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Learning Through Narrative Games

SHAILA on December 12, 2012

David Gagnon in his article - Augmented Reality: Coming Soon to a School Near You? - which is a part of the series produced by MindShift and Spotlight on Digital Media & Learning writes about the ever-increasing use of mobile phones as learning gadgets.  

David Gagnon, an instructional designer, with the University of Wisconsin’s ENGAGE program, frequently conducts workshops. He says, in the initial days he used to carry around 10 smart phones for the 20 participants of his seminar. Over the past two years, things have changed so dramatically that the smart phones he carries around lie untouched while his participants pull out their own.  

Educators who attend his seminars eagerly ask how to employ mobile gadgets for learning and reap the rich benefits they have to offer. David and his team are well equipped to answer them for they are the developers of Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling (ARIS.) This is an open source learning platform which educators can download onto their mobile devices to play a place-based narrative game and easily implement it into class room learning.

Learning through Place based Narrative Games

The creation of a game Mentira explains how ARIS works. This game was created by Chris Holden, an assistant professor in the University Honors Program at the University of New Mexico, and Julie Sykes, an assistant professor of Hispanic linguistics to help Spanish-speaking students.

In this game, players while on a visit to the Los Griegos neighborhood in Albuquerque interact with virtual characters and talk to real people and use current and historical events to solve a fictional murder mystery. Many other educators have designed similar such games.   

How are the Games Designed?

Games make use of GPS and QR codes to combine real world experiences with virtual knowledge.  Upon reaching a particular location, students can make use of geo tagged recordings, photos or videos which the games can access. Characters can also interact with students and respond to the given tasks. The game authors also create virtual items which students can retrieve and exchange.  

ARIS provides an easy to use platform which students, educators, designers and artists can utilize.  Educators need no programming skills and can use an online authoring tool.

Learning by gaming is becoming increasingly popular, a fact proved by the ever increasing authors and players. In 2009, the developer community was small and today there are 2000 authors and 5700 players. This figure is expected to double in the next six months.  These games developed by educators are indicative of the future potential of mobile learning.

The Power of Place

Bringing narrative to life makes a powerful learning experience. Jim Mathews a teacher at Middleton Alternative Senior High School in Middleton, Wisc., and a UW graduate student understands this well. Being one of the first to create an ARIS game - Dow Day, Mathews enabled players to walk around the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus using their iPhones to view the footage of Vietnam War protests and learn about the impact of Vietnam War press reports on these protests.

Mathews along with his high school colleagues designed another game to teach his students about the city of Middleton and urban planning procedures. Using their smart phones and tablets students gathered information about the downtown neighborhood of past and met virtual historical characters in the city. In this process they learned about the changing population density and the subsequent changes in urban planning and transportation.

Placing students in their community enhances subject understanding, a fact history teachers have known for long. But the question we are trying to analyse is how does the mobile tool make the learning experience different?

Impact of Games Played on Mobile Devices on Learning

Games make learning more meaningful

ARIS is a platform that helps educators create situations that enable students to go out into new environments, gather information, assimilate them and discover patterns, thus turning education into a completely personalised experience.

Design thinking can develop team work spirit, problem solving and project management skills

Mobile devices can simplify complex learning when students turn designers. Alice Leung, a teacher at Merrylands High School in Sydney, Australia, recently used ARIS with her students to design a tour of the school's main landmarks for student orientation day.

The game was successful and this motivated Leung to post on her blog that, “For me, this experience is much more than making a game and playing a game on iPhones. Watching the students create the game has shown me how much young people can thrive when given a challenging task in a stimulating environment, something that traditional classroom experiences can’t offer.”

Mobile design platform develops students

ARIS designers in Madison, hold 'game design jams.' At the 2011 ARIS global game jam, teachers along with their students and many other online participants created 127 games.

  • A scholar James Paul Gee also pointed out that during this process, students develop collaborative skills which are crucial for survival in the 21st century offices.
  • Designing a game of ARIS makes students skilful enough to isolate issues that cause problems and determine ways to solve them.

Matthews feels that students learn a lot when they turn designers. The Mobicip crew supports this view, and that is why we made sure Mobicip works well with QR code readers. We realise that apart from subject knowledge, this procedure also develops team work, project and time management skills. System based thinking is vital for survival in modern times, yet difficult to teach through traditional teaching methods.

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