
trail”" hiking experiences campers start knowing what to expect, and it begins
to become routine; for many of the campers, hiking trips at Flying Moose had
become that, as indicated in terminology used in the interviews, such as "just
hiking" (camper 2), and "regular trail" (counselor 1). The "long snaky group"
that occurred on regular trips segregated fast hikers from slow ones; the ones
in front felt no need to help the slow ones because the trail was the obvious
path, and more importantly they did not feel like part of a group on a group
quest. By going off trail, they took out the map more often and gained
orientation skills. They talked more among themselves about the best path,
helped each other up cliffs, over downed trees, around swamps, and worked
together as a team more than they did on other hiking trips.
Camper 1: "...and jumping from rock to rock
at times, in fact there was
one really deep hole with
ground at the bottom that didn't look too
sturdy. I'm like "Whoa!
Don't fall down that" Of course J was really
tired and was following me,
and I didn't want him to fall in it."
In some ways, the increased
difficulty also increased the worth of the trip. As one trip leader explained,
"you're not going to orienteer around a swamp, you're going to walk until you
can put your foot down without sinking, and then you've got to figure out where
you are again ... because of the sense of discovery that goes along with
uncertainty, the rewards are in some ways greater than even hiking up a much
more objectively spectacular mountain."
As they hiked, players engaged
in building their own group story off each others' ideas, and new narrative
elements emerged. Thus, the deer”" hunting stands they stumbled upon, though not
in the original narrative, became enemy sniper towers that must be avoided. And
other people on the trail were hidden from because they might be enemy scouts.
Because locations were set but routes were not, campers reported feeling like
they were the first to step on that ground.
lessons from mystery trip
Through the narrative the
campers saw themselves at times as fugitives, explorers, rescuers, and finally
as heroes — more deeply connected to both the camp community and the land they
had just experienced. The adventure was an initiation of sorts, and in "saving
the camp" they were let in on a number of inside jokes that older campers and
staff knew. Having now learned them, they too felt an increase in identity as
part of the camp group. Furthermore, having experienced and co”" created their
own specific group adventure within the structure
of the more generic
narrative structure, they bonded with their trip mates, but also shared parts
of it with campers who had not been on the trip — careful to include hints, but
not spoilers, in case the others were going next time.
Their counselors reported that
whereas typically campers dislike the difficulty of hiking off”" trail, and
whine and try to avoid it, in this case the narrative element gave them a good
enough reason to try it, and having experienced it for the sake of the plot
line, they learned to be adept and even comfortable with it. The difficulty
of it, though, also
decreased the relative difficulty of the other parts of the trips. For example,
the tasks of setting up a campsite, building a fire, and making a meal seem
luxurious after fighting ones' way through brambles. On regular trail”" hikes,
these things are a bother.
Surprisingly, map and
compass skills also increased. We had thought these skills would decrease
because the narrative was revealed by GPS on a Windows Mobile device. But the 200x200
pixel size of the screen just did not give enough detail or context to satisfy
the campers' questions of how to get from point to point. They reported
tremendous group discussion and map”" and”" compass work to correlate location
and direction to landmarks and geographical features. As a larger object, the
map was both easier to crowd around, and to contextualize their exact position
relative to the land around them.
Though we had originally
planned cut”" scenes and a higher production value, we found that they were not
needed. Much like a good book, the text narrative was enough to trigger the
imaginations of the campers, and as they hiked they shared with each other what
they thought must be going on at camp. And, it turns out that even the best computer
effects cannot rival the resolution of real rain, the actual dropping of
temperature at night, or the feeling of spider”" webs smearing across one's face
in a hike.
The hardware that we ran
the Mystery Trip on is dead; the batteries no longer charge, and new Windows
Mobile devices probably are not worth trying to find. The idea is a good one
though, and it provided us with both a serviceable testing platform, and
results that continue to inform. If we were to recreate the Mystery Trip again,
we would (in 2012) probably simply port it into a plat-form like ARIS, and use
iPod Touches and a portable Wi”" fi hotspot that would be under counselor
One addition that we would
like to add is to provide greater opportunities for participants to modify and
add their own voices and experiences to the narrative. All found "hidden gems"
in the various paths that they took. Many mapped these out on paper or on the
emergency GPS, and some of these gems found their way into the official
narrative. We'd like to make that process much easier, so that instead of
playing one official version, campers could follow intertwining narrative
threads laid down by those who had come before them — and leave some virtual
threads of their own for those who come after. For example, the ability even to
map out wild raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries could further motivate
future campers to undertake the grueling bushwhack to get there, and forever
immortalize the discoverers' adventure; saving a group from inadvertently wandering
into a swamp, or pointing out a particularly scenic outcropping are all
contributions that imbue a sense of philanthropy in the campers who add them.
Sometimes giving back to a community is the best way to increase ones' sense of
belonging to the community. We would like to provide that option when we re”"
create the Mystery Trip.
Augmented Reality authoring
platforms, such as ARIS, or the MIT Outdoor
AR platform used in the
Mystery Trip allow communities to create place”" based
experiences. These can re”"
frame one's experience of space in situ, and foster
deeper connections to
communities and the cultures of place. This type of learning links community
involvement with meaningful practice in physical place
by tapping into deeply
embodied pedagogies of sensation and cultural practice.
by Chris Holden and Julie
University of New Mexico —
A relative has just been
accused of being involved in a murder and you are responsible for clearing the
family name. You quickly learn that you will have to find clues by exploring a
Spanish”" speaking neighborhood in Albuquerque and sharing these clues with
others. You think, "Spanish?! How in the world am I going to do this in Spanish?
Why would I want to?". Yet you forge ahead into the adventure and begin to
unveil the mystery of Mentira — a place”" based mobile game designed for your
Spanish 202 class. Over the course of the next four weeks, you play the game at
home and explore a local Spanish”" speaking neighborhood while, at the same
time, improving your abilities in Spanish.
In this chapter, we unpack
the Mentira experience in terms of design, implementation
and evaluation. We first
explore Mentira as an example of the potential uses of place”" based mobile
games. This is followed by a discussion of design goals, lesson learned, and
future considerations. Our hope is to not only provide a case that examines
place”" based mobile games for language learning, but also give insight into the
design and implementation of place”" based games in other disciplines.
the mentira adventure
(http://mentira.org), which means 'a lie' in
Spanish, is an augmented reality murder mystery game that is integrated in a
fourth semester Spanish course at the University of New Mexico. The unit takes
place over four weeks. The game is set in a Spanish”" speaking neighborhood in
Albuquerque, Los Greigos, which eventually becomes the site for a field trip in
which players use local resources to access in”" game content, and, ultimately,
solve the mystery of Mentira. Students play the game on iPod Touches or iPhones
which are either owned by the students themselves or loaned to the students as
part of the course. The game is made accessible via iTunes for those who wish
to use their own device. Levels 1”" 1, 1”" 2, and 2”" 1 prepare players to go to
the Los Griegos neighborhood by introducing them to their family, revealing the
murder, and expressing the need to find clues in order to absolve their own
family and preserve the honor of the family name.
As the game begins, the
player joins one of four families which each have different family values,
expectations for behavior, and insider knowledge. For example, the Silva family
is a long standing law enforcement family with a great deal of respect in the
local community. They value integrity and are brave, fair, and a little
rebellious. In later iterations of the game, these characteristics are first
presented to a player on a family card in order to set the context and
establish some parameters
for interaction (see Figure
A player's family
determines the type of information he or she is given, some personality”" based
expectations for interaction, and sets the context in which the rest of the
mystery is eventually revealed. Different families have different clues and
provide information that is needed by all to solve the mystery, creating an
information gap scenario in which players from different families must
collaborate in order to get all of the information. For example, a member of
the Gurulé family is the only person to get a specific clue about a notebook
found near the scene of the murder. Therefore, as the game progresses, players
must work together and share information in order to have all of the clues and
be able to solve the murder. The next two levels of the game take place over
the next two weeks and are focused on setting the scene and preparing the
player to go to the actual neighborhood to find clues.
A number of design goals centered
on enhancing the language learning experience of students through the use of a
place”" based AR game. Here, we highlight a few that are especially notable.
It seems logical that
Albuquerque, NM would be a great place for an English speaker to learn Spanish.
After all, Spanish was used in the community long before English and continues
to be an integral part of much of the city. New Mexico was part of Spain and
Mexico before it was part of the US. Yet, in all reality, the majority of Spanish
classrooms at the University of New Mexico look much like any other Spanish
classroom in the country. In many cases, our students feel that what they do in
the classroom is abstractly and distantly related to their lives. Mentira is an
explicit attempt to change this, to make the local Spanish”" speaking community
a meaningful part of learners' language experiences. Therefore, the game comes
out of Albuquerque's identity as a place bound up with the Spanish language and
makes concrete use of the rich context immediately outside of the classroom. It
is intended as a stepping stone for students into the Spanish speaking world,
not another tool for memorization and regurgitation of language forms.
Visiting the neighborhood
to play the game is an important part of the authenticity we are trying to
impart, and part of the reason Mentira is in the form of a mobile game.
Technically, this story could be told in a desktop game, or entirely in the
home environment. People could play it anywhere in the world. But without going
to the neighborhood, the experience falls flat. We will discuss later how we
see more curiosity, willingness to take risks, and teamwork out in the field
than in the classroom with Mentira. The coordination
between the players'
physical locations and the place in the game world is the center of the magic
that is augmented reality. Generally, its what makes this new genre
an interesting story
To get students excited to
play Mentira, we sought to create a story that:
” did not feel fake and
” was not a tourist
” connected not just the
language and a place in time and space, but also felt like it belonged to the
rich culture that surrounds Spanish in the local community, and
” was exciting enough to
make for a fun game.
The story, coupled with
authentic language, provided a game that was realistic and relevant for the
place. We decided on the format of a murder mystery, historical fiction,
because it allowed us to create an authentic setting from actual historical
details and gave us the freedom to create a simple and direct goal for the game
as a whole — solve the murder. We found a nearby neighborhood, Los Griegos,
that used to be an agricultural village before it was swallowed by the growing
metropolis of Albuquerque. The village is at least as old as its 300 year old
church, and Spanish has always been a part of the place. Traces of the past
(see Figure 2) are everywhere to be found, and Spanish is still a part of Los
Griegos' present (see Figure 3).
We also chose this
neighborhood as a setting for our game because we had contacts who knew and had
written about the history of the place. This gave us details that we could use
together with more general themes and histories around Albuquerque to construct
In fact, the name of the
game itself comes from an interaction with a local resident about the
neighborhood's history. In our documentation of the neighborhood, it was
suggested that a particular building was a boarding house for priests or nuns.
A neighbor we met in the neighborhood went across the street to ask her mother, a long”" term resident of Los Griegos,
about this. When she returned, it was with a single word "mentira" — a lie! Her
mother strongly doubted the scholarship in our hands and sparked a name that
now forms the foundation of the rest of the story. The interweaving of past and
present, makes a strong impact on our plans for the future and highlights the
way in which augmented reality can not only help students access the place, but
also shape their interactions with it in the future.
in Spanish, not about Spanish
One of the biggest
shortcomings in educational materials for language learning is the way they
position the learner in relation to the language. Rather than providing
opportunities to use the language, they often focus on memorizing things about
it. This is especially the case for programs designed for mobile devices. In an
effort to deepen students' experience, Mentira does not try to teach about
Spanish. It is in Spanish. Students use Spanish to play it.
With authenticity in mind,
Mentira is designed to include a fair amount of vocabulary that the students
are unfamiliar with. The reason is to reinforce the authenticity of the game as
a story coming from a particular place, as dialogue with particular people.
Rather than speaking generic textbook Spanish, these characters have regionally
appropriate dialogue and their personality comes across in their patterns of
speech. So we expect students will have to learn some new words in the course
of the game, either by looking them up or asking others.
Much of the game consists
of simulated dialogue with characters in the game. Our dialogue is very similar
to the dialogue found in Where in the World is Carmen San Diego or Mass Effect.
To interact, the player reads text coming from the virtual character and then
usually has a series of choices of how to respond to that character. Depending
on the choices made, this dialogue proceeds further and in different
directions. Figure 4 is the beginning of an interaction with a member of the
As you are introduced to
Alejandro Silva in the first level of the game, he suggests you come back the
next day to learn more details. You are then given a variety of choices about
how to respond — walk away, give a rude response, and give a polite response.
Each choice results in a different outcome ranging from game over to additional
information. As the player interacts with more characters, language becomes
more and more vital to continued success. Different personalities prefer
different language and different strategies.
Success and failure in
Mentira does not depend directly on the mastery of a word list. The unfamiliar
vocabulary is part of the setting. There is not so much of it that students are
totally lost, but enough that they know there is something missing. Instead of
revolving around the assimilation of vocabulary, the conversations work in
terms of pragmatics: knowing the social setting and acting appropriately. Characters
in the game will tell you more or less, and sometimes outright lie to you,
depending on the way in which you converse with them. For example, Ignacia
(Nacha) Jaramillo inquires about Alejandro Silva, a long time ally of the
Jaramillo family, before interacting with the player (Figure 5). If the player
is rude or does not indicate he or she is a member of the Jaramillo family, no
clues are given and advancement is not possible. Getting enough information to
help solve the murder depends on the students' abilities to suss out certain
basic features of Spanish pragmatics. Also, the humor in Mentira results from
opportunities to flagrantly go against the rules.
Pragmatics is a very
difficult aspect of learning a second language, and so most classrooms ignore
it. There are no hard and fast rules and so it is hard to test. We don't claim
that Mentira is the missing teaching tool for pragmatics, only that it returns
the topic to a place of prominence, and again adds to the authenticity of the
story we are telling. The game does not call attention to them by name, but
since the conversations revolve around social niceties, pragmatics becomes an
obvious topic of conversation around the gameplay, whether directed by the
teacher in the classroom, or by students in discussing the mystery.
Though the dialogue plays a
large role in the game, students make use of Spanish in more ways during its
play. In the game software itself, there are written clues, media items, and
directions in Spanish whose successful decoding allows players to navigate the
mystery and eventually find the real killer. In addition, the classroom
activities, and our jigsawing of the mystery across several player roles, not
to mention the field trip, create opportunities for the students to interact with
one another in relation to the language in the game.
jigsaws, roles, and other gamey goodness
In designing Mentira, we
looked to borrow other features from the world of games that we felt were
responsible for meaningful play and could support interactions
outside gameplay. For
example, to encourage teamwork across students, the clues to the murder (or
their veracity) was scattered across four player roles in a classic jigsaw
format. No player has enough information to solve the murder on their own. The
clues only make sense by triangulating them with those obtained by others.
Besides scattering information in the software, many in”" class interactions,
including the final solution to the murder, were designed to take place through
small and large group discussion. There are also situations during the field
trip where players have different possible locations and interactions based
upon their chosen family. Through this jigsaw design, we emphasize the
important role of collaboration in the gameplay experience.
One of the more basic
benefits we hoped to gain from using a game was to produce an environment where
language production had lower perceived risks because the game could always be
begun again with no penalty. To accentuate this, we created many dead”" ends,
situations the player could get into (usually an unforgivable offence to a
primary non”" player character) from which further gameplay was impossible.
Unlike most school work, we wanted failure to become an accepted part of
participation in Mentira and to be productive for learning.
combine classroom, home, and field work
One of the unique features
of Mentira as an AR game is the length of time over which students play, and
the different contexts in which that play takes place. As we mention above,
students play over the course of two to four weeks. We lend them mobile devices
during this time. The first parts of the game occur in the classroom and at
home, and the peak of the game is a field trip to Los Griegos. Finally the
mystery is solved back in the classroom.
We strove for such a long
time frame, and gameplay that cuts across these contexts, because there was an
element of continuity missing from earlier AR game experiments. Even when there
were long game curricula, the students would only have the devices and access
to the game software for an hour or so. This limited time frame is very
different from how people use these devices in their real lives. The device is
an individualized, almost omnipresent part of your life; it's there when you need
it and goes with you throughout your day. Implementations with small, tightly
regulated windows of access do not represent
the potential of this
technology for our students. To avoid this problem, we sought a way to
integrate mobile devices into student learning in a more naturalistic fashion
through the Mentira experience. Continuity of the device and software allows us
to connect the classroom with what students are doing at home and more
importantly with their experiences of the neighborhood where the game is set.
An important part of this
cross”" context design is the visit to the neighborhood.
Certainly, taking students
there follows through on our commitment to engagement with authentic place as
it relates to the language. But the field trip also has consequences for an
educational attitude we think is important to encourage in all learners —
particularly so for those learning a second language — risk taking. This is
where you step outside your own comfortable little world to experience
something new. Even though Los Griegos is right in our backyard, most of our
students do not have a familiarity with it or other historically important
neighborhoods within the city. Forcing them to leave the classroom and go there
is an important symbol of going out into the world and seeing something new, a
critical assumption that underlies much of the promise of AR curricula
the student side
Getting feedback from
players and incorporating it into the next iteration is an invaluable part of
this design process. Mentira did not spring into the world fully formed, and
the difference between the game and our vision of what it could be is
truthfully pretty large. However, we have made a lot of progress over the last
couple of years by listening carefully to our students. Their feedback has
encouraged us to believe there is something interesting in Mentira, to continue
work on this experiment. Beyond this basic assurance that we're barking up the
right tree, feedback ensures our work is relevant to those who will be using
the game in the future, and helps us understand some of the obstacles that lie
ahead, some of them outside the realm of curriculum design.
An important aspect of
using player feedback is deciding where to focus attention. It is easy to get
bogged down in details that are not very relevant to the big picture. With
Mentira, our main goal was to examine the potential of AR games to connect
students meaningfully with their language learning experience. As a result,
when students play the game, we pay particular attention to how they play and
whether the game feels authentic to them. Part of what we hope to see in how
students "play games" is for them to engage with the software and get into the
story. More importantly, we were looking for things like impromptu
collaboration, risk taking, role playing, learning to play vs. playing to
learn, and taking ownership of their experiences within the game world. These
practices are particularly productive for second language learning but seen
more typically in videogame playing than in classrooms. To assess the
authenticity or reality of the world we created for the students, we look for
them to make connections between the game, learning Spanish, and the context of
the Los Griegos neighborhood.
