Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LILAC conference - ARGOSI

On Tuesday I was in a session at the LILAC conference about the ARGOSI project. This was a JISC funded project to support student induction via a gaming environment - to give students a focus and context. There is a website here: http://playthinklearn.net/argosi.htm. The aims of the project were to see whether an alternate reality game could:
- meet the intended learning outcomes of the library and information skills induction;
- create social networks during the induction period;
- improve students' confidence in navigating the city and university campus;
- engage in, and enjoy, the induction experience.
An Alternate Reality Game (ARG) does not have to be wholly online, but rather has real world and online aspects, unfolding over time and with material built by the players as they go along and a lot of collaborative work. There's also the idea that people "discover" the ARG, to make it more attractive & exciting.
Bob Class (ictured at the conference, with Christine Irving), Emily Shields and Rosie Jones described the "Viola" game, an induction activity they had developed for students. It starts with a postcard from "Viola" saying "please help me" and pointing students to a blog where the problem is described (http://violaquest.blogspot.com/ , although this is not yet set up for the next induction). It poses a series of challenges to help Viola find the pieces of a map.
The challenges make students learn about the City of Manchester, and learn some information skills, and they need to collaborate to achieve things (e.g. to prodce pictures of someone standing beside a landmark in Manchester starting with every letter of the alphabet). There is thus an overarching storyline (which lasted 8 weeks) and customisable sub-plots.
In our session at LILAC we were divided into teams and we tackled some of the challenges that were wholly online, which involved puzzling skills and a variety of other skills/knowledge (e.g. recognisingthe pitch of a musical note, or knowing how to show the source code of a web page). I proved to be pretty dreadful at this and was soon wanting to google for the cheat sheet ... in the real exercise, students can use the online forums to share tips. It did get us interacting and sharing ideas of how to solve the problems!
The team handed out a sheet which showed how they had mapped information literacy learning outcomes onto some of the puzzles, including ones which were about using the library (e.g. one puzzle was solved by finding the Dewey number of a book and adding together the numbers, giving practice in searching the catalogue and awareness of the numbers).
Different students respond to different motivators so, for example, there is a leaderboard for those who like competition and the discussion forums for people who like sharing. The students needed to know why they were doing the challenges (what was in it for them), and writing challenges/puzzles that were both enjoyable and meeting learning outcomes was hard work!
The team noted that it was best not to start this exercise in induction week as so much else was going on. Instead they aimed next time to start it pre-induction and resume after induction week.
The ARG engine itself is open source so others can take it, put it on their server and customise it. The team are also writing support documentation

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