When I started designing our game, I hadn´t the slightest idea of how it would be used. Actually I primarily focused on how to communicate powerful ideas in algebra. It was a huge challenge in itself and I didn´t pay attention at all to the setting in which the game could be played.
So came the day when I tested the game at my 11 years old son´s birthday party.
Because of the tablet and the number of children, it was natural to make it social. Seven kids around a table. One device.
And they played. Not only did they play, they also started discussing strategy and understanding.
I was extremely surprised by what we had achieved without having targeted it.
First we had a real game, it was good. But we had a social game too. Children had fun together! And it was a learning game. So children were learning together. This was a very strong combination.
And since I interfered so little with them, I remembered some Ted videos about Sugata Mitra and his “hole in the wall” experiments.
Since then, we have tested the game in different settings:
– mother and daughter
– father and son
– 2 friends (one pad per friend)
– schools (one pad for 2 children, one pad for 3 children, one pad for 5 children)
– individual with no observer
– individual with 6 observers (friends)
– parents and children
And here are two facts that require more research in priority, to my mind:
1) As an observer, there is obviously one thing important to note, that I call the teacher effect. Players react completely differently when observed by a teacher/ person who knows the game, and this teacher effect is a negative one. In some settings, I was asked to leave the room for the players to be able to progress in the game. It seems as if the more distance the observer/teacher has with the player, the more progressions in the game the player will display.
2) when there are several players per pad, some players take the lead and it seems to create quickly a knowledge gap between players. Players can of course learn from each other thru observation and direct instructions/ comments from other players. But I feel this gap creates rapidly a tacit social hierarchy where those players who catch the game rules more slowly than the others, tend to lose rapidly motivation and can´t follow the progression in the game.
Even if the game displays a step by step learning process, the social structure in the game is such that some players fall behind, exactly as they would do in a normal classroom.
It means there is a trade off to make between the positive social effects (collaborative learning) and the negative effects (“you´re dummier than me/ you´re smarter than me” feelings).
These two points are important. That means that models like the hole in the wall are great to show us the power of collaborative and discovery learning. But we shouldn´t forget the social process in learning where inevitably learners will understand that some learners understand more rapidly than others. These observations from players themselves have huge psychological social effects in the learning process.
Two immediate ideas come to me. In the context of a game like ours, the game should be played in groups and individually. In a larger context, it would be great for children to be able to show that they are best at something. School has a tendency to value and test only certain types of knowledge or learning abilities. It stigamtizes some learners, preventing them from blossoming out to their full potential.
In any case, to develop self discovery learning games is a must if we want to give all children the opportunity to learn more at their own pace.