Student reactions to
specific characters, the structure of dialogue within the game, or other
smaller details of our implementation have been helpful too, but they are of
lesser importance. The students' relative inability or unwillingness
to "play" in the classroom,
and the potential of the field trip to unlock this frozen state is the biggest
lesson we have learned through having students play Mentira.
classroom culture is robust
One purpose of Mentira, as
described above, is an attempt to disrupt certain common classroom behaviors
that are not productive for second language learning (e.g. risk aversion). And
one thing we can see clearly in our players' actions is that the game itself is
not enough. We designed a jigsaw to encourage students to collaborate, but when
we observe classes after students begin play, actual collaboration between them
is rare unless specifically asked for by the teacher. We gave them roles to
inhabit, but their perception of the different personalities involved has been
rather dim. We created a lot of failure points and gave ample space and time to
allow for productive failure, but most students do not try again after reaching
a failure state. Broadly, we want them to "play" our game, but, until they go
into the field, they largely continue to see it as a homework assignment to be
completed and graded. Perhaps this is to be expected. Students who are not used
to working collaboratively are not going to fall naturally into it because we
assure them that this one time it will not be cheating. We won't likely see
these classrooms change from a teacher”" directed, individual mindset to a
student”" centered, distributed one just because we put a game in front of them
that responds to this kind of thinking.
These issues go deeper than
the artifact. When someone like James Paul Gee points out that we see more
productive learning behaviors around games than we often see in classrooms,
this is really about changing the basis of social interactions that take place
in classrooms, not about putting videogames in them. From this perspective, it
seems like our software and instructions simply are not enough on their own to
displace such a large situational reality. The good news is that another part
of our game — the larger reality of the neighborhood where it was played — does
seem to be strong enough to have an effect in this direction. By leveraging it
more effectively in future versions of Mentira or in other projects, we believe
we could do more to disrupt unproductive aspects of classroom culture and
It would be unproductive to
blame classroom culture for all the shortcomings of Mentira. We are careful to
recognize the questions of execution worth addressing here as a brief aside.
Just because designers make a role for players to choose doesn't mean that role
is worth inhabiting. It also doesn't mean the interface for the game doesn't
get in the way of the story. Execution matters, not just vision. When
evaluating game curricula generally, one of the most common mistakes is to let
the single example stand for the general case, to forget about execution. Game
quality is especially important in AR games, a genre that is still being born.
One of our hardest jobs as designers is to try and figure out which problems
with our game will respond better to improved execution versus rethinking from
the ground up, when our difficulties are about gaming and when they are about
the importance of place
The behaviors we wanted
Mentira to provoke in students: playfulness, inventiveness,
collaboration, and risk
taking — the behaviors that did not manifest in the classroom — emerged
spontaneously in surprising ways during the field trip portions of the game.
Students worked together as groups, helping each other with the conversations,
vocabulary, and decisions about where to go and what to say. We even saw some
groups decide to role play in the neighborhood — only speaking in Spanish for
the entire duration.
In our interviews with
students who played the game, we see that the reality and engagement of the
game as a whole hinge on the robustness of their experience in Los Griegos.
Here are some representative examples from players.
” "The first part before we
went to Los Griegos, that was kinda boring, but when we were actually in Los
Griegos and seeing all the clues and all the new information, that was a lot
” "It (going to Los
Griegos) made it more real, and like um you weren't just like reading something
out of a textbook or just doing some activity on a piece of paper, you were
actually like walking around and it like put you in the place, and like you
actually got to more apply your Spanish to like situations. Just made it more
” "It was different. It was
a breath of fresh air. You know you could have had the game here at UNM, and it
would have been kinda like okay, and you know kinda boring. Going somewhere
else, having somewhere actually, have the game actually at a place set in
around Los Griegos, um it was a difference, it was a breath of fresh air, and I
enjoyed it, you know, immensely."
Even those for whom the
experience fell flat saw a deep connection to place as something important and
” "Cause we were only there
for half, you know a hour, we were only supposed to be there an hour or two
so... Well I think, I think the idea of going out into communities, which is
Spanish speaking neighborhoods and stuff is good. But it helps if there's
someone on the street."
Our field trip is by no
means a deep ethnographic investigation into the neighborhood, but it nevertheless
has a large impact on the students who play Mentira. Going to the neighborhood
sparks players imaginations for how they could get involved with real contexts
in their quest to learn Spanish and how activities from the classroom might
connect to those real world situations. The real Los Griegos makes our
depiction of it in Mentira come alive for students.
we don't wanna go
Despite the positive effect
going to Los Griegos can have for our students, there has been substantial
resistance on the part of the students to scheduling time outside class to
visit Los Griegos to play the game. The hesitation doesn't seem to have
anything to do with the location itself or playing the game, but rather the
idea of committing to anything outside the scheduled hours of the class.
Although younger students are eager to get outside the classroom, our students
are coming from a different perspective: school is allotted a certain amount of
control over their time, and the field trip is adding on top of that. This
resistance is to be expected and may likely remain. The good news is that when
students actually go on the field trip, they tend to view it as the best part
of the game, value the educational experience we've created as a whole, and
have a strong preference after playing for increasing the depth of interaction
with the neighborhood.
In the sections above, we
have tried to paint a picture of the promise we see in re”" centering learning
activities around local place using an AR game, and some of the main challenges
we've faced in trying to make that happen for our students with Mentira. Going
somewhere new can get students thinking outside the usual situation of the
classroom, more broadly and meaningfully about what they're trying to learn. It
establishes context for the rest of the game and curriculum. Beyond this basic
lesson, there are a couple other take”" aways we'd like to share about doing
this kind of work.
iterate, iterate, iterate
We cannot emphasize the
importance of frequent iteration and testing enough. Long development cycles,
complex creation tools, and complex media tend to get in the way of rapid
iteration. If you have to wait several months for an art team to get assets to
you before you try your ideas out, not only will you be stuck waiting when you
could be testing your game, but when you need to make changes, your turn around
time will be much longer. Use simple tools and focus on speed of iteration as
the primary way to improve the eventual quality of your game.
With Mentira we made some
decisions that have helped us iterate quickly. ARIS, our game engine, is very
simple compared to other game platforms. Although this limits what our game can
do — for example, we cannot use audio in our conversations, only text — we do
not require the skills or time of a programming team to make changes. The
limitations of a simple platform have another beneficial effect: fewer art
assets to develop and maintain. If Mentira had audio, it would be much more
cumbersome to produce changes to the dialogue in the game. Even having made
these decisions, if there is one thing we would change about our development of
Mentira, it would be to iterate our design more often.
In the end, it is not so
much any one factor of production that tends to slow down the process of
iteration. Instead, the biggest obstacle can be a desire for perfection. One of
the lessons from videogames that we'd like our students to learn, and that we
should mind as well is performance before competence. That's to say the
efficient process to a good game is more likely to start out with a game — even
a bad one — than to hope to make that game perfect before it ever reaches
students' hands. Figure 6 shows our first test of Mentira with a class of
students in the summer of 2009. The game was far from finished, and we had to
use desktop emulators in a computer lab instead of mobile devices in Los
Griegos. Yet the feedback on our vision and design was extremely valuable.
In the age of rigid
assessments and a severe efficiency paradigm, it can be harder than ever to
adopt an attitude of try”" and”" see, but it is not reasonable to do something
that has never been done before and hope to know all the details in advance.
keep your eye on the prize
In the section on student
feedback above, we mentioned that we mostly try to focus on the big picture
when considering changes to the details of Mentira. To extend that thought a
little further, when thinking about next steps, we think how we can serve our
ultimate goals — even if it means leaving this game behind or vastly changing
what it is and how it is used.
For example, an unfinished
area of Mentira is in how the mystery is solved through collaboration and the
use of clues. It largely happens outside the software due to time constraints
and the simplicity of the platform. With time for another iteration of Mentira
and a newer, more capable version of ARIS, creating an in”" software ending is
tempting; it sounds like a way to vastly improve the game. Yet incorporating
the solution of the murder in software may not be our first priority. Although
doing so would increase the robustness of the game experience for students, we
are not sure it would do the most to bring them closer to the Spanish speaking
world that exists outside their classroom doors.
Instead, perhaps we will
seek ways to integrate the game more tightly with the neighborhood it takes
place in and references. We may even look for alternative means to create
experiences that are designed to capitalize on the excitement and interest already
created by the game. This follows from our criticism of typical classroom
practices and artifacts as too narrowly focused on their efficient use, that
they never get around to involving students with the worlds in which the
language has meaning. From our perspective, it would be narrow minded to
entirely limit our focus to improving the quality of our game if that focus
does not lead to an improvement in our ability to get students into Spanish
by James Mathews and
University of Wisconsin —
Over the past three years
we have partnered with a group of teachers, educational
researchers, and community
members to collaboratively teach a place”" based high school course called
People, Places, and Stories (PPS). One of the key goals of PPS is to engage
students in identifying and researching cultural and ecological themes and
issues in their local community, then designing media and events (e.g.,
documentaries, photo exhibits, games, community events, and digital stories) to
share their findings and personal perspectives on these issues. In recent
implementations of PPS, mobile technologies have emerged as key tools for
supporting students' fieldwork and shaping the media products and experiences
they design throughout the
At the end of each semester
of PPS, we interview students about their learning experiences. Here are some
"Nobody ever really pays attention to what goes on in their community,
... [this class is] kind of
teaching you to actually pay attention."
"We're playing [place—
based] games and designing some games too. And I think that if other kids got
to experience that, it would help them learn a little bit better because we
learn while we are building the games. So we are putting it together and
learning at the same time ... Instead of just reading it or just looking it
"Well the game got other
people's attention when it came to what was going on in the conservancy ...
Maybe after they played the game they wanted to get involved or paid more
attention to what was going on in the conservancy."
"It's kind of like we're
making our own history not just learning about other's history."
As evidenced through these
quotes place”" based mobile games and stories have become central media for
engaging students in exploring and representing important people, places, and
issues in their local community. It is important to note, however, that while
we sometimes design mobile games and stories for our students to play, a
central component of PPS involves students designing their own mobile media. To
exemplify what this process looks like, we now present two projects that
emphasize students as designers.
the neighborhood game design project
The Neighborhood Game
Design Project (NGDP) was implemented with assistance from Mark Wagler, a
folklorist, teacher, and educational researcher (Mathews, 2010). NGDP included
three curricular components that unfolded over a three month period. The first
was a series of place”" based inquiry activities where students used mobile
media to identify and investigate contested places and issues in their city. As
part of these investigations students engaged in basic fieldwork activities
(e.g., mapping, interviewing, photography) and generated questions about what
they might investigate further. The second component included a series of
mobile design workshops where students individually and collaboratively
designed games and stories using mobile devices. Workshop goals included
introducing basic design processes, learning the features of different mobile
game and story platforms (e.g., Scvngr, MITAR, ARIS), and exploring how these
tools might be used to engage others in thinking about the contested issues and
places under investigation. The third component was a sustained design project
where the entire class collaboratively researched a community issue and
designed an Augmented Reality (AR) story to teach other students and community
members about the issue. In this example students designed the AR— story To
Pave or Not to Pave, organized a kick”" off event to officially release their
design, and facilitated a research activity that assessed changes in users'
perspectives surrounding the debate.
After an initial
brainstorming session aimed at generating potential topics, students decided
they wanted to learn more about a recent proposal to redesign the local nature
conservancy. A key feature of the proposal called for paving one of the main
paths through the conservancy — an option many found disagreeable.
Because it runs adjacent to
their school, many students felt a sense of ownership over the path.
Additionally, students believed the city was moving forward with the plan
despite strong public opposition. Having identified a topic, students
brainstormed possible design ideas, eventually settling on a place”" based
place”" based mobile design
Students decided that their
final design should present multiple perspectives surrounding the proposed plan
and encourage users to reflect on their own perspective about whether the path
should be developed. The story would raise other students' awareness about the
issue and contribute to the debate. It would end with players having an option
to sign a petition asking the city to place a moratorium on future development
in the conservancy. To achieve this vision, students quickly realized they
needed to learn more about the development plans, identify key issues and
perspectives surrounding the debate, conduct fieldwork and documentation in the
conservancy, and learn more about mobile storytelling and the associated
As students moved forward
on this project, their design”" based learning occurred across four
interconnecting components of PPS:
1. Fieldwork: Students
conducted interviews and user surveys; engaged in mapping activities; and
gathered video and photographic documentation at the conservancy.
2. Open Lab: Students
researched relevant web”" based and print resources; communicated with community
members via email; created and organized media; built prototypes; and engaged
in informal critique and feedback sessions.
3. Design Meetings:
Students discussed and voted on core design decisions, reported on their
progress, and made plans for next steps.
4. Playtest Sessions:
Students presented and tested design prototypes, then discussed ideas for
mobile”" based interactive story
As a result of the mobile
design workshops, students produced an AR place”" based story called To Pave or
Not to Pave. In this interactive story visitors to a local nature conservancy
meet a "concerned citizen" who informs them about a city plan to pave a path in
order to create an off”" road transportation route. He then asks if they would
like to sign a petition opposing the development, suggesting they learn more
about the issue before doing so. As visitors walk the remaining sections of the
path they watch videos and interact with virtual characters who share their
perspectives on the development plans. These characters, all of whom are based
on real people the students interviewed, also share their knowledge about the
conservancy's history, ecology, and use. At the end of the path visitors learn
it is too late to fight the development plan, but are asked to sign a petition
asking city council members to pass a resolution restricting similar
development in other parts of the conservancy. This real”" world petition, which
was created by students in the class, demonstrates two key points about the
team's design choices. First, it shows students commitment to representing the
debate from multiple perspectives instead of producing a story that was
explicitly persuasive. Second, students hoped the story would lead to an
immediate action, with visitors making an informed decision whether or not to
sign the petition.
research and release event
In addition to the AR
design, students planned and hosted an event where other students at the school
played To Pave or Not to Pave, then engaged in a discussion about whether or
not the conservancy should be protected from future development. At this same
event they used pre”" and post”" surveys and focus”" group interviews to test the
impact of the design on user's knowledge of the conservancy and their opinions
related to future development. The students used this feedback to reflect on
their design and make recommendations
for how it could be
the capitol protests
The Capitol Protests
originated from students' interest in studying a series of protests occurring
in and around their state capitol building. The project was implemented with
the help of Jeremiah Holden, a teacher educator, researcher, and former civics
teacher. Like the Neighborhood Game Design Project, the Capitol Protests included
three curricular components that occurred over four weeks. The first was a
series of inquiry activities where students studied and discussed ongoing
protests occurring at the capitol building in response to pending budget
legislation. The second component included fieldwork whereby students visited
the protests as citizen ethnographers and documented the events using a variety
of media and methods. The third component was a series of Augmented Reality
design workshops, where students first played Dow Day, a situated documentary
about anti”" Vietnam War protest in their city, then prototyped several similar
AR designs aimed at representing some of the core perspectives, debates,
actions, and experiences associated with the current protests. In describing
these curricular components it is important to note they were not enacted in a
linear progression. For example, documentation and design often generated new
questions, leading in turn to additional inquiry discussions, online research,
topic selection and initial inquiry
When we held one of our
initial meetings to decide what topics or issues students were interested in
studying during the semester, the protests quickly emerged as a primary
concern. Due to the local political actions and prominent national media
attention surrounding the state budget legislation and negotiations, most
students were quite familiar with the protests and a few had participated in
them with friends and family. A few students, however, knew very little about the
political issues or related civic activities. Regardless, the consensus was
that the budget legislation and the protests were important events worthy of
our attention. Additionally, the students felt they were uniquely poised — if
not responsible — to document the events because they were happening then and
now, in their backyard. PPS provided the infrastructure, scaffolding, and
flexibility for students to act.
Having chosen to focus
their research inquiry on the protests, students first constructed a timeline
of events, identified key political issues and politicians, developed a set of
inquiry questions, and compiled relevant web”" based and print resources. The
conversations and discussions that emerged during this inquiry stage were quite
dynamic, in part because students were eager to share their own perspectives
and experiences. With little prompting, the students asked clarifying
questions, gathered additional background information, and identified key
issues and questions they wanted to explore through fieldwork, documentation,
and additional online research.
fieldwork and documentation
A primary goal of fieldwork
and documentation was for students to develop a better understanding of the
state budget legislation and related political protests. To meet this goal
students visited the state capitol as citizen ethnographers. In this role they
were trained to conduct interviews with protesters, gather video and
photographic documentation, and employ other field research methods. Engaging
in ethnographic work at the Capitol provided a unique opportunity for the class
to experience the protests from a different perspective. For example, one
student who had protested at the capitol viewed this visit as an opportunity to
interview people about their own stories related to the protests. For another
student it was an opportunity to see with her own eyes what was happening
without having to rely on the media or friends' stories. She particularly tuned
into how the unique constraints of television shaped how the events were being
reported. An important aspect of students' experiences as ethnographers was
that it helped them generate new questions and encouraged them to experience
the protests from multiple perspectives, both of which later informed their
discussions, insights, and decisions as media designers.
augmented reality design
Students' fieldwork and
documentation set the stage for their follow”" up design activities. After
sharing media, themes, and questions that emerged from their fieldwork,
students voted on whether or not they wanted to continue their inquiry and use
their findings as the basis for designing a mobile”" based game or interactive
story. In the end, three students decided they wanted to do this for their
final project for the semester, while others chose different questions and
issues to pursue.
Like To Pave or Not to
Pave, students' AR design work was scaffolded through a series of studio”" based
workshops. To initiate this process students began by playing Dow Day, an ARIS”"
based situated documentary about anti”" Vietnam War protests which occurred in
their city in 1967 (Mathews & Squire, 2009). Playing Dow Day introduced
students to the functionality of ARIS and AR design, including increasing their
familiarity with features such as quests, characters, and items. As a group,
students first produced a simple mobile experience based upon their fieldwork.
