Tag Archives: engagement

#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:



Call for articles: Engagement, Games/Simulations and Learning

Simulation & GamingTogether with Nicola Whitton, Manchester Metropolitan University, we are guest editing a special issue of Simulation & Gaming on the important theme of Engagement, Simulation/Gaming and Learning.

We are seeking submissions from a range of viewpoints and theoretical bases, using a variety of research methods and approaches, as well as articles that provide a practical perspective grounded in research.  We hope that this symposium will offer a holistic and critical analysis of engagement – as well as related ideas such as motivation, commitment, immersion and flow – and an evaluation of its relevance and value in the sphere of educational game and simulation design, implementation and debriefing.

We encourage a variety of different types of articles related to engagement, simulation/gaming and learning, including topics such as:

  • engagement theory from different disciplinary perspectives
  • the relationship between engagement, games and learning
  • factors influencing levels of engagement with games and simulations
  • case studies evidencing engagement in games and simulations
  • ways in which to evaluate and measure engagement
  • engagement in reflection and debriefing with games and simulations

The full call for articles can be downloaded here (pdf).

Museum Label 2.0

For some time now I’ve been thinking about visitor interaction with museum objects, and the possibilities this offers for sparking reflection and conversation around a certain object and space (though any span of time).

This interest was fuelled by a (faltering) project to use QR codes within a local museum, and by my experience with museum objects as clues within Alternative Reality Games; this was juxtaposed against the plain, traditional object labels I was seeing in museums up and down the country during conference season.

The final spark was a conversation on Twitter with a couple of museum-friends from the British Museum about museum audiences and dumbing down/maintaining academic standards.

So, on the eve of Museums and the Web 2009, I present my first thoughts on an object label for the Web 2 generation. Notes follow the diagram. (0) is obviously the name of the object.

Museum Label 2.0

  1. Key facts (location, age, cultural link etc.) – standard on contemporary labels in most, but not all, cases
  2. Clear image of the item: helps to give visitors a sense of the whole item when the object itself is very small or very large. Also good for take-away options (see below)
  3. This section of the key facts is numerical, and standard across all objects. It serves a dual purpose as a top trumps-style game for children (see below)
  4. Timeline. This shows roughly where the object sits in relation to key events, to give a broad frame of reference.
  5. Quick information in large type: designed for young visitors, those with poor sight, those in a hurry, those with only passing interest, etc. Pictures accompany where useful.
  6. More information: expands on the Quick information, for those who want a little more detail.
  7. Further information: the full catalogue entry (or a reduced section of it) for those wanting a detailed description or who have an academic interest.
  8. More Info: the QR code and short web address both provide access to the main catalogue page on the museum’s web site. This could be augmented with audio visual or discussion options (see 9).
  9. Discuss: this is for visitors to provide their own comments or opinions on the object. They have the option to send an SMS message, send a message or start a realtime discussion via Twitter, or mention it on blogs, Facebook or other web2 platforms which support tags (the #bm_snake text). These comments/messages would be aggregated in real time to the info page (8) to allow other visitors past, present and future to read and comment on them.
  10. Braille title for the object, at low level and always in the bottom right corner.

This hypothetical label is clearly a little over the top, and packs a lot of ideas in. However, it’s not particlarly unclear, and with work and testing could form the basis of a very workable method of labelling objects for a wide audience, and encouraging engagement in contemporary ways (but largely new to museums).

As an additional option, copies of the labels could be provided as cards for visitors to take away – allowing them to look in detail, access the Info/Discuss options when they have a web connection at home, school or work, and use them in a trading/swapping game (see 3). Copies might be in stock next to popular/major items, but available to print on demand within the museum’s shop or at the exit to galleries (a small charge for the cards/printing would help offset the relabelling costs too).

Thanks for the above ideas go to:

  • The Cambridge Museums group, for inspiration on the top trumps-style game coming from their excellent collectable cards series.
  • Terhi Nurmikko, British Museum, for the idea of physical cards, and for feedback on the prototype.
  • The British Museum, for the excellent information available on the Turquoise serpent used in the example (note that some incorrect information has been added to the core record: see here for the full version).

