The Adventurers!

Our postrer for this afternoon
Our poster for this afternoon

Today is the last day of the Opposites Attract challenge, and this afternoon Nashwa and I will present our prototype game and see what the others have done. Nashwa was up until the early hours debugging and tidying up the prototype and we created in MS Visual. But she still had time to record this YouTube runthough, so you can see it in action:

The sound on this isn’t brilliant I’m afraid, and its quite hard to hear Nashwa’s narration. But hopefully you’ll get the gist of what’s going on.

To find out about some of the other collaborations, check out the Opposites Attract blog.

Gamifying MS Visual

Its been a busy week at work and university, with Chawton and preparation for a presentation at school. And my work for Opposites attracts has suffered, first pushed beyond last weekend, when I had planned to do it, and then made ineffectual by tiredness after work.

So I only finished what I’d planned to finish last Saturday, today, moments before going into to my presentation (which probably wasn’t a good idea as it turns out, but that’s another story.)

Nashwa an I had started off by sketching out a quick flow diagram of the parts of the game that we actually planned to create for the prototype:


Nashwa had already started to create some of the basic functionality in MS Visual Studio. She zipped the project over to me and gave me a brief tutorial when we spoke last week. My job was to add the story, both visually and in narrative.

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My digital drawing Fu wasn’t with me this week, so after a few disappointing attempts to create icons digitally, I scanned some of my preliminary sketches, cleaned them up a bit and shrunk them down to 100×100 pixel bitmaps, with transparent backgrounds. I want to flip the first mate image, so that I can have him facing left when he is a button, and right when he illustrates the timer. I’ll do that this weekend.

The other thing I want to do this weekend is fettle the achievements screen (not pictured here) to create greyscale images of the rewards you have not yet earned, which become colour when you earn them. I also want to add some indicating the higher levels that we are not actually creating.

The Community, telling the tale

I said I’d return to the subject of text. Over the weekend, I’ve been wrestling with the words that we should use in our app. The challenges are threefold:

  1. We want the text to be an adventure story, that motivates the user to want to discover more through completing the game
  2. We want the text to be minimal – our tutors are not going to want to read a thesis, and it has to fit on a mobile screen
  3. We want the text to be accessible, and that includes not being a barrier to play. All sorts of things might prove to be a barrier, for example the tribal metaphor that I was worried about using when first brainstorming our idea.

So, instead of building a tribe, I’ve to exploring an inhabited island. (Yes, it is still rather colonial, but lots of communities around the world have reached new lands by sea.) Thus, rather than gathering the tribe on the first level, we’re getting to know the crew, and building our ship.

How about this:

Title screen

The Adventurers!

Welcome Captain! Are you ready to gather your crew, build your ship, explore the seven seas and built a new settlement, your Community of Practice?

Time is short and there’s so much to do.

Start screen

Your backers have hired you a crew, and given you money enough to build a ship. But time is tight, you must discover land and build your community before the rations run out.

Name your ship (course name):

Count the crew (total number of students)

When you set sail (course starts)?

When must you finish?

Alternatively, we could have a plain English input screen, and then translate the input data into something like this:

Your backers have hired you a crew of <total number of students>, and given you money enough to build a ship. But time is tight, the good ship <course name> must set sail on <course starts> and the rations will run out buy <course end>.

Check the [ship’s papers: link to task list screen] to see which tasks you must complete before you can properly start exploring.

VARK screen

You need to get the measure of your crew. Do you have people who can be look-outs, depth sounders, navigators, riggers and jacks? Get them to work out their [preferences: link to VARK questionnaire] and share their preferences. Tally the numbers of each here:

Look-outs (visual)[]

Depth-sounders (auditory)[]

Navigators (Read/write)[]

Riggers (kinaesthetic)[]

Jacks (multimodal)[]

(if total <(numbers of students)) Have you got the measure of ALL your crew?

(if total =(numbers of students)) Task finished! Your crew manifest is complete. Now its time to plot your voyage.

What do you think Nashwa? Should I continue in this way?


Prototyping “the Community”

Hi Nashwa,

Thanks for your comments on our previous post. I thought I’d start a new one, so we can easily share your screen-caps of work so far. (Just to recap, we’re using this blog as our dialogue in the spirit of sharing implicit in the Opposites Attract Challenge.)


Lets start with this one. The functionality on the top half is exactly what we talked about. I just need to think of some words that “gamify” it – turning it into an adventure rather than a form. It was easy coming up with the ideas visually in our previous thread, but when it come down to actually writing, making the story fit into the tiny number of words we have on the screen is a challenge in itself. We’ll return to this subject.

The lower half of the screen isn’t doing what I imagined when we last spoke. Or rather its DOING exactly as I imagined (excellent work on your part), but it doesn’t have the effect I imagined. Lets work it through…

We wanted to include the idea of time counting countdown, not to help the tutor plan their work, but rather to add a sense of jeopardy to the challenge. Correct me if I’m wrong, but because we decided to set the challenge as the completion of all the first four blocks on your original gameboard, these four different timers will always display the same number? I mean to say, the challenge is that the tutor has (in this case) seven days to complete the last task on the list. But s/he must complete the first three tasks before s/he can start that last one. So if indeed, it takes seven days to complete the first task (discover students’ learning preferences), then they will have run out of time to do the other three. So would it be better to have just one timer counting down and a checklist, something like this?


And I wonder whether it might be more fun to have the timer counting down days, hours, minutes, seconds and hundredths of a second (if that’s even possible in Visual) so that its changing all the time, giving an increased sense of urgency to the task. I also wonder if this lower half would work best as a window/page/tab of its own? (If it did, I imagine it would become the main screen when the app is being run.)