In this first iteration there was no narrative arc; rather, students created
items and characters based on what they learned through their documentation as
citizen ethnographers. For some students this encouraged design experimentation
as they "translated" field”" based interviews into ARIS”" based characters and
dialogue. It also provided an opportunity for them to reflect on and share
their own perspectives on the protests. A second series of design activities
were organized for students to conceptualize and prototype an ARIS”" based
mobile story aimed at teaching others about the protests. As a result, students
designed a narrative”" centric AR game where players had to survive a week at
the protests. The students borrowed heavily from their own gaming experiences,
as well as their experiences as protesters and ethnographers to produce a game
that focused on key events, issues, people, and perspectives surrounding the
place”" based mobile storytelling and civic
Three key themes relevant
to student learning and civics education emerged across both projects. First,
students exercised choice about what they learned, which cultivated a sense of
ownership over the learning environment and media they designed. Second,
aligning media design with local issues opened opportunities for students to
share their voices and participate in public discourse. Third, perspective
recognition, a core skill associated with democratic participation, emerged as
an important part of students' inquiry and design work.
choice and ownership
The design of PPS's
classroom environment and curriculum, particularly its emphasis on democratic
participation, encouraged choice and ownership to emerge as normative elements
of teaching and learning. Not only were students involved in co”" designing
their learning experiences (e.g., by helping decide the places and issues we
studied), they also had autonomy when determining the content and goals of
their final designs. In order to support these ideals, we developed protocols
to guide group decision”" making and allow students to move between the
classroom and the community as needed.
PPS's democratic practices
provided opportunities for students to manage much of their own learning and
pursue personal interests. Some focused upon a particular skill or media
practice, such as video production or game design, while others were able to
study a particular topic or issue they found meaningful. In one instance a
student used PPS as an opportunity to further explore his interest in
photography. Another student's work with the conservancy project aligned with
an interest in birds; she used the AR design as an opportunity to learn more
about local bird populations and migration patterns. For a student whose family
worried about the impact of proposed budget legislation, design work during the
Capitol Protest project became an opportunity to share her family's story.
Following personal interests deepened students' sense of ownership over their
learning, led to increased care about the quality of their final designs, and
promoted the overall success of the learning environment.
Not surprisingly, many
students referenced choice and ownership when comparing PPS to more typical
school”" based learning experiences. As one student remarked about the Capitol
"I think for years and
years students have been asking their teachers, 'How am I going to use this in
the real world?' Teachers either brush it off or try to come up with excuses. I
feel like this is actually very applicable. I think the moment you take
something and make it matter in a person's life they'll be much quicker to jump
on it and participate. So I think social relevance is extremely important and
why this class is so appealing and the flexibility of it. Just because we're
doing this project on the protests doesn't mean that we would have to. We could
be doing anything. Just the knowledge that you have that power to choose what
you are studying and how you're studying makes it a much more hands”" on
experience. I think that's why it's that much more enjoyable. I think that's
why it's important."
This is not to suggest that
students always agreed on topics and designs, or that the decision making
process was conflict free. On the contrary, it was not uncommon for the whole
class, or smaller groups of students, to confront conflict when negotiating
rights and responsibilities, choosing topics of study, and making design
decisions. One student mentioned this as one of the most challenging parts of
"I think the hardest thing [about the design
process] is trying to get a mutual consensus with a lot people. You know one
person wants to do this, the rest want to do this. It's like, 'What do we do to
make it in the middle?"
As a site of democratic
practice the PPS classroom was frequently contested, as students, teachers, and
community members deliberated, worked to understand
conflicting perspectives, and
made shared (albeit not always equal) decisions. Though design experiences
characterized by choice and ownership were messy and often time consuming, we
believe they are critical because they provide opportunities for students to
engage in, rather than simply talk about, democratic practices.
relationship between Voice and Design
The second theme to emerge
across both projects was the centrality of student voice in the design process.
Students were eager to share their personal experiences
and perceived media design
as an opportunity to develop and voice their own stories, opinions, and
perspectives. In particular, students were concerned with the representation of
youth voices. This expression of voice arose from students' perception that
youth were often excluded from local decision”" making processes. In response,
students approached their design work as a means to educate other youth about
local issues and include them in public discourse. In the Capitol Protests
project, for example, students noted how their documentation and media products
could teach other youth about the protests. As witnesses, many expressed a
sense of responsibility to document and share insights and interpretations. One
student described the intended influence of the Capitol Protests design by
"A year from now the kids
in this class may have heard about it but they might not have been able to do
much. Even in a few years from now, there will be people who are in middle
school or elementary school and they heard about it, but they might not know
exactly what was going on or have experienced it the way that we are. So to
have that way of showing them this is what we saw, this is what was done, this
is what the people were saying is a huge thing."
In design meetings students
often referenced youth as the ideal audience for their products. They believed
their designs were educationally relevant to their peers and capable of shaping
present and future perceptions of contested community issues.
The design process also
fostered new interactions with people and places in the community and provided
opportunities for student to engage in public discourse and express their
opinions. This was evident for one student who worked as a videographer on To
Pave or Not to Pave. Reflecting upon his documentation and media design, this
student discussed the importance of being able to speak directly with the city
administrator and consult community members who used the conservancy:
"” pretty much our entire
classes' opinions got heard because we discussed it with the city
administrator, and then emailing people about it or emailing the city
administrator and actually talking to people in the conservancy. Like they'd
say their opinion and then you could say yours and I did a couple of times and
I know that my voice was heard."
This student's growing
fluency with video further amplified his voice; his video work facilitated
contact with additional community members and resulted in media that was
included in the final AR story. This student's experience exemplifies a
confluence among voice, design, and place. As he developed an interest in local
places he used media design to share his ideas, which in turn further immersed
him in his community. This student's learning trajectory illustrates the potential
of place”" based design to develop students' sense of place:
"I never really thought
about anything before ” I'd go to the skate park and home and work and that was
it, and now it's got me more interested in learning about local issues. I don't
think I ever would have thought about [the conservancy] though if I hadn't
taken this class."
Students also used design
to assert independent thinking and decision”"making. In a unique instance, one
student leveraged his media design as an opportunity to demonstrate a personal
capacity to form critical opinions in response to others:
"I know that personally my
dad is against unions so it's been an
interesting experience in
my house trying to remain objective and dealing with stuff when I am someone
who is maybe not necessarily of that same opinion or viewpoint. I think that
just further proves that I can have my own opinions. I can handle this. It's
not like it's above my head. That's how I felt too about how students are
portrayed in the media. There's this image we're getting of being ignorant and
people just looking for a good time ... I think one of the things about this
program we're working on is that we will give it a much more clear and
unfiltered view of how students are actually dealing with the political climate
rather than a news person telling you."
This student's perspective
demonstrates how design is closely tied to a sense of self. For him, engaging
in design represented an act of agency and a reaction to both his personal
experiences within his family, as well as mainstream media portrayals that cast
teenagers as incapable of independent thought and easily manipulated by parents
The third theme related to
place”" based mobile storytelling and civic participation, perspective
recognition, concerned students' ability to examine controversial issues from
multiple perspectives. The development of perspective recognition as both a
skill and disposition is necessary for participation in a pluralistic society
(Barton & Levstik, 2004; Hess, 2009). Significantly, in both projects
students had to consider whether their final design would be explicitly
persuasive or take on a more nuanced, multi”" perspective style. Because they
ultimately chose to produce media that represented multiple perspectives and
honored a plurality of voices, the students had to actively seek a range of
opinions and perspectives as part of their inquiry. This also required them to
make decisions about how to effectively and accurately present these multiple
perspectives in their final design. Both inquiry and design encouraged students
to recognize the nuance and complexity of local civic issues. In some instances
this required them to reflect upon their own perspectives, question
assumptions, and even change their opinions — all practices that develop a
disposition towards perspective recognition.
In To Pave or Not to Pave
students reported that design decisions shaped their thinking about whether or
not paving the path was beneficial, and why both decisions had value.
Throughout the inquiry and design processes, students were encouraged to
analyze issues and related tensions, often requiring them to examine data and
perspectives initially considered irrelevant. As students imagined how
different users might see the controversy, some of their initial opposition
towards development softened. As evidenced by the following three quotes,
learning content associated with multiple perspectives informed students'
opinions as they proceeded through the design process:
"I was against the path for
a while because I only heard people in our class saying, 'It's ruining this;
it's going to do this, it's going to do this.' Then I heard people for the
other side and I was like, 'What am I going to do? I don't know any of these
opinions or anything.' I read articles and stuff and as I was reading it, they
were making really good points."
"I didn't really think
about the different aspects like the environmental things such as runoff and
washout. I didn't think about those at all. It was more like runners and bikers
and I didn't think about accessibility at all either, like people in
wheelchairs or strollers. I didn't think about any of that. So it's like there
are a good amount of pros that I see ...."
"[I] wasn't thinking about
how you know, handicapped people could get around or that maybe bikers should
be able to go through even though some people are talking about how it scares
away the birds ... so now, I'm kind of like in the middle."
Aspects of perspective
recognition were similarly exhibited by students in the Capitol Protests
project. After investigating the proposed budget legislation and related
political activity as citizen ethnographers, students chose to design a mobile”"
based game that was "more objective." This decision required students to
consciously distance themselves from personal opinions during various stages of
the design process. Intentionally distinguishing among opinions demanded that
students not only develop awareness, but also refine a capacity to manage
multiple roles and respect divergent viewpoints. Students' experiences as
citizen ethnographers reflected this sense of distance and respect for varied
"If you go on your own
time, you're going for what you believe in. You're going to stand up. You're
going to protest. We didn't go to protest. We went to document.
We went to ask questions.
We went to see in depth. A lot of people don't do that."
"... it definitely changed
my views a little bit and made me want to learn more about what's really going
on. I'm still not taking sides on anything though."
place”" based design education
Both of these projects
exemplify a pedagogical and curricular approach that differs significantly from
traditional models of social studies and civics education, and students' often
uninspired experiences of the discipline. From our perspective as teachers, we
believe that People, Place, and Stories presents a unique synthesis of three
core values: place”" based learning, design”" based learning, and democratic
participation. While other educators may share similar values, we believe that
integrating them into a coherent whole produces a distinct framework that
foregrounds design as a means of supporting students' participation in the
civic fabric of the classroom, school, and community. We call this framework
Place”" based Design Education, as presented in Table 1 (page 146).
Place”" based Design
Education provides unique opportunities for students to reflect on and
participate in their local communities. In particular, it foregrounds design as
a method for actively critiquing, rebuilding, promoting, and shaping local
cultural and ecological traditions. This action, or practice— oriented,
approach positions students as presently capable of, and already, engaging in
the civic fabric of their community. By situating learning around ill— defined
and real— world civic issues and problems, place— based design education
promotes democratic participation and citizenship as fluid rather than static
endeavors, and emphasizes the importance of learning by doing. Based upon our
pedagogical commitments, learning by doing becomes synonymous with
participating by designing.
Apple, M. & Beane, J. (2007). Democratic
schools: Lessons in powerful education (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Barton, K. & Levtstik, L. (2004). Teaching
history for the common good. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hess, D. (2009). Controversy in the classroom:
The democratic power of discussion. New York, NY: Routledge.
Mathews, J. (2010). Using a studio— based
pedagogy to engage students in the design of mobile— based media. English
Teaching: Practice and Critique, 9(1), 87— 102.
Mathews, J. & Squire, K. (2009). Augmented
Reality gaming and game design as a new literacy practice. In K. Tyner (Ed.),
Media literacy: New agendas in communication (209— 232). New York, NY:
Smith, G. & Sobel, D. (2010). Place— and
community— based education in schools. New York: Routledge.
Squire, K. (2009). Mobile media learning:
multiplicities of place. On The Horizon, 17(1), 70— 80.
TABLE 1: Framework for Place-based Design
Relevance to PPS
Learning: an educational approach that emphasizes the study of local
cultural, ecological, economic, and political systems (Smith & Sobel,
students to draw from their personal experiences and provides a real-world
context for learning. Students' inquiry and design experiences change their
perception of their local community and foster a sense of place. Students
care about and can see the immediate results of their work.
"I think if
you're living in a certain area, you should want to be a part of that and
make it the best living space for you, for your family, a safe community and
a community that you want it to be ... I felt if you speak up for something
you believe in, you're putting in that effort to make your community what you
want to live in."
a constructivist approach that engages students in
defining and solving open-ended challenges, through iterative, non-linear
cycles of design and inquiry in which they envision, build, and evaluate
products, events, and learning experiences.
students' learning experiences and engages them in creating media that is
personally relevant and reflective of their own interests and experiences.
Students' design experiences open unique opportunities for interacting with
one another and place and deepens their understanding of core content and
"I think the designing
part is where you learn the most. I think we got more out of it than a
regular class. But, if we designed it and then played it [ourselves] it
wouldn't have been any fun because we were trying to teach other people about
an issue that we already knew about."
an approach that emphasizes students' right to make
decisions about their own learning trajectory and fosters student voice
through deliberation and shared decision-making (Apple & Beane, 2007).
participation cultivates student ownership over learning in the classroom and
community. Students co-design the course by shaping the questions,
issues, people and places we study.
we finished something and he says what would you like to do next? Would you
like to work more on this? Would you like to move on? ... We had the option.
If I really wasn't into something very much, I could do a little bit more
work on it, but if I wanted to move on, I felt comfortable enough raising my
hand and saying, 'you know, we've done a lot with this, I think we should
start moving forward more'."
by Colleen Macklin
Parsons The New School for
Design in New York City and Director of PETLab
and Thomson Guster
Kelly Writers House
What happens when the world
of a game gets confused with the world? Re:Activism is a location”" based urban
game about activism. It takes place where most activism takes place, in the
streets. Since 2008, the game has been played in New York, Beijing, Minneapolis/St.Paul,
and, most recently, Philadelphia. During that game, players on the streets of
Philadelphia recreating historic protests encountered and became part of the
Occupy protests; two actions intersecting and creating a new form of situated
learning, one where the lessons of the past became critical to the present — in
other words, a history teacher's dream. This event also raised a number of
important questions about the design of serendipity in games, the nature of the
interactions that can be created in public through games, and, most
importantly, what's learned when playing these kinds of games. In addition to
using the Philadelphia
Re:Activism game as a case
study, insights from game's design and player interviews reveal pedagogical
object lessons about what kinds of things are actually learned through place”"
"It was the moment for me
where it turned into not being a game anymore."
— A player describing a
moment in the game when an interview with a Vietnam Veteran raised questions
about the nature of the activities in the game.
Re:Activism is a game
originally designed in 2008 for New York City's "Come Out and Play" Festival by
PETLab at Parsons The New School for Design. Since its NYC debut, it has been
adopted by different educational and activist groups and adapted for play in
Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Beijing, and Philadelphia by groups of middle”"
schoolers, college students, and adults. In this chapter we'll focus on the
Philadelphia edition of the game, in particular those moments that blurred the
boundary between the game world and the real one, and the resulting insights
from the game's players. Through this example we hope to shed light on the
power of serendipity in location”" based games and situated learning as well as
provide a truly honest assessment and of what is learned in the game.
In addition to situated
moments of learning, the game involves actions that are performed, rather than
information which is read or otherwise received. Whether players are chalking
facts about US war veterans outside of the historic Betsy Ross House (where, on
December 26, 1971, members of Vietnam Veterans Against The War protested to
call attention to ongoing US war crimes in southeast Asia), encouraging
passersby to join them in singing "Age of Aquarius" on Independence Mall
(where, on April 21, 1970, the cast of the Broadway musical Hair performed at
the first ever Earth Day), or creating a historical marker to commemorate the
Dewey's Lunch Counter demonstrations (where, in April and May of 1965, the
management's denials of service to LGBT patrons triggered a concerted protest
that caused the management to recant its discriminatory policies), players re”"
enact and commemorate historical events, intervening provocatively in public
space, playing teachers in the streets, educating passersby about the ways the
past lives on in the present moment. The connection between embodied experience
and learning in dynamic public spaces ultimately leads to outcomes that exceed
the designer's control, where experience and serendipity (defined below)
combine to make the past more immediate, allowing history's lessons to be
understood in light of the present moment. In this chapter we'll trace the
contours of these unpredictable outcomes and describe the challenges and
possibilities in designing learning that is active, serendipitous, and
what is Re:Activism?
Re:Activism is a location”"
based urban game that maps the history of activism onto the public spaces where
they occurred, as players reenact and re”" create the actions that once took
place there. Re:Activism focuses on the actual practices of activism to reveal
not just the what, where, and when of watershed protest events, but also the
how, and it does this by enabling the players to interact with the public
through playful re”" enactments and other interventions. Teams compete by racing
between sites of historic protest and activism, earning points by completing
challenges at each site that not only "reactivate" the issues represented by
those historic struggles, but also serve as occasions to interpret and
appreciate anew those who actually lived them. Teams can visit as many sites as
they wish, in any order they choose, completing only those challenges that they
want to. Though Re:Activism explores history, its primary content is very much
of the moment, emphasizing as it does the intrinsic connection between
navigating the city and planning and documenting
The gameplay is simple. As
the game begins, teams of 3”" 5 players are given a backpack containing a map of
sites, lettered A through R, of historic protest and activism across the city,
with the point value of each site clearly indicated; a packet of sealed
envelopes, numbered 1 through 18, one for each site; and other supplies
necessary to complete game challenges, like posterboard, markers, sidewalk
chalk, and tape, for example. We make sure that at least one player on each
team is equipped with a cellphone capable of taking and sending pictures and
video — an increasingly common occurrence! Over the course of about 3 hours,
these teams race each other from site to site, completing challenges
at each location in order
to score points. Each site challenge recalls the history of that site,
requiring the players to reenact, commemorate, or symbolically
continue the struggles of
activists past — but, before they can attempt these challenges, they must
"unlock" each site by answering a "key question," a question that can only be
answered by physically investigating the site. For example, at site N, the site
of the MOVE House Bombing: "In front of 6221 Osage is a sign denoting permit parking for
whom?" Players send their answers to "Protest HQ," a group of game referees
with the list of answers to the key questions, who unlock that site when sent
the correct answer ("Philadelphia
Police Civic Affairs," in
this case), texting the players to reveal which of the numbered envelopes in
their pack corresponds with that site.
Opening the appropriate
sealed site envelope reveals information about that location's history and the
site's challenges. For example:
MOVE House Bombing
House, 6221 Osage Avenue
What: In 1985,
the compound of the black power organization MOVE, located on a residential
block in West Philadelphia, became the site of an infamous confrontation, the
specifics of which are hotly disputed to this day. What is clear is that when
the police, who had come to the compound to serve search warrants, were denied
entry, a chain of events was set in motion that culminated in the police
bombing the house, killing everyone in the building except for one woman and
child. The fire from the bomb spread to 65 nearby houses, effectively
destroying the neighborhood. Though courts eventually ruled that the police had
used excessive force, no one was found guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, and
no jail time was served. The victims of these attacks and their supporters
contest the validity of the "official" version of events to this day, demanding
reparations from the city for its undeniably brutal and heavy”" handed attacks.
