Category Archives: projects

Denmark Research/Teaching Trip

Over nine days at the end of March, I was honoured to be invited over to Denmark to work on two projects connected to my research and teaching.

Monumental statues by Thomas Kadziola on Lolland island

The first was the HistBattles project, being developed at the wonderful Lolland-Falster museum in Nykøbing Falster (on one of the two southern-most islands of Denmark). Erik Kristiansen, who I had worked with on the Transforming Thresholds project, is leading a project to create twelve alternate reality games (ARGs) to teach the local history of the islands to 13-18 year olds.

A rune stone

A rune stone at a church on Lolland island; one of the sites for the game.

Each ARG will cover a period of Danish history, and will be connected to one of the sites covered by the museum across the two islands. I was there to help scope out a framework for the game, and to help local staff start to design the puzzles and meta game. No further spoilers, but I’ll post more details as the project develops. The aim is to launch the first game in the Summer.

The second project was a guest teaching role at Aarhus University, firstly for the Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media (CUDiM) – where I talked about online learning and curriculum design for the digital age; and then as a guest speaker for the House of Game//Play and Game Design Masters course, I ran a talk/workshop around Alternate reality and pervasive games. Both days were really interesting, with engaged students and staff entering into some deep discussions around both areas. The organisers,  Rikke Toft Nørgård and Claus Toft-Nielsen, then introduced me to their Coding Pirate workshops, where younger students (9-16) were creating their own computer games, and building mazes for robots and LEGO models. My thanks to Rikke, Claus and all the students and staff at the Centre for such an interesting and welcoming two days.

Students playing game

Students playing my ARG-cards game.

All of this playful activity was the perfect precursor to Counterplay 2017, which I’ll be reporting on in a following post.

Game design chest

As I’m finding myself creating more and more simple traditional games (involving boards, cards and dice) within my teaching, workshops and design projects, I decided to pull together a box of resources so that I had standard game components to hand for prototyping.

Board game components box

The final box: all that’s missing is the ideas

I did a bit of reading around, and found that most professional game designers build up similar resource boxes over time, usually by collecting components from old or second hand games. There are also, though, a number of suppliers who provide individual components in whatever colour or shape you like.

To keep things cheap, I mixed these approaches together – salvaging some components from old and otherwise tattered games we’d grown out of as a family, visiting Leicester’s excellent independent toy store (Dominoes) to get various coloured and multi-sided dice, cutting square and hexagonal tiles out of thick board with a stanley knife, and slotting everything into a cheap DIY parts box.

Cutting out hexagonal tiles

Cutting out hexagonal tiles

Altogether, it cost around £20 to assemble – but will provide enough materials for countless game prototypes over the coming years.

Resources I found useful:

http://www.alanemrich.com/Class/Class_Accessories.htm
For downloadable hexagon/grid templates (plus it contains links to other suppliers of game materials)

http://www.spielmaterial.de
Who have almost every game part you might ever need.

http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/933849/the-designers-resources-list
For a huge list of resources, companies etc. useful in both the design and  production of a board game.

…and Ebay and Amazon for cheap dice, blank cards etc. (look around – I picked mine up for pence).

Of Course! course design board game

The Of Course! board game boxAn educational board game I’ve been working on for over a year has finally gone into ‘production’.

Of Course! was designed to solve a problem I have with new course teams designing a new programme (especially for online courses). Normally it would take 3-4 meetings to get all staff to forget their normal teaching/admin processes, and focus on the new market/student base/subject needs. I designed a simple board game which matches materials, pedagogic, assessment and administrative elements to the learner and market context, adding in competition, scoring and a small ‘vindictive’ element. The game, although the rules needed streamlining, worked wonders in that it generated huge levels of discussion within the course team, and helped focus the team together within an hour – rather than those 3-4 meetings.

After several prototypes and playtests with other course teams, instructional designers and games designers (thanks to my ALT-GLSIG colleagues) I looked for ways to produce the final version. I came across the rather wonderful gamecrafter.com – which allows you to create professional finished board games in single or small numbers as well as large. The downside proved to be the postage (both cost and time, as the package spent a long time in UK customs) but the finished product is rather wonderful and well worth the wait.

