Tag Archives: ALTGLSIG

#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:



ALT-GLSIG July 2014: Manchester

For this latest gathering of ALT-GLSIG (the Games and Learning Special Interest Group, hosted by the Association for Learning Technology and chaired by myself and Nicola Whitton), we returned to Manchester. This time, a little further down the road at the University of Manchester’s excellent Alan Gilbert Learning Commons building: an extremely well thought-out and provisioned study/learning space for students next to the main library.

A small corner of the Learning Commons

A small corner of the Learning Commons

These regular SIG meetings are a chance for members to meet and share practice, play games, share ideas and collaborate on projects and writing; but we also like to include the local context: incorporating themes or groups from the host university. Rosie Jones, Commons Manager and long-term SIG member, was our accommodating host, and had invited colleagues from the university along to present and join in with the meeting, which added value to an already packed programme.

Curate-a-fact in full flowWe kicked off on Thursday lunchtime, with 14 members new and old: to get everyone straight into the spirit we played a quick game of Curate-a-fact (the winning group coming up with the intriguing history of ‘Llama Nut Ball’), and ‘people bingo’ (where we each had a list of traits, and had to find people with matches for each): two great ways to get everyone to find out random facts about each other, and start the proceedings in a playful way.

Our first session proper was a discussion about conference games: using games to help attendees network, and engage with the conference themes. This contributed to planning for the FOTE 2014 conference, which members of the SIG were invited to create a game for within the atmospheric surroundings of Senate House. More of this in a later post.

The first of our guest speakers, David Jackson (Manchester Metropolitan University) introduced us to Storyjacker in both digital and paper versions: a fun group writing activity which helps people to collaborate together on a narrative. We had great fun, and generated some impressive prose; with the paper and digital versions offering different experiences. Our second guest speakers were Jonathan Slater and Glenn Painter (NHS Nottingham) who wheeled in an intriguing set of giant boards. Ten minutes later, we were walking through a journey into the minds of recovering therapy patients, played out through a giant game board. It was a great example of how playful experiences can help to bring people together, and open them up to ideas and discussions they might otherwise find difficult.

Picture of painted boards

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy through a board game

Continuing the discussion and games into the evening, we finished by playing the brash but hilarious/cringeworthy Cards against Humanity over a meal in a local hostelry. The Friday began with Katie Piatt asking us to solve the STEM quiz she had devised for a Sussex childrens’ science fair, which was great fun and resulted in puzzle designs for future events. Rosie and her Learning Commons colleague Jade Kelsall then provided us with a challenge: we had to design games to help students engage with eLearning resources. To add further competition, good designs were awarded cubes of plasticine – which were added to growing tall sculptures (the highest structure at the end was awarded a highly detailed plasticine dinosaur: the perfect prize?). It was an excellent, fast and creative way to generate ideas – resulting in some great approaches.

A conference planning session was next up: there is a dearth of conferences covering adult learning games and play (or, indeed, any learning games) for both researchers and practitioners in Europe, and so we brainstormed the possibility of a focussed conference in 2015. A working party, and plenty of playful ideas for structure, themes and other events emerged. Watch this space.

The event finished with a round up of SIG news, and we headed off around midday, to arrive home in time for tea.

All attendees, both existing SIG members and new / invited guests, said how much they had gained from the event – and as ever we were bowled over by everyone’s enthusiasm, creativity and examples of their own, local work. Our next meeting is in November at the University of Hull, where we expect something completely different, yet just as playful.

If you are interested in the work of the ALT-GLSIG, sign up to our group at: http://gamesandlearningsig.ning.com




GLSIG May 2013 – Huddersfield

For our latest face-to-face meeting of the Games and Learning Special Interest Group (GLSIG) we made our way north to the beautiful town of Huddersfield, to be welcomed by a very generous Andy Walsh as host at the town’s University.

Huddersfield campusWith ten members present (and others joining in online through the live-blogging we debuted this year), we launched straight in over lunch to playtest a new card-and-description game I’m designing for the Engaging Visitors Through Play event at the end of May. That event is for museum professionals, and my aim was to teach them about simple contextual games through a simple contextual game involving curating a group of artefacts. The play test was incredibly helpful, simplifying my overly-complex rules and producing a much leaner game.