To this day the Philadelphia Police Department remains the only such department
in the country to have bombed its own citizens.
After the site's historical
significance is detailed, the site's challenges are presented:
For 200 points: Ask a
passerby if they either remember the MOVE House bombing or have heard about it.
Ask them to explain the effects the bombing may have had upon their
neighborhood. Document with video.
For 400 points:
Currently the MOVE House does not have a historic marker erected by the
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Using the materials
provided, create a sign marking the house and the eleven lives lost in the
bombing. Document with a photo.
For 600 points: The
problem of excessive police force has always been controversial, especially
when the lives of the officers are thought to be in danger. Converse within
your group about what the police and the members of MOVE could have done to
ensure the safety of both the citizens and the police force. Document with
For 800 points: Draw a
series of chalk arrows connecting the site of the MOVE bombing to Philadelphia
City & County (the closest police station) located at 5510 Pine Street, in
order to emphasize the historic and ongoing tensions that characterize the
relationship between the police and the communities they are meant to serve and
protect. Document with video.
Teams decide which
challenges they would like to complete, and in what order. Throughout the game,
Protest HQ keeps track of each team's progress, keeps all teams informed of
their standing on the scoreboard, and keeps track of the time remaining in the
game. Players send cell phone photos and videos as proof of their accomplished
challenges to Protest HQ in order to score points.
primarily serves as proof of accomplishment for score”" keeping purposes, but it
also serves as an archive of in”" game experiences, providing touchstones for
post”" game discussions that synthesize the different experiences of each player
and each team, and provides valuable feedback to the game designers that can be
used to improve and modify future iterations of Re:Activism.
(Indeed, this archive may
prove to be a great educational resource for a variety of learning settings — a
way for students to feel connected to their city's history, a way for students
to become teachers of that history for others, a way for teachers to excite and
motivate future students toward their own learning by showing them the media
archives of previous Re:Activism participants, and so on. For historical
incidents that have already been substantially filmed and photographed (like,
for instance, the MOVE Bombing, which took place live on network news),
comparisons of extant media documentation to their own Re:Activism archive may
help players to feel their connection to history even more deeply.)
Teams report to Protest HQ
as they complete challenges. Protest HQ tallies up the points earned and announces
the team's total score to all players, functioning as the referee and the
scoreboard in order to keep the teams apprised of each other's progress and
stoke the fires of competition. After each completed challenge, the team must
decide whether to complete additional challenges at that site or whether to
move on to another.
The sites featured in
Re:Activism Philadelphia were mostly clustered in a few neighborhoods — Old
City, the eastern portion of the city famous for its colonial”"
era historic sites, and
Center City, which holds many cultural and civic institutions. Because of the
density of Re:Activism sites in those areas, teams may have foregone visiting
the outlying — but no less historically significant!
— game locations, like the
site of the MOVE bombing in the far west of the city, if the game designer had
not incentivized such visits by increasing the point values of to those sites'
challenges or by adding bonus challenges.
Ultimately, though, each
group devises a strategy early on: do we try to cover as much ground as
possible, or do we stay in one location and try to complete all of the
challenges there? Providing different strategies and locations gives each team
a very different experience.
Activism in the game is a
marker for an embodied moment in history — exclamation
points marking longer
struggles and critical issues of the day. In this way, Re:Activism is a game
about history and the role of civil disobedience, strike, riot, and protest in
marking history. Reactivating these performances creates an experiential link
to historic actors and provides insight into the issues of that time. It also
introduces players to the public and spatial nature of activism, perhaps
changing the way a street corner someone passes every day is viewed after
actually re”" enacting an event that happened there in the past. Activism is
history performed live and on location, deliberate interventions
into politics from outside
of the traditional political structure — activism is literally about changing
the game society is playing.
how does it work?
The technology behind
Re:Activism is pedestrian — literally available to everyday people walking down
the street: a mobile phone with a camera and the ability to text message. Non”"
digital tools such as poster”" board, sidewalk chalk, markers, and pamphlets act
as props and commemorative tools to mark sites and leave behind messages.
There's no special software or GPS needed to play the game. This is intentional
for three primary reasons. First, it makes the game easy to run by non”"
technologists. To run the game all that's needed is the ability to send and
receive text messages. It's possible to use only simple cell phones as the
primary technology, enabling play in parts of the world where computers and
internet connections are scarce, but text”" enabled phones in abundance (this includes many
countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia). That said, when supporting a
large number of players it makes sense to use a computer and a freely available
text messaging gateway. For the Re:Activism game in Philadelphia we used the
freely available online application Google Voice to manage sending texts out to
multiple teams. It also made writing the texts easier, since we could type them
out in advance and copy and paste them into the application.
The second reason the game
avoids the usage of GPS is to allow the game to be run in dense urban
environments where GPS signals often get cut off or are inaccurate. We've found
that GPS is almost impossible to use in many areas in New York City due to the
concrete canyons formed by tall buildings which allow very little access to
skyborne satellite transmissions. Knowing this, we decided to keep the
technology (and chances for technical breakdowns) limited, and focused instead
on using a combination of texts, paper maps and sealed, coded envelopes to
deliver the game's content. Distributing critical game information in different
formats creates a reason for players on a team to fulfill different roles — one
might be the keeper of envelopes, one the navigator, and the player in
possession of the phone, the communicator and documentarian (through texts,
video and photos). In early prototypes we used the phone's mapping software,
but quickly realized that nothing is more disconnecting than a game that
requires players to stare into screens and not look at the environment around
Finally, this low tech
approach replicates the way that cell phones have actually
been used to drive activism
and protests the world over. From the famous text”" sparked protests in Manila
in 2001 that peacefully overthrew Philippine
President Joseph Estrada
(Rafael, 2003, Shirky 2011) to other examples around the world, a simple text
message is a powerful tool for organizing groups and communicating during
protests. Phones aren't just used to organize groups, they're also an important
reporting tool, providing images, videos and a record of the event from the
inside. Twitter and other SMS”" based broadcasting services often report mass
actions earlier than the news media does, and becomes a source of ongoing news
directly from participants as well as reporters, demonstrated most recently by
Twitter's reported top hashtag of 2011: #egypt, used to mark posts about the
protests there that ignited the Arab Spring. Using text and the phone's basic
capabilities is a lesson in how to report and communicate important events.
Not all location”" based
games need to utilize GPS or specialized applications. It's possible to create
a meaningful situated experience through minimal, or even no, technology.
However, the technology used can also provide a learning opportunity. What are
the digital literacies embedded in the project, and how do the mechanics of the
game reinforce them? This is often overlooked for the game's content, and the
assumption often is that that the learning involved in location based games is
mainly learning about the game's content. However, in our repeated experience
with Re:Activism, this couldn't be further from what actually happens.
where's the learning in location”" based learning?
Since 2008, PETLab has run
the game in different locations and with different players. We've conducted
formal assessments (through survey and pre/post game interviews) and have
hosted conversations with political scientists and historians. Each time, one
thing became clear: instead of learning and retaining information about the
history of activism and of the city, players learned a host of other things one
would not link to conventional understandings
of the content. They
learned how to approach strangers and ask them questions, they learned how to
use mobile phones to report and document, and they learned how it felt to
perform actions they would usually not perform, in public. If the game is meant
to teach the history of activism, it does not do it very well. Instead, it
seems to teach some of the basic tools necessary for civic action while using
history as a set of "prompts" or learning occasions.
Broader themes emerge and a
general understanding of activism may be solidified
during post”" game
debriefings, but, at heart, the game's core mechanic — a race — is in
opposition to the patience and careful reading necessary for players to gain
much more than a surface familiarity of the historic events that underpin
Re:Activism's challenges. "The mechanic is the message" is the title of a set
of non”" digital games by game designer Brenda Brathwaite. In the games,
Brathwaite attempts to convey the meaning and emotional impact of historic
social tragedies like the Trail of Tears or the Holocaust through simple game
mechanics — in other words, what players do. "The mechanic is the message" is
also the idea that what players do in a game is what they retain from the
experience. Many remember laying on the ground on Wall Street when enacting the
1987 Act Up "die”" in," but they might not remember the details, such as the
date, the name Act Up, or even what it was about. However, we believe that even
if this information is lost, there's something else gained. We use the terms
"collateral learning," "stealth learning," and "serendipitous learning" to
explore what kind of non”" traditional learning occurs in the game.
In the same way that an
arcade style game about math might teach more eye”" hand coordination than
actual math concepts, Re:Activism teaches actual practices and tools used by
activists and the affects involved in public action. We call this stealth
learning. This kind of stealth learning is found in the game's mechanics — the
actions players perform. Chalking messages in the sidewalk, forming a human
chain, creating slogans and placards, chanting, interviewing members of the
public, texting, tweeting, recording and photographing. Using mobile phones and
social media to delve into the histories of activism allows players to access
history through performance by allowing them to inhabit the role of an
activist. At the same time, it permits them to inhabit the role of the "citizen
journalist," the documentarian who can use such a simple thing as a phone to
spread and capture news in text, photograph, and video, reporting live as
The performative aspect of
the game is a way for players to learn that may not be recognized as such —
hence, "stealth learning." But, as they repeatedly engage in these behaviors
during the game, they become savvy with a variety of skills: navigating through
their city, organizing and collaborating within the group and with strangers,
and intervening in public space using the theatrical and technological skills mentioned
above. Whether there's a long”" term retention of, or an increased disposition
toward, any of these practices has not been assessed. However, just as
videogames develop eye”" hand coordination and new forms of digital literacy,
locative games too have the potential to cultivate new skills with technology
and spatial awareness. More interestingly, the game may foster a new
dispositions and attitude toward the historical and activist content of the
game, or change the player's relationship to their city, prompting a re”"
evaluation of the player's place in it. We borrow from John Dewey's notion of
"collateral learning" to explore how Re:Activism operates in this way.
In Experience and
Education, John Dewey describes a form of learning he terms "collateral
"Perhaps the greatest of
all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the
particular thing he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of
formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is
much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history
that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the
future.The most important attitude that can be formed is that of the desire to
go on learning." (49)
One of the first things we
learned when we talked to and surveyed players after the game was that the race
created an urgency that made retaining any of the facts about the site and the
history impossible. After a session of the game in NYC for middle”" schools,
when asked what they learned about a particular site, some responded: "I
learned where it happened. I always thought it happened further downtown."
Others (more than we hoped) responded like this: "I learned something but forgot
We learned through these
post”" game interviews that what's retained is not a clear understanding of the
particulars of an event — the where, when and who — but instead what players
did during the game and the attitudinal strategies they devised to complete the
challenges. One player, in responding to the question: "What did you learn
about this event" responded "A lot. All about approaching people, being
positive, trying to get their answer, interact." In many ways, players learned
the attitude of activism over its history. Learning in the game was certainly
collateral, and we would argue that games themselves are not the best tool for
teaching facts and data. Instead, games convey attitudes, strategies, and
emotional messages through the fact that they are experienced as dynamic and
shifting systems that respond to our actions, rather than static containers to
refer to. This also leads to emergent and unpredictable outcomes, ones that
can't be controlled, but can be leveraged through design. Leaving room for
serendipity and coincidence is one design strategy.
We believe that games of
this type demonstrate truly meaningful ”" but not conventional or "testable" —
learning outcomes. Because they take the form of a compact event, players are
able to suspend the concerns of everyday life and try on new attitudes and
roles in public. At the same time, they're given license to interact with the
real world in ways that they might not have without the game. This enables
serendipitous learning, the kind that is remembered as an authentic experience,
not just as information about a given topic. In other words, the "wildness" of
the game, due to the fact that it is played in a dynamic public, leads to
stronger impressions than more contained experiences. In Philadelphia, players
of the game playing activists encountered with actual activists, joining in and
learning from the Occupy Philadelphia movement during its crescendo. In fact,
an entire team defected from the game to participate in this, as they called it
"once in a lifetime opportunity." Would they have joined the march if they
weren't out already, playing together as a group? When asked that question, the
answer was probably not. By simply making oneself available to the possibilities
of the moment, players found themselves doing something new and unexpected that
they will always remember.
In addition to this event,
other players met and interacted with people who had a real connection to the
site or the issue that that site represented in the game. Many of the
activities in the game involve interviewing members of the public. One player,
when recreating a protest against the Vietnam war coincidentally found a
Vietnam veteran to talk to. He had been blinded in the war, and before the
interview began, asked the interviewer if she was going to spit on him. When
she emphatically said no, he went on to describe his experience returning from
the war, when people spat on him and called him names like "baby”" killer". He
argued that the anti”" war protests of the time were often organized by those
uninformed about the actual experiences of the soldiers who went to fight. The
reception he received on his return, injured and blind from a war that was
unimaginably brutal, was an additional assault. His perspective on protests
that the player would have agreed were "right" led her to question her actions
in the game.
"It was the moment for me
where it turned into not being a game anymore."
"I started questing more
and more after doing certain tasks whether I knew enough about what the tasks
related to for me to be able to judge for myself how much I agreed with what I
was doing. It definitely brought a new level of reality to the experience."
That level of reality was
only made possible when the game world and the real world intersected. It was
the moment for that player and other players who ended up leaving the game and
joining the actual Occupy march, that the relationship between history and the
present came into focus. It's when re”" enactment became practice for something
with higher stakes. And it created experiences that will also likely be
remembered far more than the facts written down on the Challenge Cards for the
game. Serendipity can be cultivated in a game. The most direct way is to
include interaction with non”" players, eliciting responses and diverse
perspectives on the game content. This is how Re:Activism generates
serendipity. In past games, players have encountered members of the public that
even had first hand experiences with the events, providing an even greater
level of depth into the content. The first time the game was played, at the
2008 Come Out and Play Festival in New York, one of the teams met women who
were present during the Stonewall Inn Riots, and proceeded to enjoy a beer with
them at the site (CITE Macklin, 2010). These moments transcend the game, and
became for those players a powerful memory, part of their own personal history.
what we've learned
design for chance:
Part of the reason that players met Occupy protesters was because the game
designer added Occupied City Hall to the list of game sites and included
challenge that asked the players to speak to, document the activities of, and
otherwise interact with the Occupiers and the police who had been deployed to
monitor them. We wanted the game to demonstrate that, in the words of William
Faulkner, "The past is never dead. It isn't even past." Activist struggles
persist to this day, and the battles once fought are still being fought. By
choosing to include sites that represented events from the earliest days of
colonial America all the way to the day of the game itself, we hoped to help
the players find that blurry boundary between the game and the real world, to
discover that the dramatic public interventions the game required of them were
akin to the dramatic public interventions that current events demanded of the
protesters. Designing for chance, in the case of Re:Activism, means attending
to the contemporary context in which the game will be played just as much as
the historical backdrop that provides the bulk of the game's challenges.
design for openness:
Each team set about playing a different way. One team focused on acquiring as
many points as possible by visiting as many sites as possible, and so they
stuck mostly to the more densely clustered sites of the Old City area, making
strategic trips to outlying sites in order to capitalize on the bonus points
there. Another team picked out locations they wanted to personally learn about,
weaving a more circuitous route through the city in an effort to satisfy their
particular curiosities. And another abandoned the game entirely to join the
Occupy Philadelphia marchers, where they learned about activism beyond the
game's parameters. By striking a balance between emphasizing the rules of the
game on the one hand and the spirit of the game on the other, game designers
can help create permeable or fuzzy boundaries to the game world that allow
players the greatest potential for rich experiences. And there's a deeper
lesson here, too: activism, being a necessarily social enterprise, is not
simply a way of demonstrating knowledge or taking action, but a way of
acquiring knowledge, starting discussions, and it rewards those who take
ownership over their own learning experiences.
give players tools to help guide chance encounters
with the public: Players were given
Re:Activism shirts to wear, shirts that fulfilled a few purposes. First, they
provided a "point of entry" for passersby to approach the players as they
played the game, performing reenactments, posting signs, or otherwise
presenting an unusual spectacle in public. This "point of entry" function also
helped players to easily identify themselves to passersby for those tasks which
required them to interact more directly or conversationally with the public.
Second, the shirts identified the players as members of a group, and, in
particular, as members of a non”" activist group, giving them some modicum of
"cover" or license to behave unusually in public — to, in some cases, post
signs or chalk on historic sites or accost passersby — without attracting any
negative attention from security guards or police. In these t”" shirts, they
were friendly, recognizable, good”" natured. Third, these branded t”" shirts perhaps
made passersby curious about what "Re:Activism" was, or at least allowed for
that possibility. Lastly, and most importantly, these matching shirts, by
setting them apart from the rest of the public, gave the players the push that
they might have needed to actually go out and behave unusually.
The packets of historical
information in every team's backpack also served as a useful tool for guiding
players through their encounters with the public. Providing them with summaries
and talking points about a variety of complicated historical events, these
packets give players the authority they need to cold start conversations that
might not otherwise occur informally, in public. And these history lessons are
brief, bite”" sized, perfect for consuming on— the— go as teams raced each other
through the game, a nourishing supply of food for thought to fuel conversations
that roam across topics even as the players roam the city.
plan a route and playtest it! The routes were play”" tested by small groups to make
sure that no historical sites were closed or under renovation; that there was
enough room at sites to allow for performance”" based challenges; that there
were enough nearby poles, walls, benches, etc. to which posters and signs could
be affixed; that relative indicators of orientation in the game directions were
replaced with absolute ones (for example, the "east side of the building," not
"the left side."); that the addresses and street intersections for all the
sites were accurate — or, if there was no obvious address or intersection (as
was the case for the site of the Black Bottom neighborhood protest) that the
site was indicated very specifically by landmarks; and that the key questions
were all answerable and that the answers were all recorded correctly.
Certain events that made it
on to Re:Activism's map took place at sites that no longer exist (the entire
Black Bottom neighborhood was razed and built over) or have since relocated
(the Institute of Contemporary Art, from which the players departed in the morning,
was once located in a different part of the city, and it is this previous site
that the map & challenges refer to). Making these facts apparent to players
was important, but equally important was planning for their possible confusion
by knowing in advance which sites may cause confusion.
