|Posted on October 11, 2011 at 4:20 PM|
By: Paul Wallace, Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology
Appalachian State University
Ten years ago I had just begun writing i-mode Developer’s Guide, a book about mobile Internet development, and was working at the time for an IT consulting company in Tokyo, down the street from Shibuya station – where Howard Rheingold starts his journey investigating the social mobile revolution in Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. There was a lot of excitement around that time regarding the mobile Internet and communication applications, as a number of innovative mobile services had just become available. At times, walking around Shibuya, I thought about the future of mobile learning – particularly location-based and context-aware learning applications, what I refer to as "place-based learning".
At the time, my vision was the idea that parents and children, couples, friends, and other groups could spend time outdoors while engaged in formal or informal "place-based" learning. I recall thinking about a time in the future when most people could access educational content wherever they may be, and everyone would have a mobile phone with a "dream setup" for mobile learning: GPS, camera, 3G data connectivity, large color display, touch screen interface, and a robust application platform for software development. Back then it was just a dream, but now that description is the modern-day smartphone.
My vision of ubiquitous place-based learning is finally becoming a reality, and for the past few years I’ve been teaching instructional technology and incorporating the design of mobile learning into my classes. One of the things that I’ve discovered is that constructing educational mobile games can be as beneficial as the act of playing. Yasmin Kafai, a leading researcher on educational games, discusses two ways of looking at the subject: instructionists, who focus on the design of games for the purpose of instruction, and constructionists, who believe in providing opportunities for students to construct knowledge through the making of games. The process of constructing mobile games within small groups I find to be beneficial in developing and exercising critical 21st century skills; things such as research, synthesizing and evaluating data, collaboration, creativity, and leadership.
This year I had student groups in one of my courses at Appalachian State University work together with the Watauga River Conservation Partners, a local community organization working to protect the Watauga River, in a service-learning project creating games related to the wetlands. By the end of the semester, these games were available for the community to play on mobile phones and tablet devices at a wetlands area adjacent the Boone Greenway Trail, a popular recreation area in town. We first experimented with several platforms for developing the games, but in the end all of the groups selected SCVNGR. Much of the reason for adopting SCVNGR was that students found that creating challenges and treks is simple and straightforward. The SCVNGR builder interface is an online application, and doesn’t require knowledge of a scripting language, so students can spend time creating the content, characters, and storylines for the games – instead of struggling with coding interactions and building the mobile application interface.
I outline some aspects and examples of the SCVNGR educational games in the recent issue of EDUCAUSE Quarterly, in the article, Student-Community Collaboration to Construct Mobile Learning Games. One of the wetland games created by a student group in SCVNGR is called Bug Off, and includes challenges related to the importance of insects in the wetlands. For instance, a couple of challenges designed for Bug Off use the text and photo input of the SCVNGR platform at two physical locations in the wetlands area of Boone Greenway, so at those locations a player would be presented with the following challenges:
• A Dragonfly flaps its wings over 2,000 times per minute! How many times can you flap your arms in a minute? (text input)
• Take a photo of your partner flapping her “wings.” (photo input)
• In a single day, the dragonfly eats more than its own weight in mosquitoes. How many chicken nuggets would you have to eat in one day to equal your weight? (text input)
Here are some screenshots from the challenges:
Student-created videos accompany these challenges, helping students solve the weight question by providing necessary facts. In fact, student groups found that video media was the most effective way of presenting educational content and information to the players through SCVNGR, prior to having players answer a challenge. Also, many of my student groups took advantage of developing several different media resources for challenges, including video and images, to present characters and more complex storylines into the treks – making the games more engaging to younger players and families with young children who might be visiting the Greenway walking trails and pull up the games on their phones. For example, students created a fun video related to the role of dragonflies in the wetlands, and even demonstrate the “correct” way to flap your wings:
Overall, the benefits to my students who were creating the place-based mobile games within a service-learning context were related to both content knowledge and attitude towards community engagement. I found that the project not only increased my students’ interest in community service, but it also prompted a strong positive reaction to different types of collaboration in the development phase of the games. It was evident that the student groups enjoyed working on the project, and learned a lot about both game design and interaction. Moreover, they also ended up learning a lot about the wetlands – which is proof to me that constructing mobile learning games can be a valuable instructional strategy.