The last weeLearning event for 2012 was called Play to Learn. We were delighted to be joined by Tomas and Debbie Rawlings from Auroch Digital and John Curran from Designed for Learning.

Tomas Rawlings from Auroch DigitalTomas kicked things off by talking about the work that Auroch have been doing lately which has it’s roots in game jams. A game jam is basically a hack day over 24 or 48 hours, which brings together game developers and designers as well as audio and visual artists to compete in teams to produce the best game possible in the limited time available. More than anything it’s a powerful social learning experience.

Auroch do a lot of work with the Wellcome Trust , one of their projects was to create a Game Jam that embedded scientists in each of the teams alongside the usual developers. They called it gamify your PhD. Click here to see the results.

He then talked about some of the ways they make design choices in games.Sometimes in a team of designers, it can be difficult to agree on even simple things, like where’s the best place to put a button on a screen. They often use Split A/B testing, where, for example, one group will get the button in screen position A and the other in position B. They can gather data from both user groups and analyse it to figure out which version works best. Find out more about this and the wider implications of this type of design methodology in this article that Tomas wrote, How we evolve fun.

Mobile games often use a tool called Flurry to collect this kind of data and more. Flurry is embedded in many iOS and Android games and applications –  all kinds of Apps from Angry birds to the Guardian use it to gather data on users. When only 5% of Apps on the average iphone see regular use, it’s essential to find out how people are using your products and gather data that can help you understand if, when and why, people stop using them. You can even use Flurry to report on emergent game play behaviour, that  is, people playing the game in ways the designer didn’t intend or predict.

I wonder how many of us bother to use techniques like this in eLearning? Interestingly this blog post from Saffron Interactive describes the use of the big cousin of Split A/B testing – the controlled trial in which group A gets the training and group B doesn’t. Then you measure the difference in performance between the groups. Of course accurately measuring the performance of most people is a lot harder than gathering black and white data from an app. There are also strong parallels between Flurry and the Tin Can API, which a lot of people are getting excited/annoyed about lately. Could Tin Can be the Flurry of the eLearning world, or maybe we should just find ways to use existing tools like Flurry instead of knocking up another Scorm?

Back to Game Jams.

Game jams are powerful learning experiences for everyone involved, they push your creativity, knowledge and skills in ways you wouldn’t normally experience. They’re a lot of fun by the sound of it, normally involving much beer and camaraderie. They also inspired Auroch’s current focus – a project called Game the News . Unsurprisingly game jams don’t always produce a polished end product. Game the News set out to evolve this idea and produce a series of rapidly produced short games that were also solid and playable. They decided to use news articles to explore the idea and provide inspiration for games. The first one they did was Moral Kombat  – essentially it’s a typing game, only it’s set during one of the US Presidential election debates. You play as Obama or Romney and type out their speech before the other player to win. They sent this off to the Huffington Post, who loved it and published it on their site. This led to a month long arrangement with Wired UK who have been publishing stories with games embedded underneath articles like this.

Games at their core are an interactive medium. This project shows how interacting with a news story in the framework of a game lets you explore experiences in ways that increase understanding and develop empathy. It’s just one example of the changing perception of games. They’re not just something frivolous and diverting, they can be considered as art in their own right. The games that have been released so far link to fairly light hearted subjects, but Auroch are working on a much more serious and potentially controversial theme for the next game. This is games as exploration not simulation. Games offer ways to explore complex dynamic scenarios. People engage with subjects by playing a game who may not have done otherwise.

Tomas referenced the work of Paul Howard-Jones, a neuro-scientist based at the University of Bristol. He specialises in studying the link between reward, learning and why games are such engaging and powerful learning tools. I recommend watching his talk at last year’s Learning Without Frontiers (30 mins but well worth watching, especially if you have kids). Tomas also recommended John Paul Gee’s book “What games can teach us about learning and literacy” here’s a video taster.

Tomas believes that in a couple of decades time, if not sooner, games will be the dominant form of learning. Games are coming of age in the same way photography and cinema did in the twentieth century, which leads inevitably towards the democratisation of game production.

So how do you develop games?

The barriers to making video games are already coming down. All the games on Game the News were made using Gamemaker  which “caters to entry-level novices and seasoned game development professionals equally, allowing them to create casual and social games for, iOS, Android, desktop and the Web (HTML5) in record time and at a fraction of the cost!” , but for something simpler try Little Big PLanet on PS3 or Learn with Portals  and Minecraft edu – keep an eye on the Institute of Play if this has whet your appetite.

The democratisation of any technology basically means giving anybody the ability to create something in the medium. We all know what happened when rapid elearning tools “democratised elearning” production. Lots of good stuff, but also lots of dross. The same will inevitably happen with games, so if you want to end up on the winning team you need to learn the basics. We’ve collected some great stuff on our page to set you started and we highly recommend the gamasutra site if you get sucked in. Good game design does not require high tech skills. Start simple, prototype it, maybe run it as a board game, iterate until you get something that works, then why not hire a professional game developer? You can produce a game for less than a lot of custom built elearning. £3k will get you something fairly simple built by a game developer. Interesting no?

Business Board Games

After Tomas, John Curran from Designed learning broke out a taster version of a business board game called Tango by Celemi. It’s a business simulation that takes up to 2 days to play in it’s full form. We only had time for  a small taste, but the potential for increasing business acumen was very clear. Obviously you have to call games like this simulations, when you sell the idea to your boss, but they work on the same elements as video games and are under used as learning tools. Which would provide better learning outcomes – an immersive business simulation, which gave you experience of making decisions across a wide range of different business units – Sales, Marketing, Operations, HR etc, or 2 days of PowerPoint?

One of the many cool things about weeLearning is that somehow it has become a serendipity machine. The latest example of this came on the Friday after this event. My boss phoned me up and said I need you to help me organise a business simulation for a big event next year – got any ideas she asked? Funnily enough I did.

Thanks to John, Tomas and Debbie for a fascinating and fun evening. We’re taking the rest of the year off to plot and scheme big things for 2013, but we’ll be back on Wednesday 16th January with Martin Poulter, associate member of Wikimedia UK and Doug Belshaw from Mozilla to look at how we can use open source tools to enhance learning. Reserve your ticket here

Massive thanks to everyone who came to any of the weeLearning events this year and to all of you who supported us online – have a great Christmas and see you in the New Year.

Sam and Dan

Post by: Sam Burrough (39 Posts)