Playful Learning 2017

Playful Learning is returning to Manchester this July, following a very successful first year.

Designed as a playful alternative to the traditional conference, Playful Learning focuses on the application of play and games within adult learning, and we welcome anyone interested in this area – whether Higher and Further Education teachers, researchers, trainers and students;  library, museum and local government education officers; workplace trainers; educational designers; learning technologists; in fact anyone involved in adult learning who has an interest in engaging people through play.

We’re planning a range of activities that take place around the timetabled sessions, but are also still inviting session proposals for the main timetable.

The call closes on 17th February, but if you don’t think you’ll be able to meet the deadline and are interested in proposing a session, please contact me at alex.moseley at le.ac.uk

Registration is also now open – see http://conference.playthinklearn.net/ for details.

 

Lego® Serious Play®

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Robert addressing the model

I’ve just emerged from four days in London, immersed in the official Lego® Serious Play® (LSP) Facilitator training. After almost 96 hours of Lego-based work and play (it was hard not to dream about Lego after the long days), I returned with stud-impressions in my fingers and a mind full of possibilities.

Joined by 12 wonderful participants from business and education, from across Europe and the US, the training was delivered by one of the original creators of LSP, Robert Rasmussen.

I can’t divulge too many trade secrets here, but can share a few of the highlights:

  • Watching Robert facilitate was a master class in itself: his experience and charismatic yet carefully crafted approach kept us all engaged throughout the whole training course.
  • LSP is based on two simple principles: everyone gets to share their thoughts, and everyone listens; and all thinking is done through model making.
  • We were, of course, surrounded by Lego throughout – and I was amazed how simply fiddling with the bricks, testing the ways they fitted together and making small meaningless creations, helped my concentration and thinking during our ‘reflective’ moments. Since returning to work, I now have a small pile of Lego permanently on my desktop.
  • LSP uses metaphor and storytelling: over the four days we created individual models representing our skills and approaches; shared models to build a sense of our collective abilities; and hugely rich landscapes where we could experiment with events and futures to see how our network would be affected. The power of the approach is incredible.

I’ve already thought of a number of strategic and team-based meetings I can apply the approach to within my own institution; and the rich network we developed between the participants is already bringing opportunities for shared approaches across Europe.

The LSP website can be found at: http://seriousplay.training

I’m now a qualified facilitator, so get in touch if you’re interested in the LSP approach.

Playful Learning 2016 #playlearn16

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I’m deep in the planning phase of launching a new and playful conference this July, with my co-chairing colleagues from Manchester Metropolitan University (Nic Whitton and Mark Langan).

Our simple concept is to see what engaging things happen at the intersection of learning, play and games. We’re planning the conference around this, eschewing standard ‘paper reading’ sessions for more playful workshops or interactions; arranging some playful activities and surprises around the sessions and through the evenings; but most importantly setting up an environment where the surprising might happen.

Come and join us! http://conference.playthinklearn.net/

We’ll be posting more details on Twitter as the event approaches, too: https://twitter.com/playlearnconf 

 

Simple and familiar

This is a great little insight into the game design process behind the hugely popular Angry Birds mobile game. Note how familiar concepts (eg. catapults) were close to being dismissed, but ended up being the main engaging mechanic in the final game.

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/23/how-we-made-angry-birds

Tell us a story: Narrative in games

Around holidays and travel I’ve been loading my i-devices with a number of games to explore, and have noticed a growing number of games where the story is not only the main focus, but is delivered in increasingly inventive ways.

lifelineOne of the simplest examples is Lifeline (iOS and Android, best on mobile) which is a text-only adventure based on a familiar outer space/alien invasion theme: however, a clever use of real time narrative delivery produces a strong sense of realism and urgency. You might help Taylor (the protagonist) decide where to travel, but he’ll then tell you it might take a few hours – and that’s it for a few hours: you won’t hear from him again until he’s arrived (or something happens en route). It’s a simple trick, but one which immediately gives you agency: you’re very much in step with the character – he waits until you have time to help, and you wait until he needs it again: you might go to bed having found Taylor a safe place to sleep, then wake up to find out whether he has survived the night.  The story is, in itself, interesting too – with a number of branching paths and alternate endings.

