Rapid Course Games at ALTC2010

A quick nip along to neighbouring Nottingham last week for ALT-C 2010 provided a number of points of interest. Many have been blogged quicker and more succinctly than I could manage now (James Clay’s post sums up the two main discussion points well, both of which featured a strong twitter backchannel).

I’m going to focus on the games-based learning elements in this post. Well, element. After quite a number of games-based approaches last year, the sole item on the programme this year was a workshop I’d devised with Nic Whitton and Juliette Culver to demonstrate how the application of simple gaming approaches can be introduced into academic courses with a bit of creativity and (above all) fun.

Setting the scene (photo from twitter.com/jamesclay)

Juliet had to miss the workshop itself (being heavily pregnant with her own future bundle of fun!), and we suffered from one of a few timetabling errors which originally placed an ‘active group workshop’ in a formal lecture theatre. Undeterred, we took over the corner of the coffee/exhibitor area, and with our excellent session chair Sarah managed to pull in quite a few participants from the surrounding coffee tables.

The workshop was a game in itself, designed using the six game elements we asked participants to use in their own designs (after Whitton, 2009):

  • Community
  • Competition
  • Completion
  • Creativity
  • Narrative
  • Puzzle-solving

After a quick example of each element, the teams were set off on their challenge. Over three rounds, they had five minutes to create a games-based course solution to a randomly assigned context and constraint. For example:

CONTEXT: You teach Chemistry. Lab time is limited and most 
time is spent learning to use equipment or revising lectures  
How can you help your students better prepare?

CONSTRAINT: Many of the students on the course have low levels of IT literacy.

To increase the challenge, teams had to describe their solution – like our contexts –  in only 140 characters, and gained bonus points for including special attributes (such as: “answer alliterates” and “death is a possibility”).

Scoring was kept fairly simple (100 for completing the challenge, 50 for each attribute; 200 bonus for including all six elements), mainly to make it easy for us to add up. And there were, of course, prizes of the comestible variety. Despite the rather chaotic space, and the tight deadlines we set, we were thrilled by some of the results teams produced. Here are a few:

"Lost lab labels limit learning; sets of student scientists
save situation assembling appropriately anonymised apparatus
execute experiment" (Team: Friend or Foe)
"Online health/safety game students in teams design deadly
dangerous experiments from combinations similar to safe
ones learning by near miss" (Team: Groupies)
"Online lab sim mousetrap style puzzle using lab equipment
Goal: make named solution Loser drinks all May involve
death" (Team: Serious fun)

The workshop itself was interesting on a number of levels. Firstly, it proved that anyone can incorporate games-based approaches (and importantly, fun) into fairly tricky course scenarios with a bit of thought and creativity. Second, the success of the activity reinforced the importance of the six elements Nic had previously identified in bringing games into learning. And finally, the design of the workshop reinforced my own ideas of authentic contextual designs for training, teaching and learning (expanded in a paper I’m giving in Copenhagen in October, with more discussion on here soon).

I’ll leave you with the possibly profound, but certainly puzzling:

PM podcast puzzle practice promotes planning preventing
periodic poor performance. Presenter prof Penguin.
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2 responses to “Rapid Course Games at ALTC2010

  1. Great write-up Alex, gives me a real flavour of the session without having been there. Love the efforts to turn conference sessions into games – we need to see more exmples like this, using games-based approaches where you wouldn’t have thought it possible to make our lives all that little bit more fun! Fun is not a dirty word.

  2. Thanks Katie – and I think any task, no matter what the context, can always be improved with a little fun!

    UPDATE: Nic has posted some further details on the six areas we based the activity around, with examples from existing games-based approaches, on her blog.

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