On behalf of my co-authors, I set off to Graz (on a plane, for the first time in years and since the security increases: give me the Eurostar any day) to present our paper on Motivation in Alternative Reality Games (Moseley, Whitton, Culver, Piatt) at the 3rd European Conference for Games Based Learning (ECGBL).
After having followed tweets from the 2nd ECGBL in Barcelona last year, I was keen to find out whether the conference lived up to its hype, and was rather bowled over. First impressions, however, were not so wonderful – with the advertised twitter tag #ECGBL rather useless to the band of twitterers due to no wifi or connection within the main building – and a very sparse attendence (40 or so for the opening plenary).
That soon changed though: a comprehensive overview of research into games in education by Liz Boyle set us on our way, closely followed by my paper (which went down a treat – literally, with my generous distribution of gummi-bears: the idea being that the person at the very back would be motivated to stay at least until the bag reached them). The Prezi for our paper is here: http://prezi.com/snzgvgwrwtzh/ – paper itself to follow shortly.
Sharing my session were two great siblings who were to share many beers with me over the coming three days: Jule and Hanno Hildmann provided a microcosm of the spread across the whole conference: Jule discussing the use of outdoor activity games to engage under-privileged students; and Hanno musing on the use of mobile devices for assessment.
This set the scene for the remaining two days, with sessions varying from board or mind games through to Second Life and 3D graphics-rich commercial quality games. What was remarkable was the level of pedagogic and learning knowledge base for a huge slice of the papers: most games had been designed with a need in mind, and solved it with considerable skill.
I’ll describe three papers which I found fascinating. The first, from Nathalie Charlier, demonstrated an ingenious and beautiful hand-crafted board game she had designed to assess First Aid training – although the game could be won by clever strategy, the assessment scores were based on knowledge which was peer-assessed throughout the game: hence allowing 40 students to be assessed without any teacher intervention.
The second was a paper by Warwick PhD student Wee Hoe Tan, which I chaired: this was interesting in that it used a commercial game (Spore) to support an A-level Biology course, but deep learning occurred not within the game itself, but in the discussions around the use and information in the game by the students and tutors – this led to an interesting discussion in the room, and suggests that even poorly linked off-the-shelf games (which Spore was not, I should note) could be used as catalysts for high quality learning.
Thirdly, the paper by Fiona Littleton and Hamish Macleod from Edinburgh provided a fascinating window into their MSc course in eLearning, which immerses their students in Second Life, World of Warcraft etc. From discussions I’d had with Hamish and Fiona over dinner, I knew how forward thinking this course is, and the audience again provided a good prolonged discussion of the various merits of the games platforms and whether technology in itself is a key factor, or if the benefits are more related to roles, personalities, memorable events etc.
Graz itself is a very beautiful (in an austere way) small city, with a central berg and the new blue heart-shaped kunsthaus dominating the skyline. The conference dinner was held in the latter, and a great time was had by all – as the clock struck midnight, I was able to celebrate my birthday with a hearty international group, fuelled by the local beer and hearty slab-of-meat based dishes.
Tchüss, Graz; and make a note of October 2010, when the ECGBL will move to Copenhagen.