More complex examples come from Inkle, who have been faithfully and cleverly transposing Jackson and Livingstone’s original Fighting Fantasy (‘choose your own adventure’) book Sorcery into a four-part iOS/Android game. The original text has been chopped into short sections, that sometimes provide a straight ‘choose path A, B or C’ as in the original books, but sometimes merge with other game mechanics, such as motion-based fighting, or the rolling of dice in a gambling game. The narrative unfolds on a beautiful map, and the latest chapter (Sorcery 3) includes visual/narrative layers which change based on the time zone you’re currently in. It’s a clever, compelling mix which is just as thrilling as more graphically complex adventure games.

Sorcery's mix of narrative and graphic action

Inkle’s most recent game is 80 Days (iOS/Android) – that, you’ve guessed it, is based around the Jules Verne classic text. Again, here they’ve taken the original text from the book (though in this case, embellished it with their own creative additions) in order to set up an exciting race around the world. The transfer to a game means that many more routes and forms of transport are available than Phileas Fogg and Passepartout had available in the book: meaning that replaying is as exciting as the first play through. But what struck me most was the depth of branching storytelling: on each mini journey – say in an airship between Acapulco and the Caribbean – various narrative paths open up around the passengers on board with you, which can seriously affect your onward journey both positively and negatively. As with Sorcery, the surrounding graphics and game mechanics are beautifully executed, but its the way the strong narrative has been embedded completely with the gameplay that elevates the experience.

These are just a few examples of the growing number of games looking to use narrative in more creative ways, and in combination with other interesting game mechanics. The value of such an approach in a learning context is obvious in areas where narrative is studied (English language and literature): but such an approach might work well in other disciplines where learners need to engage closely with any text – how about turning legal cases into branching narratives to explore the real world implications of different decisions; or adding battle mechanics into a study of Anglo-Saxon saga poems?

In Focus symposium on Games, Gamification and Games Based Learning

The Centre for Distance Education (CDE) at the University of London have, for many years, run an excellent annual conference on Research and Innovation in Distance Education (RIDE). They also, from time to time, host occasional symposia on current issues in HE. Late in 2014 I was approached by Steve Warburton to design and co-host one such ‘In Focus’ event around games and gamification (linking into the current interest in this area).

Adrian Hon speaking

Adrian Hon (SixToStart), one of our invited speakers

I’ve known Steve for a while, and it was a real pleasure to work with him over the next few months to scope out and book a range of perspectives on games, gamification and learning from HE and industry. We particularly wanted to set up points of contention/discussion, and also include ample opportunity for active playful participation.

The symposium took place on 4th March 2015, in the impressive surroundings of Senate House, and from our point of view certainly fulfilled the above aims: we had the 100-strong audience scrabbling under chairs and on the floor to create epic stories from brickabrack, solve clues and battle for grand prizes; over lunch groups were playing noisy games of CubeQuest; and we heard some challenging perspectives for and against ‘gamification’ along with some inspiring examples of well designed games-based learning experiences.

I’d designed a new variant of my ‘Curate-a-fact‘ game to get teams working together during the day, and it worked a treat – with eleven teams (60 people) submitting games by the end of the day.

Participants playing card game

Participants playing the conference game

A detailed writeup of the event will soon appear on the CDE site, but in the meantime there’s a great Storify narrative which gives a good sense of the day by Katie Piatt, and pictures on Flickr.

 

#SenateSecrets at FOTE 14

Last Friday (3/10/14) I and my games and learning colleague Katie Piatt spent a day running a conference engagement game for FOTE14. Read all about it in Katie’s marvelous storified tale of the day:

https://storify.com/katiepiatt/senatesecrets-unlock-the-secrets-of-senate-house