We then launched into the main session of the afternoon – new member Simon Grey (University of Hull) setting up four Raspberry Pi’s and launching Minecraft on each of them. Simon uses this set-up to teach basic programming skills to his students, and he took us through the method. Many of us had some background in programming in the dim and distant past, and we found ourselves learning loops, if-else statements and functions in Python, whilst seeing the results in technicolour lego blocks within Minecraft. It was a highly engaging way to learn (programme-see a reward) and we followed our practical test with a good discussion about this method and its potential, over some magnificent cake.

We finished the first afternoon with a deep delve into games and learning theory, Nic Whitton leading us through a structured set of themes to crowdsource our collective knowledge of work in the field. This proved to be a highly useful, thought provoking task for all, and neatly finished off our aim to mix theory and practice in all GLSIG activity.


One of the strange beasts overlooking our table

For the now-traditional evening games, drinks and deep conversations, Andy led us to a quite remarkable pub (The Grove – more real ales and mythological stuffed-creatures-on-shields than you could shake a jackalope at). We played some weird and wonderful independent card games (We Didn’t Playtest This At All, Zombie Dice and Diggity) – all interesting in their own way, with Diggity taking the most time to work out a strategic approach to – and shared our knowledge of (and played through a few too many) drinking games.

Friday morning saw us shake off any wooly heads with my and Nic’s Game Design Workshop (a 60-120 minute fast-paced game creation experience which we’ve now run successfully for a wide range of participants) – our two teams coming up with a pair of highly original games within the space of 50 minutes. We then merged with online GLSIG members to discuss potential ways to free up time and gain funds for research and practice in the field: whether small local practice, or bigger inter-institution projects. In the process, we resurrected the SIG’s parked Ninja Badges project and set it back in motion for the coming year. SIG business then rounded off the 24-hours, and we all set off happily back to our various corners of the UK.

Deep in game design mode

Deep in game design mode

Another excellent event, and one which mixed theory and practice particularly well: giving us all tangible things to take away and implement, in addition to new theoretical avenues to explore. Special thanks go to Andy and the University of Huddersfield for being fine hosts, and to all the GLSIG members who played active and playful roles.

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Settlers of Calton – ALTGLSIG Meeting Nov 2012

Edinburgh, Princes StreetEdinburgh has long been one of my favourite cities, and so we were delighted when Fiona Littleton and Hamish Macleod from the University of Edinburgh offered to host the Autumn meeting of our ALT Games and Learning special interest group (ALTGLSIG). In addition to the fine venue, we also had the largest turn-out of members for a live event: 12 in person on 15-16th November, with another 4 joining us for an online session on Friday morning.

Through their MSc in E-learning, and its Digital Games Based Learning strand, Fiona and Hamish have long experience of using virtual worlds for teaching and learning, and so our first afternoon began by creating characters and exploring the first few levels of World of Warcraft in small parties. I’d played WoW once before for a week or two before it became utterly massive, so it was interesting to see how scaffolding/tutorials and group work were in the present version. We each had an experienced player next to us (drawn from some of our own members, like Fiona, Hamish and Michelle Hoyle who researches WoW, and Clara O’Shea – a research student at the University who is looking at social kinds within the game). Following the various missions in-game (mostly involving killing X beasties)  Clara and Michelle presented their research topics, and this opened to a fascinating discussion around scaffolding, tutorials, roles, stereotypes, the types of learning opportunity present in WoW, and – most interesting of all – the transference of in-game skills to real world contexts.

Playing Settlers of Catan

Playing Setters of Catan

For the evening Fiona had booked tables at the fabulous Southern Bar (complete with wide range of local and bottled ales, and later revealed to be an early drinking haunt for a just-legal Nic Whitton) and friends who each brought a copy of Settlers of Catan. We had soon supped and were gathered in three groups intent on gathering resources and trading cunningly in this compelling group game. Although great to play in a group, I’ve found this game a little irritating over time, mainly down to its largely random element and limit to creativity as the game goes on (you can often find yourself waiting 3-4 turns for something to go your way) – and we continued this discussion the following morning, praising the collaborative elements in the game, but discussing this lack of agency at times. In learning as well as game design, a sense that you have agency – or the ability to create/influence your own outcomes – has been linked to engagement.

Friday morning continued with the shaping of the SIG’s white paper on games and learning, and planning dissemination strategies. We then took part in an excellent interactive overview of the use of badges to signify achievements, from Juliette Culver of the Open University. Juliette demonstrated the (surprisingly easy) process of creating and getting badges approved with Mozilla Open Badges, and then led into a discussion around the usefulness of this system, and the reputation aspects of such badges. There is the crucial question  of authority behind any of the current schemes to create a ‘skills and experience backpack’ which employees might offer to employers in addition to formal qualifications: with badges so easy to create, and so many already created for anything from frivolous activities through to the completion of a 6-week course, how are employers to judge the reliability and relative value of such awards? One route might be through approval by authority-giving institutions (such as universities), but this would detract from the idea of badges as independent, flexible awards which transcend the need for costly academic or commercial approval.

A presentation from a business angle was next, with Anja-Karina Pahl (The Prizm Game Co., Bath) describing her ideas for an ambitious massive-scale alternate reality game to teach scouts and guides about innovation and enterprise skills. Although out of scope for the SIG (relating to child, not adult, learners) it was interesting to discuss the use of gamification and full game techniques for learning in a business setting. After lunch, we finished with an outreach event, inviting other members of the University of Edinburgh who were interested in the use or study of games to join us. Nic and myself cooked up a quick game to encourage sharing of ideas and knowledge (involving classic computer game characters, points, sabotage and – of course – prizes), and we heard a range of interesting research and development topics from the wider group. A fascinating end to what had been a surprising, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable 24 hours.


Brighton Peer group – ALTGLSIG Meeting 24-25th May

Twice a year, the Association for Learning Technology’s Special Interest Group on Games and Learning (ALTGLSIG) meet for 24 hours of planning, writing, playing, designing and socialisation. This year, our May meeting took place (fittingly, given the sudden blazing sunshine) at the beach, hosted at the University of Brighton by Katie Piatt.

Rough Trade roomTo add to the fun, our designated hotel was the rather fabulous (if slightly scary) Hotel Pelirocco. Most of us escaped the more risqué rooms (I was in the fabulous Rough Trade room: a replica of my teenage bedroom, complete with record player and LPs) although Andy Walsh (the librarian of the group) came close with his Austin Powers-style Russian Vodka room and pink-cusion-laden bed.

The event itself was a thoroughly engaging range of activities. We were launched straight into a murder mystery game, devised by Katie for local police training, which culminated in a mad scramble for a ringing telephone somewhere in the large meeting room. Katie outlined the problems she’d encountered engaging the police with the task, yet she’d had much better success with other groups – we launched into a big discussion about contexts and suitability for different types of game with different audiences.

Simon teases out the secret cache as Katie and Sam provide a shield against passing eyes

After some rather tasty biscuits, it was time to try our hand at the world of geotagging/geocaching. Under remote instruction from Becka Colley (University of Bradford), we set out armed with smart phones into sunny Brighton to find (successfully) two secret caches; and ponder the application of geocaching, and particularly the ‘scavanger hunt’ approach of sending teams around several sites of interest to collect each new co-ordinate, in induction for first year undergraduates (sending students around the campus, library, or local town).

Our core aim for the meeting was to define and shape the key approach/structure of the white paper we are writing on Games for Adult Learning, and we spent several fruitful hours mapping this out. Our plan is to have this ready by September, and produce a number of easy-access formats (data sheets, short animations etc.) for those wanting a quick or easy overview.

The evening was spent on the seafront, playing the excellent and almost unique collaborative board game Forbidden Island and a couple of rounds of Bananagrams whilst munching fish’n’chips and planning other outreach events. Perfect.

The following morning we helped Sam Ingleson (University of Salford) playtest her clever student induction game, which combines a board, cards and discussion activites to help give students an overview of what their first term holds in store (both academically and in life).

Sam's prototype board game

A quick round-up of SIG business later, and the fellowship departed in various directions from Brighton station, brains still buzzing from almost 24 hours of fascinating and fun-filled activity.