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Being able to accommodate activity’s formal purposes as a critical factor when designing for ‘location-based learning games’ at scale

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Javier Melero
2 March 2014

Over the past few years the use mobile technologies for learning has attracted the interest of practitioners in all phases of education to facilitate informal learning in formal contexts (Pachler, Bachmair, &Cook, 2010). Key aspects of such interests are the growing significance of mobile devices in learners’ everyday lives (Vinu, Sherimon, & Krishnan, 2011), the increasing portability of these technologies, as well as the reduction in their cost and services. Also, the use of mobile technology in education has led to a new educational paradigm in which students can learn anytime and anywhere (Jones & Jo, 2004; Vinu et al., 2011).

In the context of the research domain of Game-Based Learning (GBL), mobile learning brings the possibility of creating location-based games (Davis, 2002; Jeng, Wu, Huang, Tan, & Yang, 2010). Location-based games represent a new and emerging type of game that draws on the technological resources described as pervasive and ubiquitous computing. These types of games bring possibilities to: enrich learning experiences by extending the learning beyond traditional classrooms and interacting with physical items by adding virtual layers of information; create fruitful learning experiences that involve exploration and cooperation (Hwang, Tsai, & Yang, 2008); access to contextualized information (Avouris & Yiannoutsou, 2012), communication, analysis and interrelation of real place (Roschelle, 2003); be entertaining and stimulating (Cabrera et al., 2005; Davis, 2002); and effective in terms of increasing the motivation to learn (Yatani, Onuma, Sugimoto, & Kusunoki, 2004).

However, the comprehensive integration of educational games in formal learning settings is still a challenge that shapes several interdisciplinary research problems in the domain of GBL. First, teachers have to face with not having programming nor game development skills to create their own educational games. Second, the design of educational games is complex and time consuming (Frossard, 2013). And third, one of the main research problems is that for learning games to be relevant in formal education they need to be aligned with the curriculum and adapted to teachers’ requirements depending on their particular educational situations. Therefore, we claim that it is necessary to formulate meaningful techniques adapted to teachers’ pedagogical practices and assessment purposes. Moreover, providing with flexible and customizable approaches to involve teachers as designers of their own location-based games can make significant difference to foster designs at scale.

Considering the context of location-based games, we adopt puzzle game boards as a technique to support teachers in the design of location-based learning games (Melero & Hernández-Leo, n.d.). Indeed, board games have already been considered for designing a rich pool of location-based learning activities (Nicklas, Pfisterer, & Mitschang, 2001; Schlieder, Kiefer, & Matyas, 2006). In particular, we propose a metaphor based on puzzle game boards (Melero, Santos, Hernández-Leo, & Blat, 2013) as a flexible technique to design location-based learning games that consist of routes containing geolocated questions, including game elements such as hints, feedbacks, bonus, and scoring mechanisms.

In this paper we present the findings of three real case studies focused on the use of the proposed approach to design location-based games. Particularly, in each case, secondary education teachers become designers of their own location-based games. The designs were created considering the particular educational situations and assessment purposes: a) an extracurricular learning activity designed by 7 teachers with the purpose of discovering and learning about l’Hospitalet (i.e. the city where the school is placed); b) a summative assessment activity designed by 1 teacher to learn about the art history of Vic; and c) a formative assessment activity designed by 1 teacher to learn concepts associated to different pictures of a contemporary art museum. Results show that the puzzle-based game metaphor is a good approach to address the teachers’ requirements. Finally, we also discuss the impact of the concrete design decisions in the implementation of location-based games.

Acknowledgement. This research has been partially funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness in the EEE Project (TIN2011-28308-C03-03).


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