A Puzzler’s Tour of the South-West

I’ve just returned from two weeks’ holiday in the south-west of mainland Britain (Devon, Cornwall and the Forest of Dean area), and as well as being a good chance to clear brain and reflect on the last year, the monsoon-like rain we’ve been having was a good excuse to find indoor entertainment for adults and young kids (7 and 2) alike.

As we variously scampered or trudged around various exhibits, I found myself thinking about games, interaction, and good old engagement. So here are a few musings and observations on a handful of attractions and their approaches to entertaining young and old alike:

When the lights went out: paleolithic lighting

When the lights went out: neolithic lighting

Kent’s Cavern, Torquay, Devon: http://www.kents-cavern.co.uk/
The guide’s informative and lighthearted banter, developing narrative, and use of simple effects like killing the lights; using a lighter to light moss-filled neolithic shell lamps (sight, smell, atmosphere); simple props (skulls, bones), all contributed to a fascinating and constantly thrilling experience for young and old. The keys here: narrative, surprise, variety, atmosphere.

Eden Project, St. Austell, Cornwall: http://www.edenproject.com/
Visually and ethically very impressive, this is actually very linear and non-interactive: I got interest from the numerous exotic plants and some of the information boards, but  much of the info is too long/dull, and the occasional dioramas are static. The kids there basically got enjoyment from running around, and parents spent time chasing and telling them off. There are kids’ activity books, but they are too wordy for reading as you go around, and although there are stations where the book can be stamped which my 7 year old liked, they follow the linear path and provide long wordy information sheets which the kids ignore.

A marble run at the House of Marbles

A marble run at the House of Marbles

The House of Marbles, Bovey Tracey, Devon: http://www.houseofmarbles.com/
Consists of very small traditional museum with interesting (to me) behind-glass displays of board and tabletop games through the ages; four marble runs which extend interest for young and old alike with multiple outcomes each time; but best of all was an outdoor courtyard area, with a number of large traditional games (skittles, chess) and some marble-specific ones: adults and kids alike had great fun with these. In summary, it works due to a good mix of static/variable and interactive elements.

Living Coast, Torquay, Devon: http://www.livingcoasts.org.uk/
Similar in many ways to the Sea Life Centres; but differs in that the penguins waddle amongst you, most of the wildlife is very close if not open to you, and the indoor activity area is superb – giant sand pit, climbing wall (a sea cliff) for kids and adults, some very well designed penguin-themed touch-screen games, an excellent floor-projection game which involved running around jumping on objects, and team games across light tables. Superb and very educational.

On the hunt for fauna in Cardiff Castle

On the hunt for fauna in Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, South Wales: http://www.cardiffcastle.com/
This is an impressive complex. Various stages of use and occupation on the site give a slice through history (Roman walls, Norman keep, Victorian neo-classical tower and stately home). Much is run-of-the-mill modern museum fayre (an ‘audio-visual’ film; a audio-visual commentary to carry around which has long, adult-oriented and rather dull descriptions) but two things excited the kids: climbing the Norman keep and looking out of the arrow slits (always good!), and the worksheets for the Victorian house: one intended for younger children asked them to find animals in each room: some were in carvings in the doorways, some in tapestries, some in the architecture: all adding up to a great treasure hunt which we all took part in. A sheet for older kids, full of long descriptions and little in the way of ‘activity’, was not so good.

TechniQuest: engagement in black and white

TechniQuest: engagement in black and white

TechiQuest, Cardiff, South Wales: http://www.techniquest.org/
A science park, with two floors packed to the brim with hands-on experiments. This was incredible. The activities appealed to all ages – plenty for parents to get involved in too – very few were out of action, and all induced learning through play in a completely invisible way. Highlights: things to take away (eg spirograph pictures), music to compose (including a giant floor piano for the 2-year old), water fun (racing boats, spraying targets), communal interaction (sound waves across the room, comparing yourself to other visitors on that day etc.). 100% engagement; but then of course this is a self-created attraction, not applying visitor interaction to an existing site.

Puzzlewood: Tolkein's inspiration for Mirkwood?

Puzzlewood: Tolkein's inspiration for Mirkwood?

