Monday, March 19, 2012

Interesting Questing

Gaming in education, especially of the digital kind, is a big passion of mine, much of which was inspired by my attendance at ISTE last summer as an AVI Chai fellow. I was fortunate enough to be able to explore a variety of ways of doing this with the support of an iCenter iChallenge grant this year, and I even managed to figure out how to work digital hunting into my ILP (Individual Learning Project) that I’m doing for my certificate in Israel Education through the iCenter and Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies. I recently presented on Interesting Questing at the annual conference of the Illinois Computing Educators. My wiki page can be found here and my Livebinder is here. So – what did I actually do? I created and ran two quests so far this year:

The first was for about 300 6th graders. They used mobile devices to scan QR codes to read instructions, watch videos online and seek out various locations in a local synagogue while performing tasks such as making a map of Israel with their bodies and making up bag lunches for a soup kitchen. The students were divided into groups of about ten students and used their own devices – iPods, SMART Phones and iPads – to read the codes. They had a lot of fun doing it. The buzz was unmistakable as they entered the synagogue and saw the codes posted. The code shown here is the one to the opening video.

The second was far more complicated. I used ARIS, which is being developed at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. It’s in development, so some wonkiness should be expected, but it’s reasonably stable. The user interface is pretty straightforward. There’s a pretty minimal online user guide and a community forum, but I found the easiest way to learn the software was to just jump in and use it. The Flash-based editor must be used on a computer, and the game is played using iOS devices. I created a hunt that had seven stations in the school, with a task to be completed at each station. The app features data collecting tools such as audio and video recording, so kids had to complete tasks such as uploading a recording of themselves singing “Ha Kova Sheli” or a photo of the group with a particular item. ARIS allows you to create characters, which made it a great choice for a Purim-themed game. Some screen shots are shown here.

The other incredibly cool thing about ARIS is that you design it using a Google map, which allows you to put clues in the real world. Literally, you can sit at home on your couch (I speak from experience here, people) and place the clues wherever you want them. Additionally, you set the range so that you can determine precisely (well, sort of – see below) where a person needs to be when a clue becomes visible to them.

ARIS allows you to have the player interact with a character, get clues, pick up or give items, so a game designed in ARIS can have all the qualities of a regular scavenger hunt with the addition of immediate gratification.

 The Purim quest was designed to take place during a 35-minute rotation, in which the students were guided through joining the school network (which had been opened for the event), downloading the app and creating a user ID. They were given a brief demo on how to use the tools and access the camera, recorder and QR code scanner (called the decoder in the app). Because we were concerned about the interaction between the devices’ GPS location services and the game we made extensive use of QR codes rather than relying on the range settings in the maps.

What did we learn?

Like all activities that involved the Internet, always have a plan B. The biggest problem with the Purim quest was that our bandwidth was really stretched to the limit, which prevented the kids from uploading the media they created (such as the movies or audio recording). Unfortunately, most of the logic for the Purim quest involved uploading media before the next clue could be seen, so if the kids couldn’t upload their media the game was stopped. Luckily I had created seven different versions (for purposes of staggering the groups) with QR codes as opening plaques, so we were able to get the students started on new games when the one they were on stopped.

The other thing we noticed with the QR code scavenger hunt in the first case was that groups of ten were too large. It’s not like a group of kids following a scavenger hunt on paper; the lure of the electronic device is just too strong – if the kids can’t touch the device at least part of the time, it loses its appeal. The other issue was the accuracy of the devices’ GPS systems. When we tested ARIS on various devices – iPads, iPhones and iPods – we discovered that the accuracy of their GPS systems varied tremendously. Not surprisingly, phones seemed to work the best. I don’t know if that was because of the devices themselves or the fact that we were in the school building, but since the game was going to be played in the building, we felt we needed to compensate for the inaccuracy by setting the range pretty wide. This, of course, causes other issues in when clues showed up where they weren’t supposed to. To avoid that we used QR codes, rather than rely on the clues appearing automatically.

Designing in ARIS takes a lot of time. There’s a lot of testing involved, and it can get tedious with placing the items on the map. But it was a blast! The kids were excited to be using their devices in school, and the “coolness” factor is terrific. It’s definitely worth working with, and I’m excited to figure out where to use it next. Feel free to contact me for me information!

No comments: