Bang, bang, you’re educated.

I currently have a summer research scholarship who is working on a project called “Bang Bang, you’re educated: Serious games in Computer Science”. For the last week, he’s been reading a number of books I’ve lent him, reading across a number of key websites and thinking, based on his own experiences, how he could build a game that teaches people interesting things about CS or gives them practice in key skills in CS.

The core book was “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal, who wonders at length why people spend so much time playing games, given how hard it is to get them to perform similar actions in reality. I wouldn’t say I agree with everything that she suggests but as a unifying introductory document, especially with key vocabulary, it’s very valuable. My poor student has a number of other books, of varying age, that he’s using as references to get more depth in key areas. To his credit, not only is he immersed in these books, he reads to and from Uni as well. [ I thought we’d almost managed to stamp out reading? 🙂 ]

He has six weeks work on this project and he started on Monday the 9th. I’d given him some pre-reading, all web-based, before he showed up but on Monday he got all of the books and instructions to read all of “Reality is Broken” while thinking about the project overview and how he could answer some key questions. Tuesday afternoon we met, discussed what he’d done, and then I told him to come up with 5-6 target student groups, approaches, techniques and (ultimately) games. I gave him a giant desk-based flip pad (3M sticky note topped A2 sheets. Very cool), some sticky notes and told him to throw ideas together – then pick the three best for presentation on Thursday.

Thursday he came in and presented three game ideas of which two blew me away and one of which was (only) pretty good. Clear presentation. Good ideas. But, most importantly, he had also selected his favourite (which happened to be mine as well). It was a great moment and, in the spirit of random reward, he walked out with praise and Lindt chocolates. He also left with instructions to turn the prime candidate into a five week development plan, with risk assessment, weekly project goals and extension possibilities. For presentation today.

Today, he presented the candidate, to me and another academic, and the game sounds great. At this stage, it sounds like it will meet the requirements that I set for him at the start. In outline, they were:

  1. The game must either increase CS knowledge or develop a CS skill.
  2. It will be sufficiently enjoyable that students will want to play it.
  3. The game is generally accessible to people at all levels of knowledge and skill.
  4. Playing the game enhances learning, it doesn’t detract from learning.
  5. The game may be integrated with external reward activities (as part of an alternate reality game link to a class, for example)
  6. The game will be ready for students to play in 5 weeks.

The successful candidate is being play tested, with the paper rules, for the first time on Tuesday. Tune in then to see how we went!



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