PuzzleWood, Forest of Dean: http://www.puzzlewood.net/
This small, family run site consists of two excellent elements: one almost entirely natural – the puzzle wood (spooky natural mossy woodland augmented with the remains of Roman open mining, and wooden bridges and lookout points) – and the other man-made: an indoor maze with secret doors, tunnels, bridges and a hunt for seven animal symbols. All of us – 2 to 36 – loved both, and yes, I did get hopelessly lost…

And that concludes my little holiday report, with an eye to engagement and visitor interaction. There are quite a few things I’ll be bearing in mind in my own work, and many which reinforce the already-known benefits of keeping things varied, in context, and interesting on many levels.

Same old party? Think!

I’ve just about returned the house to normality after a successful birthday party for my 7yo daughter and 17 of her friends last weekend. They had a great time, by all accounts, and haven’t stopped talking about it all week, according to their parents. My daughter has been to around eight parties so far this school year, and yet the most we get after these is one or two “I didn’t win a prize, but everyone else did” -type comments. This mismatch happens every year.

This is not because we have the most prizes, the best food, the most expensive bought-in conjurer, or take them to the best activity centre. In fact, it’s because we do the exact opposite.

Uniquely, we hold the parties in our house. We devise the games and entertainment ourselves (no outside performers), and we have hardly any prizes or sweets. But the key to the success of the parties are the fact that we spend a few hours a couple of weeks before planning a theme, a set of original (or new twists on old) games, and think carefully about keeping every kid occupied at all times with something.

This year, my daughter being 7 and liking spies, it was a 007 theme – there were four groups of spies up against each other, and the winners (individual or group) of the games won points for their team. We had pass the parcel to start, but with spy-themed forfeits in each wrapper rather than sweets; in musical statues, we secreted one of the statues away each time and the slueths had to work out which one it was; we had them in complete silence for 5 minutes (remarkable to watch) as we showed a clip from Goldfinger and at the end asked the teams to answer observation questions on it; team challenges, where they had to pick a specialist in smells, sight, geography, etc.

Basically, at an unconscious level, we thought about engagement – kids need to have something to do, and to feel that they are playing a part and getting attention. It didn’t take much preparation to maximise their participation and input throughout, and as a result we didn’t have any problems, tears, boredom, or much chaos. But most importantly, they all had a great time and lots of memories to replay.

Astute readers will have spotted the analogy, I hope. For 7 year olds, think students. For parties, think courses. Although pink wafers and party rings wouldn’t go amiss at both.

ARG Key Features for Education

Excerpt from paper given today at ALT-C:

“My research across three broad areas persuaded me that, without a doubt, there are lessons which education could learn from Alternative Reality Games.

The perfect approach would be, of course, to create a complete ARG within an educational environment and on an educational topic – much like the ARGOSI project in Manchester aims to do, and a handful of other institutions here and particularly in the United States have either implemented or are in the process of planning.

However, I believe that the lessons we can learn from ARGs don’t necessarily need to be applied as a fully fledged ARG; indeed, there will be many of you working in institutions or departments where a full ARG simply wouldn’t be possible given the political, administrative or conceptual constraints. To this end, I have constructed a list of key features, drawn from my research and from earlier research in the area by Bryan Alexander, Jane McGonigal, Cristy Dena and others, which ARGs offer and which would be of value to educational contexts wishing to increase engagement, critical problem solving skills and communities of practice within the subject:

  • Problem solving at varying levels (graded challenge)
    – enable students to pick their own starting level and work up from there
  • Progress and rewards (leaderboard, grand prize)
    – this could also be assessment
  • Narrative devices (characters/plot/story)
    Note: doesn’t have to be fictional: academic subjects have histories, themes, news etc.
  • Influence on outcomes
    as researchers we don’t think that we are working towards a known answer or statement; and we would like our students to think in the same way: by letting them decide or influence some aspects of their course, this helps to scaffold their path into a critical academic thinker
  • Regular delivery of new problems/events
    key to maintaining engagement. Thinking about ways to keep things moving without putting extra pressure on staff
  • Potential for large, active community
    …which is self-supporting/scaffolding – the potential is less the smaller the group and the narrower the subject interest/specialisation.
  • Based on simple, existing technologies/media
    this is an easy sell

I’m not suggesting that all of these features need to be included in a course; but by taking two, three or four in detail, and bearing the others in mind, I think that the potential to improve engagement and motivation, critical problem solving skills, and foster a course-based academic community amongst its students, is within a course designer’s grasp.”

(Moseley, 2008). Full paper available to download on the Publications page.