The packets for two sites,
one commemorating the Philadelphia General Strike of 1910, the other the
citywide protest against the transit workers' strike of 1944, were
unintentionally conflated while we wrote up their respective challenges. The
wording of one challenge seemed to demand that the players travel to another
location quite far from the actual site in order to earn points. At this point,
Protest HQ more than proved their worth when they received a call from a
stymied team, clarifying the matter before the players got too frustrated. This
incident shows both the necessity of thoroughly play”" testing the game route
and materials and of being flexible in the event of the inevitable surprises.
Mix younger players with adults: Re:Activism's been played by middle school social
studies classes and younger children after school. The game works best with
players age 12”" up, due to the content complexity and maturity to understand
and play by the rules of the game as well as the social rules inherent in
public performance and play. Mixing adults with younger players provides an
increased level of supervision and safety when interviewing strangers on the
street and performing the challenges. It also has the benefit of providing
cross”" generational dialogue on the issues explored in the game and may help to
prevent the activities of the players from being dismissed or ignored as simple
where to go from here?
While the stealth,
collateral and serendipitous learning outcomes from Re:Activism are useful and
in some ways more vibrant, the shortcomings of the game in relaying detailed
factual content does still frustrate some players who were looking for a more
deeply informational experience. This could be partially resolved by creating
companion pieces around the game, a website to share information and content,
and even working with teachers to create curricula that augment the experience
or embed the game in curricula that already exist. Partnerships with educational
and arts organizations, such as the partnership with the Kelly Writers House at
the University of Pennsylvania and the Institute for Contemporary Art in
Philadelphia, lead to opportunities for the game to be one of a series of
events including teachers, students, activists, and other members of the
community. With additional planning, local political grassroots organizations,
perhaps even city departments, could be brought in as partners, too.
An opportunity also exists
to create a curriculum out of the activity of preparing the game in one's own
location. Research, talking to community— based organizations, mapping and
learning the iterative methodologies of game design could all be part of a
class, after”" school program, or learning module. In other games designed by
students at PETLab, we've found that making a game about an issue leads to a
deep understanding of the systems underneath the issues. Games, as a cultural
medium of systems, lead to a greater understanding and facility with systems thinking.
And when making them, the importance of systems becomes all the more apparent.
Dewey, John. 1938. Experience and Education. New
York: Collier Books
Friedman, Uri. 2011."The Egyptian revolution
dominated Twitter this year". Foreign Policy website, 12/05/2011. URL:
Rafael, Vincente 2003. "The Cell Phone and the
Crowd: Messianic Politics in Recent Philippine History," Public Culture, v.15,
no.3, Fall, 399”" 425.
Macklin, C. 2010. "Reacting to Re:Activism: A
Case Study in the Ethics of Design,"
in Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values
through Play, D. Gibson and
K. Schrier.eds IGI Global
by Seann Dikkers
University of Wisconsin —
A special thanks to Dan
Spock, Wendy Jones, Jennifer Sly and the whole crew at the Minnesota Historical
Society for their vision and investment in mobile media learning. Ultimately
this is their project and I'm acting here as a journalist telling their story.
a cave”" in at the mine
Anton Antilla worked as a
miner on the Iron Range for years. He regretted coming to America from his
homeland of Finland, but made a living feeding ore to the industrial giants on
the Great Lakes. Through the mobile media game Our Minnesota you are able to
scan and talk to Anton. Because you are in a museum, Anton can invite you to
enter the 'real' mine directly in front of you, try out the different tools,
and consider which job you may want to have. While in the mine, however, a
cave”" in interrupts your tour and you are called on to save the miners. In the
end, the miners are saved, you are the hero, and hopefully you've learned a bit
more about history by playing the mobile game Our Minnesota.
The Minnesota Historical
Society (MHS) is already known for their exhibits. In past projects like the
Tornado Room, D”" Day Bomber, and If These Walls Could Talk, MHS sought to give
visitors simulations of real events using sound, sight, seat 'kickers', and
great storytelling. Anton is only a part of MHS's newest effort to amplify designed spaces — this
time using mobile media learning to place you in the middle of the story. By
using mobile devices, Our Minnesota layers narrative and media on top of
already compelling spaces for an even better learning experience. Characters,
like Anton, encourage immersive role”" playing by inviting you to complete
quests, gather items, and solve puzzles, while physically walking around 14,000
square feet of exhibit space.
My own involvement in this
project came after MHS invited me to join them as a gaming media consultant.
They simply asked, "How would you like to build an augmented reality game in a
space that is designed for it from the ground up?" Over lunch we talked about
what it might mean to design a space with a game in mind and/or design a game
with a space in mind. History is full of great stories fueling many of the top
games on the market, so the match was made. We began designing a quest driven
role”" playing game using mobile media devices within a curated space.
Anton is one of many
characters in Our Minnesota. Each major region of the state is roughly mapped
into the exhibit space. For each area, or 'hub', (including the prairie, metro,
forests, iron range, and lakes), we developed a primary character to give
quests and secondary characters that populate scenes and stories — all of which
are historical personalities. In addition, each hub includes a full scale set
piece (sod house, street car, trading post, mine, and port) that can be
integrated into the mobile media game design. Each hub is designed for 10”" 20
minutes of play time — just enough to introduce the characters, topics, and
challenges relevant to that space and time. Finally, while the space can remain
constant, the digital aspects can be rewritten as often as MHS wants to —
saving resources and time.
This project is unique in
that it combines decades of expertise in building interactive spaces with
current game design models for engagement, motivation, critical thinking and
collaboration. MHS is tackling a laundry list of design questions, using rapid”"
prototyping, play”" testing, and iterative design to inform the design process.
Though MHS is incorporating a group of designers, the lessons gathered can
inform any mobile project.
Our first goal was to think
about the use of space in relation to a mobile game. Where a traditional museum
has a 'snake trail' that has a distinct start and finish, we could allow the game
itself to direct traffic along invisible paths. This eliminated a need to guide
visitors with glass case 'walls'. With the different hubs, it was a benefit to
have multiple entrances to allow the group to naturally split up and gravitate
toward characters that appealed to the learner. The exhibit is also loosely
modeled after the State of Minnesota to include northern forests, a metro
middle, southern plains and seven other vignettes. These are arranged in an
open floor plan so visitors can 'tour' the state, learn about the geography of
the state, and even tell their own stories using the floor plan itself.
We wanted flexibility to
design new stories and characters over time. Each 'zone' has a primary quest
and side quests that allow you to be part of the story, challenge your
thinking, and engage you with periods and places. The hub model allowed
redesign to happen in much smaller chunks. By tracking student choices, we have
already been able to weed out characters and stories that don't attract the target
audience and try new iterations. The digital flexibility not only provides for
redesign potential, but adds the potential of special events, student game
design, and expandability to other exhibits and locations at a low cost.
In terms of the player, MHS
wanted the field trip to provide resources to student visitors for use back in
their classrooms. Field trips have a long”" standing tradition of providing rich
experiences. MHS reported that the rising importance of standards has caused
some teachers to pull back on field trips because they aren't necessarily
linked to standards. By sharing the vast resources of the historical archives,
MHS felt they had something more to offer these teachers. Using the mobile
devices, the experience of the field trip could be a launching point for
classroom projects, discussions and lessons. At best, this meant the design
” Be engaging to the player
” Introduce characters
virtually that would be valuable assets for the teacher
” Introduce historical
frictions that would contribute to meaningful discussions
” Provide digital media
assets to the players that they could access at school
” Be informed by the
” Involve the teacher with
ancillary materials and ideas for the classroom
Our Minnesota is therefore
designed as a game that introduces concepts and engages the learner in topics
by having them gather resources. For instance, while playing the stories, you
can also use the mobile device's capacity for collecting digital images, audio
clips, and notes for later use in the classroom. For example, when you find a
raccoon trail in the forest, you can photograph it; share it with friends,
family, or teachers; use it in a presentation; or keep it as part of an online
profile shared with other history buffs. Not every player will meet Anton, or
find the trail, but they will all have stories to tell and digital media to
help tell it. In fact, the idea that not all students would have identical
experiences was both a game design choice and a classroom design choice. If
each player has different knowledge to bring to the classroom, it opens
possibilities for the teacher and naturally discourages some sort of tested
Our design constraints were
two”" fold. First, we wanted players to experience the whole facility so MHS
wanted to stay within a 20 minute time constraint. Museums typically design for
visitors to be in each exhibit roughly 20 minutes. Early play”" testing,
however, demonstrated that players were actively trying to finish the mobile game
and do multiple hubs in one visit. Post”" interviews had students wanting to
come back and "spend the whole day playing all the characters."
The '20 minute rule' was
being broken easily, yet hours in one space meant less time in others.
Second, MHS wanted to use
all real characters and stories without losing the value of the space too.
Specifically, they put a lot of pride in award winning museum inter”" actives,
multi”" modal simulations, and carefully designed visuals. If the game was "too
good" it would pull players into intense focus on the small screen at the
expense of the space itself. The game needed to be engaging, but also direct
the player to look around, explore, try things, and notice details around them.
More on our findings on this later.
description of implementation
Creating Our Minnesota, or
the design process, was the first like it in my experience.
I believe that we were able
to bring together the best in exhibit design and game design in a way that
warrants a brief overview. Your own mobile game, whether in a curated space or
not, may be one that involves a group of experts and designers. If so, this
process may be a great fit.
1) focus groups
MHS started, before any
game design, to talk to their audience. With a small state grant they had focus
groups across the state asking, "What should field trips look like for today's
learner?" Teachers and students identified a digital gap between home and
school spaces, the need for 21st century skill development, and the importance
of leveraging digital tools to bridge home, school, and museum experiences
together. Students needed opportunities for critical thinking, collaboration,
and experience”" based
learning. MHS, through this process, had clear goals and a grasp of what their
true assets were to their audience.
2) bring together the right people
The Our Minnesota design
team included historians, programmers, visual media experts, carpenters,
exhibit planners, teachers, researchers, and administrative oversight. MHS's
production team has hundreds of combined years of design expertise and their
production pipeline is refined. After seeing emergent research on the power of
gaming for learning, MHS sought out researchers and designers that were making
mobile games. My own experience was being approached after presenting at a
conference and being invited to lunch the next day. MHS intentionally gathered
people that could speak to game design, production, and play”" testing; then
invited them to be part of the planning team. For the entire project MHS has
teamed with Engage designers at the University of Wisconsin”" Madison and Gaming
3) show don't tell
MHS showed off their
facilities and resources, and we introduced MHS to the research behind gaming
media for engagement, motivation, and learning potential— along with some
games. Each team visited the other's facilities, got to know each other, and
built relationships that served the project later. We also took a field trip to
MagiQuest (a mobile game situated in a curated space — for profit) and MHS held
'game nights' in their homes to try out specific games that exemplified potent
models. Our goal was for people to naturally see for themselves that gaming
media was effective, fun, and could be part of the next exhibit.
4) iterative design
We wanted a rapid”"
prototyping model often used in game design to avoid costly, time consuming
misdirection. We used an open source game development tool (ARIS) for simple
designs of quests, character interactions, and inventories; games that could be
quickly built and tested. Creative use of duct tape and cardboard boxes built
mock”" ups of the exhibit to test the game in. Finally, MHS had a steady flow of
willing visitors that loved to try things out — an asset for most museums. So,
instead of extended discussions about best design, the project leader, Jennifer
Sly, could routinely say, "Lets build it both ways and test it!" saving hours
of debate in the planning process. This process allowed us to identify player
feedback, problems, and assets, as well as discover forms of mobile interaction
that worked for us.
5) open houses
Finally, MHS has a long
standing relationship with educators and the public. Let me add that if you
haven't visited St. Paul, the MHS building is nearly as prominent as the State
Capital as you drive in. When a new exhibit opens at MHS, the press reports it.
When they are claiming to reinvent the field trip for the 21st century, having
open houses is as much to meet the demand as to create buzz. Open houses were
strategic opportunities to bring in community voices. When opening their 1960s
exhibit, folks could also get a behind”" the”" scenes tour on what was coming.
Already this has provided important design considerations and feedback.
Player feedback was the
primary source of data for our design goals and planning
for future iterations. We
found that lessons learned from having players play versions of the game were
useful to resolve differences of opinion and to confirm that mobile media
learning was indeed worth the effort.
First, we welcomed the
enthusiasm from players as they tried the game out. We overheard, interviewed,
and gathered from focus groups a collection of responses, mostly there was an
excitement about the game as "fun," "interesting,"
and players reported "I
would do this a ton of times." We didn't expect that students would want to
replay the game even with the same content. Also, "there was a lot to do" in
the game and students wanted to return to MHS outside of school time to play through
all of the options in the game. This effectively questioned the "20 minute
rule." We still wonder if this is simply the initial enthusiasm of a new
interface, or will be sustainable over time.
characters are 'real'
We anticipated that
characters may not carry the narrative because we purposefully limited graphic
representations to static .jpg images and posters. Despite this, the
conversations proved to be sufficient to engage players. Players referred to
the interactions and game with intimate statements like, "you can talk to other characters," "like,
live their lifestyle," "they would give me something," "you can get more quests
by talking to them," and "we could burn buffalo poop!" Much like high budget
video games, verbs were used in the first person and digital objects became
'real' ones in the discourse. In one case the story wasn't satisfactory to a
young man because, we didn't give the epilogue to each of the characters. In
another case, we had a grumpy character that a player didn't want to return to
because they "were mean." Having characters be 'real' wasn't a problem in the
play”" testing. Also, knowing that the characters were based on actual people
added a "Minnesota touch" for students.
We were concerned about the
small screen commanding the attention of players away from the space. On this
point we do have mixed results: Some students did appear to be looking at the
screen more than the space. Redesigns of the game leaned toward smaller,
quicker conversations with characters and quests that had players looking
around for solutions. This quickly appeared in the interviews as "You got to
walk around and do stuff, who wouldn't want to do that!," "I liked exploring
everywhere and finding different things." In addition the space was featured
alongside comments on the game seamlessly. For instance, it was common to hear:
"You can go and explore and
while you're doing it, you can see what people had to do to survive; like the
sod house, how small it was and you could look around to see what stuff was
Though the small screen
carried the story, players were easily relating the story to the spaces they
were playing in and connecting the characters to the hubs.
Another observation of
players was that the game was engaging for all types of students. Teachers
noticed that some students were quick to pick up the game and were more than
willing to help others along. Enthusiasm for the game created a collaboration
between students of varying receptiveness to the technology. A para”"
professional (student aide) pulled me aside at one play”" test and exclaimed, "I
love how she can connect with this and go at her own pace! Look at her, she is
loving this." We have found consistently that student engagement with the mobile
game and student performance at school are not linked. Certainly there is room
for interesting future study in this area.
the technology was not an issue
We anticipated that
scanning QR codes would be a challenge and require some training on the part of
MHS staff. This was true with many adults, but not true with most students. One
teacher commented that, "They just get it." When students did have troubles, we
notice that a friend or another student would quickly step in to 'help' the
other. This helpfulness largely fits with descriptions of participatory
cultures and digital communities described in other studies (Ito, et al., 2008
& Jenkins, et al., 2009). Collaboration around using the technology was
positive and encouraging to the designers.
In addition, we used
protective cases and lanyards for each of the mobile devices to protect them
and provide log in information. These were not an issue for students and
successfully have protected the devices to date.
Post”" game interviews
repeatedly demonstrated that students were gaining experiences (reported in the
first”" person) around which they could retell the lives, challenges, and
particulars of Minnesota historical characters. Our goal was not for players to
memorize facts, but to have context for 1) different periods of Minnesota
history, 2) characters they could relate to, and 3) spaces that inspired
interest in each geographical region of the state. On all three points players
reported "going back in time" and that "having that experience is cool." Mobile
media learning, for MHS, is about 'living' out an event or 'living' with people
and being able to talk about both with classmates, teachers, and curators.
Our work at MHS is not just
relevant for museums. The context, player”" testing, and designed space have
provided an interesting context to test how mobile media learning promotes
visitor engagement, as well as to test a number of interface design issues. We
learned not just about spatial design, but about the design of the mobile
application itself. That said, because this is still such a new process, we
would invite others to contact us and share what they have done differently,
studies that verify or challenge our observations, and how to continue refining
the design process with ideas.
Final thoughts for us
” The process that worked
for us, (above), could easily be adopted by other designers that want to
develop mobile games collaboratively.
” During design, clearly
establish goals regarding 'screen”" time' vs. focus on the space itself. Large
amounts of text and the desire to include 'facts' can and will take more screen
time and conversely less observation of the space; and vice versa.
” Collaboration appears to
be a natural byproduct of mobile media learning. Other reserach indicates this;
we also observed that many student— student and student— adult interactions
happen whether or not we provide 'quests' that encourage them. Collaboration is
part of using the technology, discovering/exploring, and sharing alternative
” Like reading a text, good
writing facilitates the imagination to fill in the images and production
quality. With story based adventures, attention is well placed in polishing the
prose. Imagination and role”" play made our game 'pop' in the player's mind
despite fairly basic interface design.
” Designing for critical
thinking requires trusting that the player will use the space. Challenges in
mobile media may be too easy (scavenger hunt) or too hard (complex puzzles).
These two extremes need careful balance. The fear that not every player will
finish a task was assuaged a bit when we saw students 1) helping each other
regularly, and 2) looking around for clues. By placing clues in the space (not
in the game), we could help scale the challenges without making them too
” There is much to learn in
terms of having players interact with space. In the coming months we are
integrating Arduino technology that can activate physical events when the
digital game triggers them. This small connecting trigger will open up many
possibilities that will further expand the capacity of mobile media learning.
These of course are only
some of the lessons and questions that will guide future iterations. In the
meantime, if you are ever in Minnesota, feel free to come and play.
Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittanti, M., boyd, d.,
Herr”" Stephenson, B., & Lange, P. G. (2008). Living and Learning with New
Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. . Chicago, IL: The
Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M.,
Clinton, K., & Robinson, A. J. (2009). Confronting the Challenges of
Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. MIT Press:
by Kelly Czarnecki
You've probably heard of
the 14 year”" old from Utah that used the computer technology books from his
public library and the quiet space there to develop Bubble Ball, a strategy and
puzzle game app for the iPhone in December 2010. This free game was so well—
liked in fact, it briefly surpassed the number of times Angry Birds, one of the
most popular apps, had been downloaded (Nelson, 2011). While most youth might
not have the patience to write 4,000 lines of code, chances are they own some
kind of mobile device and have probably used it for gaming. Though this is an
extreme example of use, there are many other ways to learn with mobile media.
