Building new layers of student interaction

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I’m gonna design you a game that you can’t refuse…

Last week’s good news came on the same day that I was invited to talk to colleagues at the University of Bath about simulations and role plays.

Felia Allum is running a module/course (actually, Bath calls them units, but you know what I mean) about organised crime in Italy and beyond and had won some funding to support the development of a much more active learning approach, using sims. Together with her Faculty’s e-learning development office, Geraldine Jones, they wanted to explore how this might work and to get some feedback on their ideas.

This kind of thing is exactly what I love about my work: getting a specific project into which to input and (hopefully) develop (plus a trip to Bath, which is always good anyway).

As with many of the other projects I’ve had this kind of role in, it’s something that at first (and indeed, second) glance look to be almost impossible: ideas that I would never have come to by myself.

I’ll not talk in much detail about this project – especially because I’m going to get Felia and Geraldine to do that further down the line – but I do what to draw out two really interesting aspects.

The first is their notion that students should design their own games. We know from the literature that teaching is one of the best ways to learn, and in terms of students developing an appreciation of the dynamics involved in the lives of organised criminals, making them create a game is very powerful.

The flip-side, obviously, is that this is rather daunting: I’ll admit I spent most of a morning trying to work how I might do it without much success. Felia and Geraldine’s way around this is rather good, namely giving the students a fairly rigid template of what is needed and what they have to do, coupled to feedback on a draft version, before any actual gameplay.

The second exciting aspect is about how you get students to internalise and understand the pressures that face criminals. The problem is that those pressures are very different to those facing a university student.

It is precisely through the students’ games that they will work towards this internalisation and understanding, but we talked about how an initial nudge might help them on the way.

With that in mind, we looked at starting the module with another game, to set up some tensions – about money, status, loyalty and trust – that might inform what comes later. My thought was that be having a system of credit for each of these factors would set up a clear signalling mechanism to students, which they could in turn build into their own games (thereby helping with the first point about design).

This is something still in development, but once I’ve had a chance to go through the game I pulled together on the journey home, I’ll be posting it up on my simulations website for you all to see.

Even if you’re not interested in organised crime, if you can get to involved in discussions with colleagues about their projects and ideas, then it’s not only good for them, it’s good for you too. I’ve come away from my day in Bath with a whole new set of thoughts and possibilities to explore.

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