Staff at the University of the Leicester are exploring the value of immersive online games known as Alternative Reality Games to expand the horizons of teaching and learning.
The use of Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) in higher education is a new and innovative field, with a growing number of researchers turning their eye to the engaging, communal and yet technically-light nature of the genre.
Alex Moseley, Principal Computer Officer in the University’s Faculty of Arts has conducted research into one of the most successful ARGs. This has led to the development of several key features which had potential to improve teaching, learning and engagement when applied to higher education. Findings from this research were presented at a conference on December 5 at Channel 4’s headquarters in London, England.
He said: "A large first-year core module in Historical Studies which teaches key historical research skills was suffering from poor engagement levels, and unsatisfactory key skills development.
"I applied a number of the ARG key features to the problem, and working with subject specialists developed a four-week online activity, The Great History Conundrum, which puts the 200 students in the roles of Historical Detectives who have to solve a number of ‘real life’ research problems or puzzles individually and collaboratively, and reflect on their findings in small groups.
"Puzzles might send them to a particular shelf in the library to find a mystery picture, out and about in Leicester city centre with a camera, or find them working as a team to search through medieval documents online. Other innovative elements include visible continuous assessment of all aspects (allowing students to see their assessment scores as they go along, and specialise in areas of particular skill), 24-7 access to the activity (allowing truly flexible working on and off campus) and grand prizes for the winners in each of three categories."
Following pilots last year, the first year group has just completed the course. Professor Norman Housley, Head of the School of Historical Studies, notes: "Teaching study skills to incoming University students is a notoriously hard nut to crack, because it's so difficult to make the topic come alive and relate it to the academic discipline. Judging from what I saw when I gave out prizes this week to our HS1000 cohort, Alex Moseley and colleagues have succeeded brilliantly with The Great History Conundrum. Our students were engaged and enthusiastic to an extraordinary degree. I am looking forward to reading their module questionnaire returns, and to working with colleagues to embed this exercise within the module over the years to come."
Two History undergraduates who have just completed the course, Michael Wearn and Leanne Sowter, shared their experiences: " it was both incredibly challenging and entertaining... Indeed, without the GHC it would have been practically difficult to have applied the skills we were taught in other parts of the HS1000 module to historical research as a whole" (Leanne); Michael concurs: "it taught me a lot of skills that I probably wouldn't have learnt in lectures, for example the actual processes involved with research on a practical level, rather than being told about them. I also found it to be quite helpful in getting an overview of different historical periods that I hadn't encountered before through solving the puzzles."
In addition to presenting initial findings from this first cohort, Alex will also chair a cross-institutional panel discussing the role of this new genre within higher education.
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