The question is, how are public libraries supporting gaming and mobile
devices beyond reference books in their collection?
QR code quest
In December of 2011, the
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML) in North Carolina paid for staff to attend
a webinar presented by the Public Library Association called Cracking QR Codes—
What Are They and How Can They Help Your Library? While QR codes are not new, I
attended the webinar, knowing what they were and what they looked like but not
necessarily knowing ways libraries were using them or could use them. The
presenter shared examples of libraries integrating the 2D barcodes into
scavenger hunts around the physical library space as well as attaching them to
books on the shelves which would link to a promotional video about the book
called a book trailer or a read”" a”" like (another book that is similar in plot
or theme). A member of the library's marketing department attended and shared
ideas of how we could include QR codes in our marketing pieces, especially with
programs that repeat year after year. By referring people to URLs of photos and
videos from the previous year's program through a QR code, it's an easy way to
bring new interest to the program as well as connect one event to another. The
possibilities of using QR codes in the library seemed pretty endless.
Of all the ideas shared,
using QR codes to craft a scavenger hunt seemed to make the most sense for the
type of public library I work at. A scavenger hunt is a rather typical activity
for many public libraries as a type of game used to introduce people to the
facility and ways of finding information.
The library I work at
within CML, ImaginOn, is a youth”" focused facility. This means anyone over 18
is not able to use the computers, programming is done for those 18 and under,
and in certain areas of the building, only young people are able to hang out.
Scavenger hunts can be a
great group activity since a lot of people can participate at once. There are
many groups that come to ImaginOn, whether as a school fieldtrip during the
year or as a camp during the summer on a community outing. Scavenger hunts are
nothing new to ImaginOn, but integrating them with mobile technologies is. We
are located in an urban setting, in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. Many
teens that frequent the library have cell phones they use to listen to music,
watch videos, or text their friends. Even if the teens do regularly hang out at
the library, they haven't necessarily explored everything as many tend to do
the same activity every day such as use the Internet or play video games with
their friends. A scavenger hunt can be a fun and quick way to introduce them to
some different resources and goings”" on at ImaginOn.
mobile gaming in public libraries
Gaming in public libraries
has a track record for fostering interest in other library resources. Whether
it's used as a lure to get people into the building or it happens more
organically (i.e. the library offers an activity I'm really interested in,
which makes me want to explore and see what else might be available), gaming
connects people with each other and the facility itself.
Supporting mobile gaming in
a public library setting could be as complex as lending out mobile gaming
devices or circulating mobile games to as simple as developing a scavenger hunt
that requires the use of a mobile device with a QR code reader. Since everyone
won't necessarily own such a device, you may consider supplementing the QR code
quest with the clues in hard copy form that don't require a special device to
read the code, especially if you think enough people might be left out of the
experience because they lack the tools to participate. At the same time, this
shouldn't be a reason not to try out using QR codes. Having people work in
teams in case some people don't have a device with a QR code reader is also
another way to get everyone involved. Depending on your community, many people
do have smart phones and are very familiar interacting with information using
mobile technologies. Free QR code readers are available for all major
The first time teens at
ImaginOn participated in the QR code quest, they discovered it themselves. In
other words, they spotted the large codes throughout the library, knew how to
read them with their phones, and then proceeded to ask staff how it all worked.
The library staff gave them a handout with the challenges listed. We explained
that hints to the challenges were given in the form of QR codes posted
throughout the 2nd floor. Each challenge required an answer. For example, the
third challenge reads, "Studio i is ImaginOn's music and movie production
space. Find the Studio i QR Code Hint to locate the name of the company that
designed the space. Name: ___________ Bonus points: What is the general
nonfiction number for books about animation? (Hint: there is a bookmark in
Studio i with this information)."
The hint was a QR code
attached to the outside of the Studio i door. It is a large code with a heading
directly above the code that reads "Studio i QR Code Hint".
Depending on your space,
you may choose to make your codes more or less obvious. The important thing to
keep in mind is that you don't want participants to get frustrated. If
locations within your library are well marked with up to date signage, you may
consider using those places as the anchor points for your challenges. If you're
looking to focus your QR scavenger hunt on something a bit harder to find such
as a specific reference book or a section in the library not as well marked,
you may want to give some hints along the way such as what it's located next to
so that people don't get too frustrated and give up. The goal is probably to
have players feel more comfortable and familiar with the space, not run away in
frustration! Asking for feedback and suggestions on what they thought of the
scavenger hunt after they finished or how it can be improved is a way that can
give you food for thought when making your next iteration of the game.
not Just for teens
In January 2012, Library
Journal, a trade publication for librarians with an emphasis on public
libraries, released Patron Profiles, a trending survey of public library
patrons in regard to how they use mobile devices in libraries.
Nearly 15% of the 21”" 40
year”" old respondents (out of 2155 total) reported, "they are using mobile
services to help their children with research or to find a book." (Carlucci,
2012). According to Rebecca Miller, Patron Profiles series editor, the 21”" 40
age group "are avid users of a wide range of library services and they are
early adopters of technology" (Barack, 2012). This age group is also more
likely to use mobile technology than other patrons though few respondents to
the survey have downloaded library apps because they don't yet exist or are
While this report doesn't
directly address mobile devices used for gaming in public libraries it does
show that there is a relationship between accessing information in the physical
space and using mobile technologies to do it. This can be important information
for libraries wanting to capitalize on that interest. Some things you might
want to consider include:
” Convenience/just in time
information. By including QR codes in
information the library is creating— whether it be on a bookmark, as part of a
flyer, or on our programming calendars, we're tapping into the ease and
convenience of locating additional information through scanning a code. We're
also helping make the connection between the real and the virtual by giving
people another resource in which they can find information if they wish.
” Building community. Whether it's accessing an app that will lead a library
user directly to the catalog via their mobile device or supporting a mobile
gaming tournament, we're creating access points for people to connect with
information and each other.
” Marketing of resources. Finding ways to integrate the use of mobile devices
with the library's resources such as through scavenger hunts can be a powerful
marketing tool to show that the library is a fun and interactive place to be.
” Exploration of history
outside of the library. Using QR codes for
scavenger hunts in the library is just the beginning. If your library is
located in a neighborhood or community rich with interesting historical facts,
mobile scavenger hunts can be used outside the building and take the form of
geocaching through using GPS units or building an online game by participants
using SCVNGR. Finding those access points to resources unique to your library
and of interest to the surrounding community can help build information rich
designing a QR code quest
When creating the quest for
teens at ImaginOn, we took several things into consideration. We chose
challenges that highlighted spaces or resources that were underused. In this
sense the quest functioned a bit as a marketing tool to help some areas and
resources gain more familiarity. For example, the Reader's Club is an online
site maintained by library staff that includes such information as book
reviews, new releases and author interviews. Teens don't necessarily know to
use Reader's Club as a resource when they're trying to find something to read—
whether as assigned for a school project or something recreational.
This challenge linked the
Reader's Club site to the physical space of the fiction collection in the
library. The challenge reads, "Look for the Reader's Club QR Code somewhere in
the fiction section. Write down two of the latest titles that are reviewed in
the Teen Corner of the Reader's Club that sound most interesting to you." Their
answers can also be entry points to further discussion in getting to know the
participants better. It can also help identify if people are just writing down
anything to finish or are at least giving some thought about what they're
putting down as an answer! If they really didn't find anything on the Reader's
Club site that looked interesting, that can be another avenue to find out what
it is they read or what kind of games they like to play that can help make
connections to other resources the library owns such as downloadable items,
magazines, or graphic novels.
Another consideration we took
into account was designing a challenge around areas that were well used. For
example, the Gaming Corner which has console gaming (Wii, Xbox, PS2 and 3)
during the week when public schools adjourn as well as during open hours on
weekends, is a popular place in the library. The challenge we integrated with
the QR Code Quest was this: "Stop by the Loft's Gaming Corner. Find the Gaming
Corner QR Code Hint. What is one of our newest dancing games and what console
does it play on?" The challenge
was designed to let teens
know that we own a game they might not have known about, we do try and purchase
up to date games, and their suggestions are taken into consideration for
purchase. Consequently, because the Gaming Corner is frequented at the library,
teens notice the QR Code Hints and ask us what that's about. This gives us an
opportunity to invite them to participate in the scavenger hunt while they're
waiting for their turn to game or to try something that might be completely
different for them in the library if they pretty much just console game when
they're at ImaginOn.
Many sites are available to
create QR codes for free. You can choose a search engine and practice with what
comes up when typing in 'QR code generator' or look at the features of several
mentioned below. Most sites generate a QR code after you put a URL into the
online form. A phone number, SMS message or any text can also generate a QR
code. Depending on the site you're using, once a code is created, you can take
a screen shot and add it to the document you want to incorporate it into. Be
sure and check that it works by testing it with your own QR code reader. It
should bring you to the information such as a web site that generated the code
in the first place.
I regularly use the Kaywa
QR code generator (http://qrcode.kaywa.com/) as it gives several options of
information to use in order to create a code (URL, text, phone number, or SMS
message). It also lets you choose the size of your code. The Google Chrome
browser creates a code for any URL that is currently open— you simply right
click to generate the code. This works on images as well and can be shared
easily with other social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. QR Droid
(qrdroid.com/generate) is another site that generates a code after you enter
your URL. There's also a QR code template available for setting up a scavenger
hunt on the Active History site (Tarr, Russel, 1998”" 2012).
QR codes are used in all
kinds of libraries including school and academic for more than just scavenger
hunts. They can be used for anything from linking additional information to
library exhibits such as an artist's web site to video or book trailers before
material is checked out. The key with QR codes, whether used for a scavenger
hunt or other purpose in the library, is to bring additional content to the
user. While the challenges for a scavenger hunt may focus on underused or
regularly used areas within the library, the key also is to highlight some
additional content for the participant. In other words, rather than have the
code simply link to the library's web site, choose something more specific that
you're aiming to highlight— perhaps content that might be a bit underused. Link
the content to something physical in the library so that the connection makes
more sense. A QR code that shows the library's electronic holdings placed near
the print materials may give the challenge more of a context to show that there
are multiple ways that content can be obtained in the library.
a word on mobile gaming and public libraries
While this chapter solely
focused on the integration of QR codes as a scavenger
hunt game, it's fair to say
there is a lot of movement in public libraries with gaming and mobile devices.
There is also a lot of time and funding spent on other uses of mobile devices
with the public library such as apps to interface with the catalog or the
loaning out of iPads to toddlers. To go more in depth with any of these
examples, is beyond the scope of this chapter, but it is worth mentioning that
integrating mobile devices with the public library is very much on everyone's
radar and significant strides have been made in combining access and
information in this way.
Gaming is nothing new in
libraries. Board games have been played for years and video games, while slower
to catch on, have become a part of regular services at many libraries. Whether
it's allowing games to be checked out or hosting a tournament, public libraries
are generally very supportive of this activity. In a 2009 Library Journal blog
post of the Games, Gamers, and Gaming column, writer Liz Danforth points out
how video game technology is constantly changing. She asks, do mobile games
have a place in the future of gaming in libraries? Can your library support
games and gaming played on mobile devices as an organized activity,
competitively or cooperatively? (Danforth, Liz, 2009).
A few examples of what
public libraries are doing support gaming and mobile devices include:
” Find the Future, New York Public Library. In honor of the NYPL's
centennial celebration, starting in the Spring of 2011 as an overnight
adventure, people were invited to download an app to the iPhone or Android that
would unlock a clue to an object located in the library. Once the object was
found, players would write a short essay inspired by the object which was to be
part of collaboratively written book. The game was able to continue to be
played online (Find the Future at NYPL: The Game, 2011).
” Finding History, YouMedia, Chicago Public Library. Teens participated
in a high”" tech scavenger hunt using GPS units to locate geocache's throughout
the city. The activity was used to engage teens outside of the library around
One Book One Chicago events focusing on Daniel Burnham, an architect who helped
plan the design for Chicago in the early 1900's. Clues about Burnham and his
plan could be located using GPS units (Karp, Josh, 2010).
” Foursquare. Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Every time
players visit the library, they can check in with their mobile device and earn
points. Their page also includes a list of activities to do while visiting the
library including getting a library card, using a database for getting full”"
text magazine articles, and playing a video game
(https://foursquare.com/v/topeka”" shawnee”" county”" public”"
” NYC Haunts. New York Public Library. In 2011, a partnership with
Global Kids and the New York Public Library resulted in teens using iPads and
smartphones to create a game. Using the online platform of SCVNGR, participants created clues and
riddles about their local neighborhood history. The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage was
located in their neighborhood. The teens learned more about Poe and his legacy
through this game (Martin, H. Jack, 2011).
” Educational Game
Technology, South Carolina State
Library. Many libraries lend mobile games and/or their devices to patrons to
check out just like they do books with their library card. The South Carolina
State Library is just one example of a library that lends out DS Lites and
games to member libraries within the state. While these aren't lent out
directly to patrons, libraries request the mobile games and devices which then
can be used to host a program in the library for patrons to use (Hotchkiss,
” Library Conferences,
Location Based Services. Librarian Joe
Murphy shares on his blog post how he's used location based services such as
Foursquare, Gowalla, and Getglue at major library conferences to create
experiences for attendees to learn together and obtain rewards for playing
(Murphy, Joe, 2011).
QR codes are just the
beginning of how public libraries are using mobile devices for gaming. Even
though gaming consoles such as the Xbox or PS3 offer so much more than just
gaming such as the ability to play movies, they still have a stigma attached to
them in some libraries, particularly in the difficult economic picture of
recent years, that gaming isn't a priority activity in terms of how we should
be spending our time and scarce resources. However, integrating gaming with
mobile devices such as phones or iPads, in libraries, might have a bit more
credibility than with using a console because the mobile devices can be used
for so much more. IPads, for example, could have apps that help deliver book related
content in a different way. Phones can access apps that are a direct link to a
library catalog or contacting a librarian. In other words, the relationship
between gaming and accessing information via mobile devices might have a more
obvious link to the priorities of a library such as literacy or educational
Because of how the economy
has affected the viability of libraries in the last five years, to be
innovative yet with less staff, and still deliver services that are essential
to many communities, can be challenging. While video gaming has become a more
mainstream activity in many public libraries, there's still the need to prove
that this is an important activity where participants are learning valued
information that can't necessarily be replicated in the same way by other
organizations in the community. This isn't to say that there is any less
learning that is valued by the library going on when engaging with console
gaming, but that the learning is somehow more apparent when using mobile
devices because of their multiple uses and also the ability to bring geography
into the picture. Many games, including scavenger hunts using smartphones or
GPS units are dependent on location.
For an organization such as
a library that seeks to bring people together with the larger community while
integrating such things as neighborhood geography
whether through an actual
location of a clue or simply anytime access to information, this can be a very
powerful tool for libraries to help make these connections.
Barack, Lauren (2012). To Attract Parents and
Kids, Libraries Should Think Mobile. Retrieved from
http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/01/research/to”" attract”" parents”" and”"
kids”" libraries”" should”" think”" mobile/
Carlucci, Lisa. (2012). The State of Mobile in
Libraries 2012. Retrieved from
http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/02/mobile/the”" state”" of”" mobile”" in”"
Danforth, Liz (2009). Mobile Gaming. Retrieved
Find the Future at NYPL: The Game (2011).
Retrieved from http://game.nypl.org/#/
Hotchkiss, Deborah (2007). South Carolina State
Library Public Libraries Can Check Out Educational Game Technology. Retrieved
from http://www.statelibrary.sc.gov/public”" libraries”" can”" check”" out”"
educational”" game”" technology
Karp, Josh (2010). The Chicago Public Library
Helps Teens "Find History". Retrieved from
http://spotlight.macfound.org/featured”" stories/entry/chicago”" public”" library”"
helps”" teens”" find”" history/
Martin, H. Jack (2011). The New York Public
Library: NYC Haunts: Bronx Teens Discover Their Neighborhood Through an
Interactive Look at the Dead. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the”"
new”" york”" public”" library/nyc”" haunts”" bronx”" teens”" di_b_898206.html
Murphy, Joe (2011). Foursquare &
Conferences: Enhancing library conferences with Location”" based services.
Retrieved from http://joemurphylibraryfuture.com/foursquare”" conferences/
Nelson, James. (2011). "Bubble Ball" iPhone app
inventor is Utah eighth grader. Retrieved from
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/20/us”" whizkid”" iphone”"
Tarr, Russel. (1998”" 2012). How to Set up a QR
Code Treasure Hunt. Retrieved from http://www.activehistory.co.uk/Miscellaneous/menus/history_mystery/qr.php
Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library”"
Topeka, KS Foursquare (?). Retrieved from https://foursquare.com/v/topeka”"
shawnee”" county”" public”" library/4b06c23cf964a520b6ef22e3
Chapter 12. Planning your Game Jam: Game Design as a Gateway Drug
Chapter 13. Youth APPLab: The Wonder of App Inventor and Young App Developers
by Colleen Macklin, John
Martin, and Seann Dikkers
If you want to truly
understand a topic, design a game for it. This chapter provides a framework for
running your own 'game jam' — or, if you only have a small chunk of time — a
game design challenge. A game jam is a game design tradition to gather a range
of prospective game designers that work in groups to make a fully”" functional
game, from idea to iteration, within a set amount of time. The advantage of
community”" based design models like this one not only builds creative
collaboration, but also allows for playtesting and natural enthusiasm around
game design. It reminds all designers, no matter how accomplished,
that an idea is only as
good as its execution, and that productivity is measured in moments, not
A decade ago the first game
jam took place in Oakland, California prior to the annual Game Developers
Conference as a means to encourage experimental game design around a theme. The
0th Indie Game Jam's theme was "10,000 guys," or, how can one design a
videogame with 10,000 computerized characters? The idea caught on. Since then,
game jams have taken place at schools, game design studios, and basements
around the world. Ten years later, in 2012, the weekend Global Game Jam
included participants from 47 countries around the world. Over 10,000 designers
created games themed by an image of the Ouroboros, the serpent eating its own
tail. Locally we have used game jams to address civic challenges, explore
digestive systems, or simply to have a good time and build relationships. We
suggest that this basic approach can be used in a variety of ways.
