One of the great things about being a faculty member is watching students who graduate go on and accomplish really awesome things (even more awesome than what the faculty member is doing…that’s a successful faculty member).
One of the most creative people I know is Greg Walsh who was one of the first students I met when I arrived at Bloomsburg over 12 years ago. He has gone on to do some really cool things in instructional gaming and other areas and I’ve recently caught up with him because of a project he is doing related to distributed, asynchronous co-design with children. A video of the game appears below (Greg is talking in the video).
Here is the Q&A and a little about Greg and his project. If you are interested in game design, you should read the interview.
Kapp: So tell us what you are doing these days and your affiliation with Bloomsburg University’s Master’s in ID program.
Kapp: What was the impetus behind the “Energy House Game?” Why develop game about energy with kids having to jump up and down?
Walsh: Interestingly, we didn’t start off to do this. We were trying to develop something that would teach kids about being more environmentally friendly while at home, school, or while visiting a national park. We use a design method called Cooperative Inquiry where intergenerational design teams (adults and children) work together to design new technologies for children. One of our Cooperative Inquiry techniques is called Layered Elaboration and it involves teams each making a storyboard, getting back together and telling the larger group about the storyboard, and then adding a transparent overlay and switching with another team who elaborates on the design. In this case, we did it three times.
One group designed a school. The next group put a playground on the school that generated electricity. And a third group made additions as well. We talked about it as a larger group and thought that generating electricity would help kids learn about how much energy objects in their house need to operate and help them realize that turning devices off could save power. We took that idea of generating electricity and built a prototype where kids had to jump up and down to “power” the items in the virtual house.
Kapp: Very interesting, so what research questions where you trying to answer by developing this game?
Walsh: The research questions we were actually trying to answer had to do with Layered Elaboration. It was the second time we had used it, so we made some changes to the technique and wanted to know how it would work with the modifications. It worked well. We’ve been doing this kind of design research with this technique over the last two years and it’s led to the design of a computer based tool to enable kids in different parts of the world to work together regardless of location or time zone.
Now that we’ve built this prototype and have had it be so popular, I’m sure that there are a ton of research questions and agendas that can spring from this.
Kapp:What age group is the target audience for this game?
Walsh: The game is targeted at K-4th grade.
Kapp: What are the educational objectives of the game?
Walsh: To be honest, we started the design process of the game with little more than the broad goal of teaching children to be more environmentally conscious. I think this is different from how most educational games are designed, right? In the educational games I’ve been involved with (before this), the games have always had very specific learning outcomes in the standard SMART structure. Honestly though, most games end up turning into drill and kill and really focus on only verbal knowledge. This game is nice because it combines the psycho-motor domain with the cognitive domain and throws some affective domain in there with the cartoon. Kids really like playing it even though the goal for the prototype has been to keep the television running while other objects are also powered.
After kids played our prototypes, we asked them to rank the items in the house in terms of energy usage or asked them what item in the house uses the most energy. So far, everyone has been able to identify the item that uses the most energy in the house. Like I mentioned earlier, we think that if the players realize how hard it is to produce energy to make that item operate, they should be able to transfer the knowledge to what items in a real home need to be turned off to conserve power. In a more formal educational setting, we would use a pre- and post-test to assess learning…but that hasn’t been our goal to date.
Kapp: What types of hardware/software did you incorporate in your prototype?
Walsh: This prototype was made with Flash and runs on Mac. The hardware is a USB dance pad and a smart board. There is a small piece of software which captures the dance pad inputs and turns them into something that Flash can understand.
Kapp: Explain the other types of research you are doing?
Walsh: I came into the PhD program here with a main interest in learning games, but, I soon realized that I really liked design methods as a research topic. I focus on co-design, a type of participatory design where experts and target users work together to design something. This isn’t the same as a focus group or beta testers…in co-design, you have design partners who work with you through the whole process. So far, I’ve worked primarily with children but have done some work with adults as well. I’ve also been able to work with lots of design partners like Carnegie Hall, the National Park Service, and a major children’s network. A lot of what we’ve designed so far has been educational technologies but we’ve also designed some entertainment technologies, too.
My dissertation will be focused on geographically-distributed, asynchronous co-design. I’m looking at what features a tool needs to support it and the experiences of participants in those kinds of teams.
Kapp: So, I have to ask…How did your Bloomsburg MSIT degree prepare you for this?
Walsh: That’s a great question… I would say that being in the MSIT program has given me a big leg-up in my academic career. Even though the MSIT program is not “research” heavy, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now without what I learned there: Teamwork, technical skills, and freedom to explore. Teamwork is extremely important in academic work…almost everything we do is team-based..and several of the classes gave me experience with working with people towards a goal. The technical knowledge I gained in class work and graduate assistant projects gave me a foundation to be able to build prototypes with multimedia tools. Just today I talked about how the MSIT program instilled in me a desire to explore new possibilities without being afraid of failure…an incredibly useful skill in academia.
Kapp: What’s next for the energy house?
Walsh: Right now, Energy House is entered in the Cooney Center STEM Game Challenge. and we’re hoping that we win the collegiate prize so we can make it better and release it as an open source project for schools to implement it.