You can find out more about the game, and download or purchase it on the Of Course! page; you can also read more about the design process, contextual games, and playtesting of this game in the following paper:

Moseley, A. (2010) “Back two spaces, and roll again: the use of games-based activities to quickly set authentic contexts”. Proceedings of ECGBL 2010, the 4th European Conference on Games Based Learning, Copenhagen, Denmark, 20-21 October 2010, pp. 270-279. Available: http://hdl.handle.net/2381/9103 [Accessed 29/8/2012].

Twitter and Student Networks

Twitter’s 5 today, so it was nice to hear that, a year after we last had contact with the journal JOLT (the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching), they have just published a paper I wrote with Alan Cann, Jo Badge and Stuart Johnson on our use of Twitter with students in 2008/9.

It would be difficult to repeat the same approach now – Twitter being ubiquitous, with many student users; whereas when we ran the project it was still in its infancy – but there are some interesting results, particularly in the ways the undergraduate and postgraduate student groups used the service differently. There is more work to be done around how microblogging can affect the relationship between tutors and students,  and assist in the formation of small communities of practice – tantalising glimpses of which are included here.

Board of blinkered course design

For around eight months, I’ve been working on a board game which will help staff in academic departments to understand the benefits of good course design. Not the most interesting of topics, I’m sure most will agree, but a necessary one if courses don’t become unweildy beasts which serve neither students or staff in the long term.

As Educational (Instructional, in US/corporate speak) Designers, we found that we were having to meet with departmental colleagues over a number of coffees/weeks in order to gradually introduce them to wider issues when creating a new course. Building on my ideas around the use of games to quickly set authentic contexts (Moseley 2010) I decided to create a short (1-2 hours) board game which would quickly bring the players up to speed with course design concepts, applied to their local setting.

The basic idea of the game is to set up a randomised context for the course (eg. a taught postgraduate course for working professionals in mainland Europe) and for the resources available for course creation (staff, budget etc.). Players then draw cards from decks which represent broad course design areas (such as assessment, pedagogy, and course administration) and try to form a simple course design which fits the context and resources. The designs are then tested by ‘events’ which affect things like intake, staff numbers or internet access; and players score higher the closer their course design is to the context and resources. Later in the game, the contexts and resources are set to the actual departmental context.

All very noble (and useful, from the rich discussion which the game encourages) but – as a game – where is the fun? The randomised elements, ability of players to influence outcomes, point scoring, and the vindictive element of playing ‘events’ on others, all add up to an entertaining, competitive and humour-filled couple of hours, in playtests to date.

Picture of board game in use

"We're over target!"

An earlier version of the board game was used with an academic department embarking on the design of a new DL course, to great effect (staff talked of having their “eyes opened” and “it generated some great ideas”); but today, in revised and streamlined form, two copies of the game were played by 16 distance learning staff (academic and administrative) at our regular DL Forum seminar. Over the course of an hour and a half, the two groups could be found in deep discussion with each other, gasping as a crippling ‘event’ hit, cheering as their points rose above the negative, and (most satisfyingly) comparing some of the game cards and situations to their own courses and experiences.

This was the big test – I feel confident now in both the gameplay and usefulness, and with a couple of minor tweaks to the events, the board game will be ready to commit to… well, board.

Will this twittering come to any good?

Twitter is suddenly flavour of the month, as even your Grandmother will tell you (mine told me yesterday, at any rate). Boosted in recent months by high profile twitterers Steven Fry (http://twitter.com/stephenfry) with 122,000 followers and counting, a reformed Jonathan Ross (http://twitter.com/Wossy) with 56k and US President Barack Obama (http://twitter.com/BarackObama) topping the lot with 225k – although since his inauguration he’s been rather quiet. Both Fry and Ross also recently brought Twitter into the real world, the former tweeting (via a proxy) a speech in Apple’s London Store, taking questions from Twitter as well as a live audience (see the #fryappletalk tag stream); the latter taking a random word from Twitter and planning to insert it in the Bafta ceremony on 8th Feb. To give it the final official sanction, the BBC ran a major news item concerning the microblogging site last week following tweets covering the US plane landing in the Hudson River.