First, the official
breakdown of a game jam:
Official Game Jam Rules:
Officially at each site,
the Global Game Jam runs continuously for 48 hours in each time zone, beginning
at 5:00 PM on the start date, and ending at 5:00 PM two days later. The
recommended schedule includes a short planning and team creation period,
followed by development time until 3:00 PM on the final day. The last few hours
are set aside for teams to present their creation to each other. However, sites
are not required to follow this schedule.
At the beginning of the
event participants are given a theme, such as "Extinction"
in the 2011 Jam or
"Ouroboros" in 2012. Participants are asked to create a game that in some way
relates to this theme. Additionally, participants are given a list of
"achievements," also referred to as diversifiers. These are designed to drive
creative development by adding a unique or limiting factor to their game's
design. Examples include "Both Hands Tied Behind My Back," in which a game
should be designed to be played without the player's hands, or "Picasso Lives,"
in which game art must be cubist in style.
Of course, any and all of these
rules can be modified to fit the local game jam context and goals. Themes and
achievements can both be used as ways to challenge
jammers further, or to
promote a learning agenda by the organizers and differentiate the challenges.
Collectively we have
organized and facilitated jams of various kinds involving university students,
teachers, researchers, hobbyists, storytellers, and even game designers.
There's no design experience necessary and no technical expertise either. Jams
can be done on paper or in computers. Really, all that's needed is a
willingness to set aside some time, a space to meet, and let folks know.
Customize the rules, themes, achievements, time, and other variables to make
the event as stimulating as possible for participants — together we call these
pedagogical tools constraints.
The framework in this
chapter uses both technical and conceptual constraints. Constraints are the
designer's best friend; they provide challenge and provocation, just as rules
provide players with a framework to play and innovate within. The constraints
in this framework are modular so that they can be reconfigured to provide new
types of challenges and creative prompts.
In fact, the framework
presented is modular enough to enable shorter or longer jams and the ability to
string together a series of activities over the course of a couple of hours, a
day, or a week. It's designed with the assumption that many might not want to
stay up all night drinking Red Bull and debugging code (although this is
rewarding, to some). Core activities include:
1. Ideation. How to create "generative constraints," brainstorm,
and identify one idea for your game. We have both had participants throw themes
into a hat then draw two, and chosen idea prompts ahead of time and advertised
them so participants can start to generate ideas ahead of time.
2. Prototyping. How to build a paper prototype in the first few hours
of the jam and use the remaining time iterating and refining your core concept.
Paper prototyping is one of the most important techniques for all designers,
even if the final design is paperless. In addition to paper prototyping,
specific prototyping techniques for location”" based mobile games will be
described, from a walking prototype to using scaled”" down versions of the
game's location(s). In these cases available resources (string, sticky notes,
markers, maps) also serve as a variables.
3. Playtesting I. The only way to truly understand the dynamics of your
game is to playtest it. And the key to playtesting is early and often.
Playtesting will help you/your team "find the fun" in your game and prioritize
design decisions so that your project stays within the scope of something you
can actually make and something people actually want to play.
4. Prioritizing. Figuring out what is the most important aspect of a
game and building from that, while slashing everything else, is one of the most
painful endeavors even for the most experienced designers. It's also a secret
to the success and failure of most games. During a fast”" paced game jam it's
even more critical to prioritize. The activities in this section will help make
it easier to get into production with a design that is actually doable!
5. Production. This is where all of the elements come together and
the true test of the technology — and your skills — come into play. For the
Locative Game Jam we'll narrow down the technology to choices that beginners
will be able to work with and more advanced designers will be able to push
further. Look for tools that multiple people can use at the same time like
butcher paper or Google Docs.
6. Playtesting II. Playtesting your game while in production serves
several functions: it helps you see whether the technology is working before
you build too much, it helps you find bugs, and it keeps you honest. The proof
of a game is not in its graphics, code, or concept, but in its play(test).
7. Show and Tell. At the end of the game jam, typically there is some
kind of large group sharing of games made, features created, and a collective
introspection of the process.
By the end of the jam,
participants will have learned the design process from start to finish and will
have made a fully”" playable game. Whether the jam takes place over 24 hours or
24 days, it's a great introduction to the elements of game design and to
thinking like a designer. Even a 1”" 2 hour activity that focuses on
prototyping, with some time for reflection, can be a valuable exercise in
organizing your own game jam
Game jams are best mastered
through practice. We want to make that as clear as possible to encourage those
of you interested in organizing one for yourself. You will learn the benefits,
fun, and management of game jamming as you do them. With each one, you'll add
ideas, style, and specifics that will make the next one you do even better. If
you have access to a room, basic office supplies, and a group of willing,
creative people, you are set to put together a game jam of your own. In the
words of the Nike ad campaign — 'Just do it'.
At each stage, the
following points provide an overview of planning considerations before, during,
and after you run your own game jam.
Before your jam:
1) Goals. As
noted above consider the goals of the jam. Whether you are motivated to build
community, learn game design, or engage with content, your goals change the
specifics. Goals affect time allocation, space, and materials that are needed
below. For each point below use these goals to guide your decisions.
Audience also affects the planning of the jam, yet, in our experience,
not that much. For younger
audiences, part of the appeal of a game jam is that the workflow resembles
adult work teams and project”" based careers. The high energy of deadlines and
creativity are a good fit for younger audiences.
On the flip side, adult
audiences are attracted to the low”" stakes, playful, and also high energy
The background and
motivation of the participants are more important than age. Consider before you
begin the reason for attendance on the part of participants.
If you have willing
volunteers that have previous jam experience, much less needs to be done up
front to explain and contextualize the jam. If your attendees are there because
of a class or other requirement, you'll need to plan for more explanation,
clear goals, and think about motivation for participation. As in any creative
space, unwilling group members can stutter or stagnate production. In
compulsory settings, plan accordingly to allow for free participation in groups
and an alternative activity in the rare case that someone wants out.
3) Space. Select
and reserve space for the jam that best maximizes the process. Game jams are
best done apart from day”" to”" day work. Consider moving off”" site, or
rearranging the site, if you have a group that works together already. For
larger communities that may not already know each other, a quality space adds
to the excitement and prestige. We've seen that large open spaces work well,
especially when you can easily break off into smaller planning groups without
losing line”" of”" sight of others. When one group starts using butcher paper,
whiteboards, or index cards to organize thought, other groups should be able to
look across the room and get ideas for collaboration and process.
Your space should
facilitate central focus for initial kick”" off presentations and projecting
final game projects at the end. Chairs need to be generally tolerable
or plan for stretch breaks.
Check for available parking, clear directions for commuters, and provide signs inside
the building with clear directions to the room. Game jams that take longer
periods of time will need easy access to food, restrooms, and perhaps hotels.
Finally, we encourage that food be allowed in the room for groups that want to
work through meals together — wrappers can make fine decorations.
4) Materials. Our game
jams have ranged from entirely paper and marker to full digital builds of
games. Using your goals, audience, and space consider what materials best meet
your goals of design time. For a non”" digital jam, make sure you provide a
ready supply of sticky notes, markers, string (to show links between game
elements), tape, and paper. In addition, groups that have whiteboards or flip
chart paper can easily share ideas and keep plans 'in front' of them. Consider
other fun elements like board game pieces, stickers, and anything that can add
a flair to either idea generation or planning.
If using digital tools,
have provision for everyone to plug into an outlet and access a wireless
connection. Be wary of the capacity of the wireless network. Find a way to test
it, contact IT, or find another space where you can confirm the network will
handle the work flow. We have found it best to avoid computer labs because, as
a space, they generally are set up for individual work, not group work. Of
course, if you are providing laptops or mobile devices for the jam, make sure
these are fully charged and access to charging stations is available.
During your jam:
5) Opening ceremonies. For veterans or newbies, game jams should start with
opening comments from the host. As you prepare your notes, include appropriate
"Thank yous," welcomes, housekeeping, and rules for the facility use. Point out
where participants can find food, restrooms, and any needs once the jam starts.
The guts of the opening comments should include the parameters of the game jam
or the design constraints. Include the times and overall agenda for the
session, what the goals of the jam are, and the overall constraints placed
before the participants. You can also use this time to organize groups, but we
recommend having groups established ahead of time. Your opening comments should
end with, "...and GO!"
Plan for groups to meet and begin brainstorming around the design constraints
of the jam as soon as possible. Allow roughly 20% of your time for this process
and use any number of available strategies for keeping it fresh and pushing
generativity beyond the initial rush of ideas. Many game jams have a period of
large group sharing of ideas from each group to help narrow the ideas that they
are excited about and compare, adopt, and redesign based on hearing ideas from
7) Prototyping. After
groups settle on an idea, they should begin a process of fleshing out the game
idea into specific stages of play. Allow 20%”" 40% of the time for prototyping.
In shorter or non”" digital jams, a well worked paper prototype may even be the
final product. A few ideas for prototyping include storyboards or 'maps' of the
game, level concepts, 'wire”" frame' drawings of screens the player would see,
scripts, slide shows (with buttons!), or index cards organized to show game
options. Prototyping can be non”" digital or digital. By visiting the jam
groups, organizers should be able to quickly get a feel for the game that is to
be made, where the ideas have challenges, and how the group is solving
problems. Be prepared to clarify and answer questions, encourage teams, and
drop in additive ideas as you visit the groups. For younger jams, you will need
to address group dynamics more, help them improve collaboration skills, and
8) Build the game.
In larger game jams, building the game is the core of what motivates
participants — taking up to 50”" 70% of the scheduled time. For mobile media
learning, building the game requires programming skills or the use of a rapid
prototyping tool (like ARIS) to build working versions of the game.
9) Test the game.
The benefit of having multiple groups designing together, is that you can stop
everything, bring the large group together, and play each other's games. This
may only take 3”" 5% of the time. Having the same constraints, groups can learn
from each other's ideas, solutions, and resources accessed. Develop a process
or direction for playing games by either assigning a rotation, picking groups,
or any method designed to have jammers playing other games. We suggest having
the groups split between "stay with your project and present it" and "rotate to
the other projects" so each group has a mix of interactions.
10) Refine the game.
After building and seeing other teams' games presented, groups need a chance to
return to their own game and apply lessons, ideas, and suggestions to their own
game design. This time should be roughly a third of the time they took to build
the game or 10”" 20% of the jam time. This is also time to add final polish and
prepare to present the final product to the large group.
11) Closing ceremonies. Bring the full jam group together for final
presentation of the games. Plan for a central location for others to access and
play games (e.g. a website, social document, or public display space), and time
to get feedback for future jamming. We've tried and largely abandoned awards,
finding that they don't necessarily fit with the motivation and goals for
coming to a game jam — namely community, production, and fun. Yet, depending on
the size of the groups, highlighting each game is a fun way to tie things
12) Follow up. You
learn how to organize jams by doing them. Take time after the jam to contact
participants for suggestions for the next one. Because they are fairly
informal, most participants are more than willing to help you design or even
help plan the next one. Those with the most comments may be unwittingly
volunteering to lead the planning committee.
13) Audience. Find a
way to highlight or make game jam products accessible
(with permission) to a
larger audience. If you have an online site, this may mean populating it with
links to games. If you are working with school groups, the local library may be
willing to set up a kiosk or endcap with your games. Building an audience and
community is important; more people means more relevant games, but it also
increases connections between designers and encourages new participation.
but I don't have a weekend!
"This is all well and
good," you say, "for people with weekends to burn. But what can I do within a
It's a fair question. And
it's one that we've been thinking about and experimenting with for years.
Remember what we wrote about constraints, "Constraints are the designer's best
friend; they provide challenge and provocation, just as rules provide players
with a framework to play and innovate within." We hope that in reading the final
section of this chapter you are encouraged that:
1. Great learning can
happen through prototyping;
2. You can prototype a game
in a couple hours (see lesson plan below); Then we hope that in running a game
jam you we see for yourself that:
3. Learner reflection
during a game jam is potent and worthwhile, and
4. Learner reflection after
a game jam has remarkable staying”" power.
a shorter 'lesson plan'
Let's be clear — this isn't
as cool or immersive as participating in a Global Game jam for a weekend; nor
is it even as good as a 3”" 4 hour design jam. If you can do either of those,
don't even bother with this! But if you're like many educators we've
encountered over the years, who are interested in having their students design
games, but have to operate within a couple school days or a school week, here's
a game jam plan that has worked fairly well:
students will be able to (SWBAT)
Work together to design and
present a systemic understanding of the content through gaming media mechanics
that models the topic.
Pencils, colored markers,
3x5 index cards, scissors, assorted dice, 11x17 paper (game boards), small
sticky notes, assorted playing pieces and tokens such as glass beads, stones,
and poker chips. (The dollar store is your friend here.)
Introduction (15 minutes)
” Briefly explain the
activity: each group of ~4 will design a game for the others to play at the end
of the hour.
” Hand out small scraps of
paper and ask them to write down potential game themes such as "Dinosaur
Ninjas" (we found that if you don't seed semi”" ridiculous themes, students tend
to submit recent course themes, which tend to make the challenge too
complicated — see above). Pick one at random to be the theme for the games.
(These randomized constraints help even the field of game ideas by eliminating
themes that participants might arrive with.)
” Break into groups of
about four people.
Ideation (15 minutes)
Come up with many ideas,
and choose a "doable" one — not necessarily the best one. As they come up with
ideas, groups should consider the following:
” Guiding metaphor:
Components. Break it down.
” Game play: What will it
look like when they're playing?
” Prep: What has to happen
before anyone starts playing?
” Game board: Where is it
played? What are the physical constraints of play?
” Rules: What are the rules
of play? Keep it simple!
” Winning: How does one
win? Or, When does it end?
Prototype 1 (15 minutes)
” Stop planning and make
” Try it! — Play along; it
won't be great yet, but give it your best optimistic try.
” Is it fun? What could be
” Adjust it, or try
something else, but remember that in this constrained time frame, a single
"okay" idea is better than
a pile of discarded ones. One strategy that we've seen work surprisingly well
is when groups embrace what they might think is a bad idea, and pump up the
ridiculous parts of it to make it so bad that it's fun! A mediocre game
mechanic can be amped up with other constraints (e.g. "player must be
blindfolded" or "all in”" game communication must be sung in operatic style"
Prototype 2 (15 minutes)
” If the first prototype
was really terrible, here's your chance to take what you learned and go in a
new direction with it.
” If the first prototype
was workable, here's your chance to supplement it with a additional factors
that enhance it.
If you have to spread this
over two periods or sessions, here's a good place to stop. If participants are
into it, the next step "Finishing Touches" (or even a third prototype)
sometimes happens before the next meeting. If not, give the designers a few
minutes at the start of the next session to refamiliarize themselves with their
work, and add some finishing touches to it.
Finishing Touches (15
” Give your game a title if
you haven't already. How does the title affect the game play, or pieces, or
general look and feel of the game? Tie it all together!
” Give the latest version
another quick playtest. Look for dead ends or actions that break the game and
figure out how to roll them in to continued gameplay.
” Write down the rules. As
much as possible, the rules should be as intuitive or implicit as possible,
with clues on how to play built into the title ("Ninja Dinosaur Teradactyl
Toss!"), or theme, or gamespace — but any additional rules should be clearly
Group Play! (30 minutes)
There's a lot of room for
customization here. You should allow at least 10 minutes for each game. That
said, we've seen some great 2”" player games that one can get a good feel for in
a few minutes, and some great 12”" player games that participants want to play
completely through. The underlying goal is to provide enough time to get enough
of a sense of the game that one is able to provide feedback to the designers in
the "Reflection" section.
Reflection (15 minutes)
In many ways, this is the
most important part. Provide some time for groups to give each other feedback
on the game, both individually, and as a group. Discuss what worked, and what
didn't, and what might work better. This is where designers learn from each
other and where you get to bring home more complex points and issues that you
noticed during the process.
Before you take off and
start planning, we have a couple closing thoughts to share. First, we hope you
can sense the enthusiasm that we have for this process. Group work isn't new at
all, but game design and the process for game jamming has taken off because it
is a fresh way to enjoy a weekend, after”" school program, or even a classroom
Game jam planning is
relatively easy and the payoff has exceeded our expectations.
However, as with any new
approach to learning, you will most likely run into snags and challenges. We
haven't spent as much time discussing challenges
because we just haven't run
into many, and because the mobile project chapters cover many of them well.
Finally, if you are setting
up a game jam and want to reach out for someone to
talk it through, look at
your agenda, or just to share your experience, we are
available. Look us up
online and send us a quick note. We want to emphasize
that we see mobile media
learning as an emergent and growing community of people innovating — we'd love
to meet you!
In the meantime, enjoy your
by Leshell Hatley
Youth APPLab won the
MacArthur Foundation's 2010 Digital Media and Learning Competition and set out
to expose African”" American students in the District of Columbia to cutting”"
edge technology, empowering them to design and develop mobile applications
(apps) as opposed to only becoming consumers of them. The first and longest
running after”" school program of its kind, Youth APPLab presents participants
with opportunities to explore what it means to be a computer scientist, to
examine various forms of cutting”" edge technology, to innovate, problem solve,
and express themselves. Occupying a unique space in the collection of after”"
school programs, Youth APPLab blends computer programming instruction with
research”" based inquiry into student perspectives of software engineering.
The first year of Youth
APPLab launched with 22 students and a long enthusiastic waiting list. Although
eager to begin, approximately 90% of this initial cohort had no programming
experience and almost all did not know what it meant to 'code' (a word commonly
used to mean the writing of computer programs). Perhaps just one of the
students in this cohort had a smartphone and, although many had computers at
home, none had ever conceived of creating a mobile app themselves, until hearing
of Youth APPLab. At a time when computing technology impacts almost every
aspect of our daily lives, this unfortunate lack of exposure to the creative
power of technology permeates through many communities of color and is at the
heart of why Youth APPLab was formed (See figure 1. above).
Besides being an amazing
testament to students' hard work, creativity, and enormous accomplishments,
this chapter shares with the reader valuable suggestions, best practices, and
some of the key ingredients essential to the success of our work. In the
following pages, I'll provide an overview of Youth APPLab, our curriculum, and
how App Inventor played a major role in the implementation of the first year of
this after”" school program.
why youth APPLab?
