Case study from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Serious games play an important role in the teacher education study programs at the Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana. They are used as learning materials in some courses, but even more important for our students is their active engagement in the game design and production process. In the modern approaches to teaching and learning, where constructivism is getting more and more important, active, independent, problem based learning replaces traditional transmissive approaches.
The design of serious games integrates a series of activities that are based on typical competences, which have been identified as crucial for teachers. Such competences include the ability to determine learning objectives that are consistent with the curriculum, the selection of appropriate teaching approaches, appropriate implementation of these approaches in the learning process, preparation of feedback, evaluation of acquired knowledge and evaluation of the learning process. As we educate, among others, future computer science teachers, we can integrate them in the production phase. They are fluent with different technologies that are needed for production of computer serious games that seem to be most popular among teacher students as well as with pupils. Our students will teach mainly in the 9-years primary schools and so the games are mostly intended for pupils in elementary schools.
Serious games design is implemented as a two-semester project in two courses with a total of 8 credit points. It means that the students are supposed to spend between 220 to 240 hours in the project activities. Students work in groups of 3 or 4 students. According to constructivist learning theory, the course has very few hours of traditional lectures.
In the introductory phase, the main project requirements are presented by the lecturer and some general rules about the learning goals and about organisation of work are defined. Later, during the execution of the project, students report on the progress of work, the teacher gives feedback. If difficulties arise, the teacher explains what could be the reasons for a problem and gives some hints or suggests possible ways to solve them. The ability to work in a team is relevant competence in today's society, and in the teaching profession it is particularly important, so we paid special attention to this aspect. Groups had to report on different aspects of collaboration in regular weekly meetings and all important activities and reflexions are collected in the log, which are written by each group for the duration of the project.
There are several phases in the framework of the project. The first activity is to find an appropriate learning goal, which is difficult to achieve by pupils in a traditional way. This is a typical teacher's task and our students have some experiences about it from their practical training, which takes place in schools. Their task is to prepare sample lectures that must be based on the curriculum. Students are also required to select appropriate teaching methods and to prepare resources needed for learning. We encounter similar activities in the design of serious games. They result in the specification of a game.
After this first phase, students change their role from teachers to game designers and developers. In the beginning they have to analyse the Specification document, target audience (teachers, pupils, ...), and available resources (equipment, tools, time, ...) to prepare all important information needed for the design phase.
In this phase they prepare detailed scenario with the dialogs that integrates all requirements and recommendations from Specification. They also design all graphical elements needed for the games such as backgrounds for all scenes, artefacts and all characters. This is one of the most time consuming phases in the project.
In the development phase they produce the game using selected game machine (e.g. e-Adventure) or only appropriate programming environment (e.g. Scratch, Alice, Flash, ...). The production is based on the scenario and graphic elements developed in the previous phase of the project.
The developed game is then offered to some representatives of the target audience in the implementation phase. The game needs to be properly integrated into teaching and learning and usually different accompanying activities need to be prepared. Students carry out all these activities during their practical training in schools.
The evaluation phase is taking place in parallel with the implementation or immediately after this phase. Students need to measure the efficiency of the alternative learning approach, usually comparing it to the traditional one, and to get feedback from the players. This allows them to determine whether the objectives from Specifications have been achieved and to improve the quality of their products. Our design approach is called SADDIE and comes from the acronyms of the project phases.
We have been using the serious games project approach in our two-semester course "Use of ICT in education" for 6 years. Many interesting ideas have been developed in this time and our course is improving as well as students' projects and the resulting serious games. The best of them are presented in our web portal <http://hrast.pef.uni-lj.si/igre>. One of those games was sent to the European Conference on Game based learning last year and it qualified into the final round, competing with games developed by professionals. But as we often tell our students, all the games are just side effect of more important goal, i.e. to motivate our students to work actively and to learn in an efficient way. Students from all previous generations acknowledged after completion of the project that invested in the project more time than anticipated, but they have really learned a lot and enjoyed in the project activities. Teachers from Slovene primary schools daily send us acknowledgments, because we have prepared good learning materials for their pupils and many of them ask us to participate in our workshops on serious games design. All these results allow us to reasonably reject the claims of many sceptics among our teachers who still believe that playing (or producing) games in school means loss of time and that it can not be an effective way of learning.