At the University of Leicester we’ve been trialling our own Twitter revolution, providing small groups of students with iPod Touches (courtesy of a succesful bid to the JISC HEAT3 scheme) for four weeks, and asking them to tweet their location and activity, and (optionally) anything else they wanted. The aim was to find out more about the modern student experience (where and how they go to study and relax). This is not the first use of Twitter in education, I should note (see Diane Skiba’s roundup and check out the Twitter stream to any conference worth its salt nowadays), but it is still a fledgling area.

Working with Alan Cann (who introduced me to Twitter last year and gives a good intro to it) and Jo Badge in Biological Sciences, and Stuart Johnson in the Student Learning Centre, we have so far trialled the service with a first year undergraduate science group, and (currently) a postgraduate cohort in Museum Studies.

The undergraduate group took a little time to get started, but started to introduce study and social tweets in amongst their location/activity ones (such as ” is rather worried about the assessment tomorrow and is preparing herself for failure” and the rather illuminating “has the words ‘russian bride’ written on his hand, and can’t remember much of last night…. Now for chemistry revision”). 

What’s been fascinating me, though, is the postgraduate group in my own Faculty. A group of ten Museum Studies students, all taking a module on Digital Heritage which I teach on, they launched themselves into Twitter from the word go. It has become their way of discussing seminars, bouncing ideas, co-ordinating study sessions, sharing links and references, etc. (“Reading about kandinsky and art and music. How apt on an iPod”; “will send you those articles about e-games and museums”; “we’ve re-arranged for Wednesday at 3pm” ): watching the Twitter stream is a fascinating insight into the way modern postgraduates operate. Furthermore, their tutor created a special Twitter account of his own, and uses it to make them aware of his availability or any extra sessions or events: in turn the students use it to ask quick questions and clarify points of study.

It will be very interesting to see whether this constant and clearly useful dialogue continues when the iPods are returned in a week – I suspect it will, given that many tweets are sent from mobile phones or laptops rather than the devices themselves – but regardless, it’s a wonderful example of how an engaged, specialised peer group have embraced and turned Twitter to their own advantage.

More results and reflection to follow.

Initial Reflections

Well, the Great History Conundrum finished its first iteration three weeks ago now, and the final marks (for the reflective, group wiki stage) have come back in from the departmental tutors. Given that some sectors of the department were (quite rightly) slightly apprehensive about this new fangled online game thing, the comments coming back have been mightily heartening!

A press release recently went out containing some brief details of the course’s success (see PublicTechnology.net‘s article) but, in advance of a full analysis of the results, I thought I’d reflect on some of the key things we discovered:

  • Moderation is a mutable but vital beast. Some of the moderators were slow to start (due to poor advance warning on our part) which caused initial unrest amongst students; and moderation varied from fair to outstanding at different times, whereas the students and department expected consistency (of course). Biggest problem? Time. We allocated 5 hours per week per moderator, and probably needed 7-10. Lesson: more preparation/handholding at start, more time, more checks throughout.
  • Students are all different, despite what you hear.A portion of students really liked the narrative puzzles, a portion hated them. A portion liked cryptic ones, others preferred straightforward questions. About half enjoyed working in a group, about half as individuals.Lesson: No size fits all – don’t try to.
  • Enthusiasm is infectious. Academic departments are used to bored/unengaged students (it’s becoming the norm), so a show of enthusiasm can bring them onside to anything. Our closing ceremony was a stroke of genius: the students whooped their way through it, and the departmental staff present got to see their enthusiasm first hand. It also came through in their reflective wikis (I really enjoyed this one; this one took me ages, etc.). Lesson: try to capture and disseminate any enthusiasm to students and staff.
  • Assessment is a double edged sword. It guarantees that students will do your course, and gives it status within a department; but means that you are open to strong scrutiny, are affecting a student’s degree, and (most importantly) the students feel that they have the right to moan. a lot. all the time. even when they are actually enjoying things.Lesson: none really. For mass take-up, assessment is vital. Accept the moans.
  • Learning is doing. This was the primary aim behind our course, and it’s been proved in spades. First year students this year have engaged with the key skills and topics in a way that surpasses their second and third year peers. The difference? They’re having to think, and apply, to achieve an aim. Lesson: it’s not a new one. But it’s true.

Merry Christmas everyone!
(I’m allowed to say that: I grew up near to Noddy Holder).