We hypothesized that by
providing a supportive environment, enriched with culturally relevant pedagogy,
high expectation, and opportunities to learn from peers, students of color
would become engaged, highly motivated and persistent, and interested in
learning more about computer science and becoming computer scientists. We
imagined that exposure to computer programming instruction for almost a year
and an opportunity to intern the following summer would ignite a passion to
learn more about the field. After 10 months of intense instruction with 1
elementary, 8 middle, and 11 high school students (7 girls and 13 boys), our
hypothesis was proven and the results were beyond our richest imagination!
key ingredients for success
Hosted in one of Howard
University's computer labs and armed with a seasoned STEM (science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics) instructor, a professional software developer who
served as co”" instructor, and several guest speakers, Youth APPLab's curriculum
was delivered with high expectation, important culturally relevant messages and
examples, a sprinkle of entrepreneurial concepts and encouragement, and tons of
insight from many Howard students currently majoring in computer science. We
later realized that Youth APPLab students made specific connections with these
college students as they shared a great deal in common (e.g. African”" American,
high school, the desire to major in computer science). As such, they listened
intently to their insight, suggestions, and instructions.
These assets and resources
proved extremely beneficial to students, helping them form positive attitudes
about computer science overall and contributed
greatly to their
development of positive dispositions about computer programming, problem”"
solving, and troubleshooting. These combined with an awesome tool for beginning
programmers, called App Inventor, greatly increased student efficacy towards
creating their own mobile applications.
App Inventor is a web”"
based visual programming language used to create mobile apps intended to run on
Android devices. It was created collaboratively by Google and MIT and is freely
available to the public. App Inventor offers its developers the use of drag and
drop elements that are easily moved and manipulated
on screen. These drag and
drop elements replace the traditional text”" based programming languages that
have rigid syntax rules, such as Java (the traditional programming language
used for developing Android apps). It is commonly known that text”" based
programming languages can be extremely complicated and frustrating for
beginning programmers to learn. Therefore, the simplification offered by App
Inventor makes it an optimal, concise, and effective entry”" level development
tool for any beginning programmer. As such, it fit nicely into Youth APPLab's
App Inventor is made up of
two software modules that work together to aid programmers in mobile app
development. The first is a web”" based graphical user interface (GUI) called
the 'Screen Editor,' [Figure 1, p.211] used to:
1. design and layout the
interactive features (components and properties) of app (e.g. images, buttons,
2. assign the use of
physical mobile device features (e.g. sensors and screen orientation).
The second module runs
directly on the programmer's computer and is called the 'Blocks Editor' ( see
Figure 2). It is used to drag, drop, and manipulate puzzle pieces called
blocks, each with their own assigned color, shape, and programming logic.
Blocks are intended to fit together with other blocks in order to create
portions of a mobile app's program. These program portions bring functionality
to the manipulated device and graphical features designed using the first
module, the screen editor. Forming one complete program, these blocks of code
are compiled (tested for errors) and are made available for immediate download
to a physical smartphone or to App Inventor's device emulator for testing.
Although designed to make teaching and learning how to program a bit easier,
App Inventor does not negate the need to troubleshoot — even though blocks only
fit with other blocks that programmatically go together. The need to
troubleshoot errors may still exist if the app's logic is designed incorrectly
or a design element is unexpectedly incorrectly connected. In this vein, App
Inventor still provides authentic software development
experiences and produces
high quality apps. So much so, that some professional developers and hobbyists
sometimes prefer to use App Inventor instead of Java.
youth APPLab implementation
Youth APPLab students
attended 2”" hour classes after”" school, two days a week from October 2010 to
June 2011. Students were equipped with laptops running Ubuntu Linux to provide
an enriched computing experience on a regular basis, as most of the students
had never seen the Linux operating system before Youth APPLab. Beginning
classes were filled with general technology exploration topics. Students were
encouraged to ask questions about any aspect of technology they desired.
Our Curriculum at a Glance
discussions centered on piracy and why downloading music was illegal, and what
it meant 'to hack' and whether or not that was good, bad, or spy”" like.
Eventually lessons explored software and hardware concepts as well as binary
numbers, the history of computers, operating systems, desktop programs, the
web, and eventually grew to what Youth APPLab calls the 'mobile”" verse.' The
conversations about software grew into software development and related
concepts like algorithms, pseudo”" code, human”" computer interaction, user
experience design, agile programming, testing, and troubleshooting.
While learning these terms,
students learned Alice, a 3D visually”" based programming language designed for
beginning computer science majors made at Carnegie Mellon University, and
Scratch, the first block”" based visual programming language made at MIT. Links
to all resources listed here can be found at the end of the chapter.
After a few months, (with
parent permission) students were given fully functional
Android smartphones, with
100% voice, text, and data 24”" hours a day. They were immersed in the 'mobile”"
verse' and were tasked with exploring the Android Market (now called Google
Play). This provided students with insight into what it means to have and use a
smartphone and have access to its unique features (GPS, accelerometer, etc.) on
a regular basis. Students were asked to install and uninstall apps at will,
making note of what was appealing about those apps as well as what was not so appealing.
These notes provided great insight and would later be referenced when students
designed their own apps. A website was created where students blogged after
each class period and also posted official app reviews on a weekly basis.
Blogging and writing official 'product' reviews are a noteworthy replication in
a variety of educational settings. They specifically prompt focus on writing,
self”" expression, and other essential communication skills. However, since
Youth APPLab is not primarily focused on literacy instruction, we guided these
exercises with short, formal instructions and several examples for students to
app design & development
App design began after two
months of smartphone immersion and instruction in the fundamentals of computer
programming. Students were encouraged to be creative and to design and develop
whatever appropriate app ideas came to mind. To do this, students learned the
development lifecycle. Although, there are several approaches that can be used
as a software development project progresses through the various stages needed
to bring an idea to fruition, the size, scope, skill, and preferences of the
development team usually determine which approach is used. We taught Youth
APPLab students a general series of development stages: brainstorm, design,
develop, and test. Often our youth designers needed multiple rounds through
stages in order to reach an error”" free program. As they progressed through
each stage, students also created various paper”" based and other resources
needed to help them progress successfully. These resources included age— and
experience— appropriate design documents and other templates as well as
collaborative methods used by those students working in teams.
An app design method I
created called 'Moving Panels,' was used to provide an easy transition from
traditional paper”" based designs (i.e. drawings on paper with colored pencils)
to conceptualization of each aspect and interactive element of a mobile app.
Moving panels basically consists of a notepad with several blank pages taped to
a block of wood covered in aluminum foil. The block of wood simulates a mobile
device in size and feel in the palm of one's hand. Each page of the notepad
features the various screen changes that occur when running a functioning app.
After learning how to use App Inventor, students transferred these screen
designs directly and easily into the screen editor in App Inventor.
Due to student interest and
some scheduling conflicts at various times throughout the year, a third class
day was added each week used as non”" instruction open”" lab days, giving
students dedicated class periods to work towards completing their apps.
Students worked vigorously towards the completion of their apps until the last
day of class in June 2011, cycling through rounds of development and testing
(see Figure 4). The school year culminated with a community 'Demo Day,' where
students shared their Youth APPLab experiences and demonstrated their apps with
enthusiastic and supportive family members, friends, and other invited guests.
Demo Day was extremely
important to our students and their families. Moreover,
it also provided a
culminating and authentic assessment experience for students. Tasking students
with the creation of real”" world mobile apps and the steps taken to develop,
test, and publish them, were extremely valuable to student learning and to our
intended program outcomes.
By Demo Day, Youth APPLab
students created more than 30 apps, 4 of which were published on Google Play
(the Google Android Market) using our Google Developer's account. Combined,
these apps have a total download count of over 5,000. Many more apps will be
published summer 2012.
Student creativity with app
development was incredible and many of them emphasized some type of information
sharing and instruction with intended app users. Several ideas even went above
and beyond the functional features of App Inventor and when asked to scale
these ideas down, many students opted to create additional ideas as opposed to
downgrading an original one.
Resulting apps included
several learning tools and tutorials (e.g. alphabets and numbers in 3 different
languages with sound, 3rd grade math, human body parts, Egyptian deities, and
an App Inventor tutorial app); reference apps (e.g. suggestions for how to get
accepted into college, skateboard park, and book price locators); games and
sports (e.g. apps called ColorTap, Robo”" smash, and Sneaks on Feet); and more
(e.g. apps to control robots). A link to all apps on the Google Play's app
market can be found at the end of this chapter.
Two brothers focused on the
entrepreneurial concepts taught in class and surprisingly formed their own
mobile app development company and with it, now have their own apps published
on Google Play as well. These accomplishments
and the confidence, pride,
and foundation in computer programming that come along with them are a
testament to the power and ease of use of App Inventor. Students' ability to
conceive of an app and bring it from an idea to an actual app running on an
Android device became second nature and many have made several apps outside of
Youth APPLab since then.
One specific experience
that showcases what students learned about app design and development using App
Inventor occurred when two students attended the 2nd Annual Digital Media &
Learning Conference in March 2011 to share and demonstrate Youth APPLab and
their experiences to”" date. As part of our demonstration, these two students,
Hamza Hawkins and Kweku Sumbry, requested to receive app ideas via twitter and
challenged themselves to make and test the app before the 3”" day conference was
over. Selecting the target app from Youth APPLab's twitter timeline
(@youthapplab) on day two of the conference, Hamza and Kweku decided to create
a suggested app that would send business card information and append a note.
Hamza and Kweku's experience with App Inventor to”" date was so ingrained, that
they finished and demonstrated the app to 100+ conference participants in less
than 30 minutes. This app is undergoing a design upgrade and will be made
available by the summer 2012.
Some students joined
Uplift, Inc., the nonprofit organization which powers Youth APPLab, as summer
interns after Demo Day. They applied all they had learned working collaboratively
as a youth”"based mobile application development company. Twelve students worked
in this capacity for 7 weeks, working Monday through Friday, from 9am”" 5pm, and
were compensated to make 5 additional apps. One of these apps was presented and
discussed at the 3rd Annual Digital Media & Learning Conference in March
The first year of Youth
APPLab was so influential that all four graduating African”" American male
participants entered college after having switched their focus to either major
or minor in computer science. Additionally, most, if not all, of the other
students experienced an increase in computer science and a desire to advance to
the next skill level (i.e. many students specifically asked, "When can we learn
how to program like this?" while wiggling their fingers as if to simulate
typing on a keyboard). This showed that students were ready and willing to
learn a text”" based programming language and prompted the creation of more
advanced programming classes. We found that Youth APPLab students were using
App Inventor for assignments outside of Youth APPLab and, as a result, won
competitions and even completed apps for their parents. All of the Youth APPLab
students decided to focus on computer science or some aspect of it as a potential
career. Uplift, Inc. was able to publish these and other additional findings in
the first published paper about Youth APPLab.
It goes without saying that
the instructors, students, and parents were extremely pleased with the outcome
of this first year, enthusiastic support reached far and wide outside the walls
of Youth APPLab and Uplift. We enjoyed a visit from FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski, a profile on Black Enterprise Television and other press. These
external sources of support and celebration provided additional validation of
the potential of each Youth APPLab student.
Youth APPLab has been a
major success since initial launch and we are extremely proud of the road we're
paving. As we look back at how far we've come, there are a few distinctive
aspects about the project that we can share.
be/have a Techie
First, although App
Inventor is designed to introduce computer programming concepts to beginners
(there are beginner tutorials online in various places), the instructor still
needs to have a deep understanding of these concepts, should have created all
app assignments before giving them to students, and should remain open about
facilitating the learning and use of App Inventor. These characteristics will
help tremendously when it comes to explaining computer programming concepts
(e.g. algorithms and how to translate them into code), troubleshooting errors,
solving overall problems, and allowing room for the imagination and excitement
of budding programmers.
Second, although App
Inventor comes with a software”" based Android device emulator, we've found that
seeing, testing, and working with an app on an actual mobile device is
extremely rewarding to students — considerably more rewarding than when
performing similar tasks on the emulator. Consider funding sources, storage,
and maintenance of mobile devices as worth the investment if you choose to
pursue a program like ours.
Third, at times a project
may involve the teaching and learning of MIT's Scratch visual”" based
programming language as first steps toward learning how to program, similar to
the path we took in Youth APPLab. This is beneficial as Scratch and App
Inventor are closely related and the skills and behaviors learned in Scratch
are easily transferable to App Inventor. You can find links to these resources
at the end of this chapter.
make it 'real'
Lastly, as it relates to
student work ethic, we noticed that students work their hardest when they are
expected to work on a project that is real/serious (e.g. a context of social
justice), has meaning, and has some level of difficulty. This, along with the
reminder that final apps could be published for public download, put students
in the mindset of working towards and persisting through to a worthwhile goal.
As such, students will naturally enjoy the design and problem”" solving process
and will want to perfect and advance their skills almost without asking. This
leaves a ton of budding software engineers out there just waiting to be
introduced to App Inventor. Once you create a similar program to make this
happens, we believe they will surprise you beyond your wildest imagination!
how to contact us
If you are interested in
creating a similar program or simply have questions about our work, please feel
free to send an email to email@example.com.
resources and their URLs
App Inventor — appinventor.mit.edu
Youth APPLab — www.youthapplab.com
Uplift, Inc. — www.upliftdc.org
Scratch — scratch.mit.edu
Alice — www.alice.org
Open Blocks — http://education.mit.edu/openblocks
Link to all Youth APPLab apps on Google Play —
We believe that Mobile
Media Learning is still in its infancy. The examples included here are only the
beginning of a learning ecology that includes adventures, activism,
collaboration, and moments of inspiration fostered by mobile, personal,
collective, and increasingly affordable tools.
As a reader of this book,
you are on the cutting edge of design for learning using mobile technologies —
you now know what we know. You have the tools that we have. Our best advice is
now yours to use as a starting point.
That means two things —
First, we consider you our
colleague and we would love to know what you are up to. Please stay in touch.
If you try a design or a jam, contact any of the editors or authors and share
your experiences with us. (Just run a search online for any of us). We aim to
collectively gather stories, accounts, and lessons so that we can more readily
think of learning as mobile.
Second, we gladly turned
down three other publishing houses in order to offer you the opportunity to add
to this book. ETC press allows us to add chapters and do versioning of the book
with relative ease. If you have an experience that adds to the scope of this
work, and are willing to invest the time to write and revise, we would like to
add your chapter to the book for future buyers to enjoy. Use chapter two as a
guide for writing and shaping your chapter and send it to Seann.
Our next planned project is
a follow”"up to this work and your stories that attempts to organize and draw
common planning and design principles across cases. Look for Mobile Media
Design in the coming years.
For now though, probably
have some mobile designing to do, we'll leave you to it.
All the best,
Clearly, this book is a
team effort. We couldn't have even dreamed of a project like this without a
robust and collegial community of practice. First, we want to thank Kurt Squire
for his suggestion to gather together these projects in one place. Thank you
Kurt, for your guidance and encouragement through it.
This book wouldn't have
happened without the amazing community of researchers, designers, and educators
that have helped to build the Games + Learning + Society group. It's thanks to
the leadership of Jim Gee, Constance Steinkuehler, Rich Halverson, Erica
Halverson, and Kurt that we were able to easily meet, dine with, share,
collaborate, and build many of the ideas found in this book. This work is the
fruit of all the institutions listed with the authors and their participation
in GLS - especially UW-Madison and MIT that have actively supported and
championed spaces to do this work.
We are deeply indebted also
to Drew Davidson and Scott Chen at ETC Press. We believe the work they are
doing there to move a book from conception to print smoothly and quickly is
setting a model for academic publishing. Books like this need to be timely, and
ETC has made that happen for us. They have supported and piled hours of time on
getting this text ready and all of the layout and style is theirs. Thanks.
Thanks also go to our
authors. They have busy lives building and making amazing learning happen and
taking a bit of time to write and rewrite is most appreciated. It is their work
and ingenuity that make this book exceptional. We look forward to many efforts
together in the future.
Also, this work wouldn't
happen without a passionate, active, and forward-thinking players - students,
educators, designers, and researchers. Mobile games would just be a dream
without those that enjoy playing them, showing up to events, and encouraging us
to make more.
Thanks to all of you
Finally, any project like
this requires supportive family and friends. We most appreciate our support,
comfort, and constructive critics that put up with late nights, red pens, and
continual re-reading. You are all the best, and we love you. Thanks.
Seann Dikkers is a
researcher and recent doctorate graduate of educational technologies
at the University of
Wisconsin ”" Madison. Prior to his doctoral studies, he spent twelve years as a
teacher and principal. Now he's serving as designer and consultant in new media
education strategies for leadership and learning. Dikkers edited the recent
release of Real-Time Research: Improvisational Game Scholarship.
His work focuses on 21st
century skills and tools, digital game engagement mechanics, educator
professional development, and educational leadership. His projects include:
ParkQuest; History in our Hands; the Mobile Media Learning project and
Augmented Reality and Interacitve Storytelling editor (ARIS) with Kurt Squire;
the Comprehensive Assessment for Leadership in Learning (CALL) with Rich
Halverson & Carolyn Kelley; a game based history curriculum ('The American
Idea'); consulting on digital tools for teachers; managing Gamingmatter.com;
and raising two pretty awesome kids with his wife Stephanie.
John Martin's heart is in
expeditionary learning, and his doctoral research under Kurt Squire considered
the use of mobile devices to connect people to the land and to each other at a
deep woods camp in Maine. He now works for UW-Madison's Division
of Academic Technology, and
uses tools (like ARIS) and processes (like Digital Storytelling and game
design) to support informal and formal learning environments and communities.
He thinks people learn more by doing things than by studying them, and is
excited that modern mobile devices have become Swiss Army Tools for learning
and research. He blogs at times at regardingjohn.com.
Bob Coulter is director of
the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center, a suburban St. Louis nature center managed
by the Missouri Botanical Garden. He also serves as Principal Investigator and
Project Director for two NSF-funded research projects conducted with MIT that
leverage mobile technology to engage students in their local community. A key
focus for his work is investigating the boundary between the virtual and the
real, exploring ways to use technology to enhance students' understanding of
the world. He is also writing a book on teacher agency, articulating a model of
how teachers who lead rich community-based projects approach their work. In an
earlier life he was an award-winning elementary math and science teacher, and
he continues to promote recreational math through weekly volunteer stints in
five St Louis area schools.