Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Giving some thought to gaming

Yesterday I was invited to teach a class on short notice and so I set something up as quickly as I could.  While I was doing that the class went off and no other returned, but this gave me the opportunity to think through and further prepare my idea, which is now ready to trial.

This idea stems from the work of Graham Stanley and Kyle Mawer who co-author the blog http://www.digitalplay.info/blog/. Graham developed a presentation on genre of games he was exploring through his work at the British Council and blogged it here http://game-efl.blogspot.com/. If you're interested in using games with your students, then these blogs are both worth exploring.

One of the games mentioned at the latter link is Samorost. This is not a free game but several levels of Samorost 2 are available for free online <http://amanita-design.net/samorost-2/>.  The most beneficial thing about these games for language learners is that there are often cheats or spoilers developed by others who have played the game that will walk you through them, in the case of Samorost 2, someone has helpfully created http://samorost2.blogspot.com.

I came up with an activity that would exploit these two items using another tool worth knowing, Etherpad.  Etherpad was a company that created a workspace which many people could visit without logon and write in the same space in real time.  The company was acquired by Google but the software had been open source, and the code therefore exists online in a number of places.  If you Google 'etherpad clones' you can find many of them; for example those listed here: http://news.cnet.com/8301-27076_3-20004686-248.html. However, not all clones are cloned equally.  Some limit the number of simultaneous users, and they vary in their quality of hosting.  The one I'm using now is a Mozilla version, https://etherpad.mozilla.org/.

For your students, if we get a chance to try this, I've set up a number of Etherpad spaces and given them TinyURLs so we can remember where they are (this is another tool you should know about, http://tinyurl.com).  To reach them you start here: http://tinyurl.com/kbz-samorost.

There you will find the rules for a writing activity based on the game, also given at http://kbz2012pd.pbworks.com/. Several Etherpad spaces were set up for students to write in.  As I had time to prepare the spaces (open an etherpad, copy/paste seed material into it, give it a tinyURL) I was able to set up several spaces where your students can divide into teams so each team can go to the same space as a small group.  The spaces have time sliders and save points so when someone in the group eradicates what everyone else has done, prior work can be recovered.  This is more easily done in small groups than in large ones. If the students act responsibly then they will figure out how to avoid wiping out all of what is there.  Like riding a bike, it's a little wobbly at first.

I'll be in the ILC today and if you'd like to try this on students then this is what we'll do ...

  • This is a game your students can play in teams of 4 or 5 students, each at a computer
  • One student opens the instructions, another the game, the others the links to the SAME version of the Writing space
  • Then they follow instructions.  Be sure you assign the teams numbers and make sure they work in that team document.
  • The object of the exercise is to collaboratively produce a written description of what happened in Poklop
    • The description is created in a document they can all write on at one, like Google Docs
    • In case of need, there is disaster recovery.  On your computer, click SAVE often so you'll have a point to get back to. 
  • If they like it, and want to continue, we can set up the next level for them

This kind of activity would be better done in Google Docs.  Etherpad lets multiple users write in the same space, which can be useful, but users have little accountability there.  Unless all users of the space conduct themselves responsibly, activities there can be sabotaged (they can be recovered, but this is inconvenient in the middle of a class activity).  A better way to do this would be to have one student start a Google Doc and share it with the others.  Then each user of the space is known and accountable.  If a mistake is inadvertently made, the space can be easily reverted to the input of the last viable user. Things work more smoothly and professionally if users share with other known users.  Accidents and deliberate sabotage are much less likely and recovery to the last tenable position is a mouse-click away.

Tomorrow, Thu, the goal will be to get your students signed up at Google.  They can give their mobile phone numbers.  Over the weekend, they can get the confirmation code Google sends instantly from their mobile phones and on Sunday complete the process of registering their Google accounts.

Heading out to KBZ now, see you there ...

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