Friday, November 21, 2008

Digital Games and Learning Objectives

Tēnā koutou katoa - Greetings to you allThe sky at night in the southern hemisphere, looking north in December

I recently left a comment on Rupa Rajagopalan’s post on eCube -
6 Quick Steps to Create a Game Based E-learning Course. Rupa is an information developer whose primary focus for the past few years has been instructional design with a specialty in game based learning.

She mentioned in her post about the importance of having the option to skip intros and tutorials in game based learning. Some learners can get put off doing something that is easy to work out during the game. Others need more help.

I explained in my comment to her that I had used an example of this in a star-map
resource, that I’d built specifically for year 10 learners in New Zealand. I linked to the resource in my comment.

The following day, Rupa sent me an email asking if I’d like to write a post giving some detail about some of the ideas I’d mentioned.

Here’s how I built the star-map resource.

The objective:

The curriculum objective for this resource was straightforward:
Learn to use a digital planisphere to locate astronomical features.
I began my hunt for a resource for this objective with the intention of finding a suitable Internet based planisphere for the southern hemisphere.

A day scouring the Internet returned only star-maps and charts of the northern hemisphere. I decided to give up searching for a suitable resource in favour of building one from scratch. It didn’t take too long.

The vision I had for making the game was to first build the planisphere and to make a tutorial for it. A series of quests, perhaps one or two, where the learner followed instructions to locate a set of objects in the sky, would provide the game.

The main thing was to keep to the objective. For as much as I’d like to have veered off in cosmic directions, the objective was simple and the resource had to address that.

The planisphere:

I used Photoshop. I created a huge square and pasted in the scan from a paper planisphere that the school had used earlier to teach the same objective. With some elaboration, adjustments and additional features, the digital planisphere was complete. I used layers for the star names and constellations. When the planisphere was ready in Photoshop, I used 30
degree rotations to create 12 sectors that formed the twelve views of the night sky, one for each month of the year.

A chart of the constellations in the December night sky
Considering that there were 3 layers to start with, this gave 36 different layers: 12 monthly star charts with the accompanying 12 monthly name labels for the stars and the 12 monthly constellations.

A crop in Photoshop, choosing the mid-month view of the night sky looking north, gave me the 36 views that were needed to make the complete planisphere.

The engine:

This was to be a web-based resource. I would use html built in DreamWeaver. A simple panel that I designed for monthly selection of views lay on the left of the view of the night sky. Two hourly intervals were convenient and provided a suitable range of three views from 8pm till midnight. Included in this panel were two toggle buttons that permitted selection of star maps, named stars and constellations. There was also a return to main screen button.

The tutorial:

It needed a tutorial. I felt that the best way to provide an optional tutorial was not to start with it. Instead, I put it as the first option so that it was always available, no more than two clicks away from the game.

A page from the star-map tutorial
The tutorial used the ‘engine’ of the planisphere with overlays, where appropriate, to provide instructional text. I felt that it was important that every function of the planisphere should be covered in the tutorial, with no repetition. Learners had to be kept on track during the tutoring.
I used a range of methods to achieve this.

The trails:

Originally the planisphere had two trails or quests. It turns out that they were quite successful. Learner feedback was more than favourable, though many requested more of the same. Eventually, I found the time to build a third and longer trail, which left scope for further ideas for projects in the future. The planisphere now has three trails – Cosmic, Stellar and Galactic.

Additional to the objective was a need to include a Māori cultural aspect as this is always a part of curriculum objectives in New Zealand. I included three relevant
Māori legends, one at the end of each trail.

Why not more?

I was always tempted to expand the resource. One idea I had was to link to some of the wonderful NASA sites at relevant points in the trails. I didn’t pursue this, simply because it would detract from the intended objective.

The advantages of a digital planisphere:

The original paper resource used in teaching to this objective involved the learners in an activity to cut out and construct a paper star-map. They were then asked to use it to locate stars at night.

One fine starry evening, I tried one of those star charts and found that it was impossible to use. There were two reasons for this. One was that there was not sufficient light to read the star-map when looking at the night sky. The other was that even a torch didn’t help. Shining a standard torch onto the white paper star-map has a blinding effect on the eyesight.

An example paper star-chart
Some planispheres, like the one above, are printed with white dots for stars on a black background. This helps, but even the glare from the white writing on such a star chart, or the white border of the page it’s on, causes temporary ghost images in the eyes that ruin night vision.

It is impossible to see any stars in the sky at night until these ghost images disappear. This can take several minutes and by that time you need to refer to the star chart again!

This project was finished in 2000. One jubilant learner sent me an email after she’d used my digital star-map. She found it to be ideal. She had taken her wireless laptop into the garden, late one summer evening, and spent an hour or so locating
Stars of The Southern Sky.
Ka kite anō - Catch ya later


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interesting article, you can also use Star Walk on iPhone for educational purposes.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora 'Anonymous'

I've had a look at Star Walk. It invokes iTunes. While that is useful at a cost, it is not freely available to learners and the access is certainly not easy for a timely lesson.

The issue of objectivity is another aspect. While I have no doubt it has the potential to deliver much information, it's the processing by the learner that I wonder about.

Ka kite

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken

I tried playing this game you created and it is engaging and engrossing :)

Keep posting more on such games.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Rupa!

I'm glad you had fun with this resource. Fun is part of Piaget's pedagogical approach to learning.

I believe that learning through games is one fine way to introduce some topics to learners. Not all topics adapt themselves to games, though. Variety is the key to a richer approach to teaching and learning.

Catchya later