Each block of text could act as a button to take you to the activity, so for example when I click on “Discover Students’ Learning Prefs” it would take me to this screen:


This functions pretty much exactly as we discussed, but I have a couple of questions. What does the “Show Students’ VARK” button do? Does the validate need a button? I was hoping that, if the number of against each style didn’t total the number of students on the course the “Next block” (task? challenge?) button would be ghosted (or replaced with a message like “Get your students to complete the test and tell you their preference”) and it would only become operational when the total matched the number of students.

Next couple of screens. Does selecting a plan on this screen:


… lead to this screen?:


I thinking about what the app is asking the the tutor to input here. It’s offering links out to (in this case) services that might be useful, but what does the tutor have to do to say “Yes, I’ve completed my pedagogical planning!” We need to think a bit more about this.

I’m running out of time her before I need to pick up my boy from school, so two things. First of all, I like this screen:


But we need to settle of a fixed aspect ratio to build our screen designs into – at the moment, I think they are adapted to whatever we’ve asked them to do. And secondly, check out this link. My wife’s company is gamifying the selling of financial products, and here they are using a superhero narrative to give basic financial advice.


The Community (of Practice)

Hi Nashwa,

I have taken the liberty (and I hope you don’t mind) of trying to be really open about our collaborative process. As I explained when we met, my blog is sort of like my notebook, wherein I reflect on my reading. It’s more often that not off the top of my head – I type and publish, without much editing (which goes some way to explain all the typos) or structure.

We agreed that, due to our various commitments beyond university, most of our collaboration would be on-line. So what I’m typing here might be what I’d written to you in an email, but given the experimental, open and collaborative nature of the Opposites Attract Challenge, I thought it might be fun to share our thoughts and discussions in this public way. Then, even if we fail to produce anything that works in the next six weeks, we’ll at least have a series of posts on this blog to share at the Festival! If you’d prefer not to communicate quite so openly, I totally understand. We can go back to more a private medium like email.

So anyhow, the challenge we set ourselves when we met was:

We are going to prototype an app for tutors and course leaders that will gamify the objective of creating on-line Communities of Practice among their students.

It might be worth catching up on what we mean by “gamification”, and handily, I recently wrote a blog post on that very subject. A paper linked to in that post suggests that gamification uses “motivational affordances” like: Points; Leaderboards; Achievements/Badges; Levels; Story/Theme; Clear goals; Feedback; Rewards; Progress; and, Challenge. Some of the other ludic affordances I’ve encountered in my reading include things like music and presence (the feeling of being in the virtual world) which might be affordances too far in the six weeks we have to complete this project.

You’ve already got a “game metaphor” going for your research work, and that’s a board-game, like Snakes and Ladders, wherein course leaders work their way up to a winning square. So in gamification terms, you’ve already been thinking about affordances like Acheivement and Levels, Clear Goals and (on squares 5 and 11) Feedback. What we are looking to add (I think – but stop me if you disagree) are some of the other affordances, like Story, Rewards and Badges.

So, I thought I’d share with you, to kick off the discussion, some cuttings from my sketchbook, and my thoughts so far. Our clear objective is the creation of a Community of Practice, and a story that I’ve been playing with (but I’m not committed to) comes in three acts: Gathering the Tribe; Settling the Farmland, and Founding the City, which correspond with the three levels of your original game metaphor.

So, for example, the first part of Gathering the Tribe, is the first square of your game board. (Actually, no, the very first thing our player does is came his/her course and input the number of students on it, on a simple screen I’ve sketched above, with some ideas for badges won for simply adding classes – the proportion of returns s/he gets from students will very likely be the trigger for badges as you will see later.) The first square of your gameboard is about getting students to do a self-assessment learning preferences test. As the cohort share their results, I imagined the tutor inputting them into the app – not as individuals (likely to be all sorts of DPA issues around that) but simply number of students of each type in the class. Of course, s/he could input them as Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, Kinaesthetic and Multimodal, but I thought it might be fun instead to represent them as characters within the story or theme, thus:

  Quite why our tribe needs safe-crackers, I have not yet worked out, there may well be a better role to represent those with the Auditory learning preference. Here’s a question for you, does the VARK test return simply these four types plus multi-modal? Or are there other results that we’d need to find character classes for?

I thought of a couple of other badges the tutor might win during this process, which have no real impact on the game result, but may well act as motivators. When the tutor first gets one student of each type, s/he might win a “Full House” badge:  

 And when the total number of students of each type matches (or exceeds) the number in the class, s/he wins a 100%! badge (this might be a badge that appears, possibly in variant form for other challenges too):

 Maybe on completion of this first challenge, s/he also gets a “Behaviorist” badge:

   (A rather poor rendition of a jug of knowledge, about to be pours into an empty vessel.) Of course our tutor might offended by being called a behaviorist, but if they understand that they can win a “Constructivist” badge by completing more of the quest, this might be a very effective motivator 🙂

Your squares 2 and 3 appear in my level 2, Finding the Way. As they complete the tasks set by your recommendations, the path to a place to settle becomes clearer. And our tutor might win Explorer and Map Maker badges too:


With Pedgogical and Technical plans completed and the Wiki Framework in place, we are into Act Two, Settling the Farmland (your square 5). I’m less certain about what the tutor’s tasks should be for these next few squares on your board, and thus the rewards, but for some reason I thought this “Dib Dib Dib” badge would be a good idea (it probably isn’t):

   I did think though, that we should reward those disgruntled behavioursists with a shiny new Constructivist badge as soon as they’ve completed your square 5:

  And square 9 should be when they get their Socio-constructivist (or should that be Connectivist? I’m a bit confused) badge:  

 Between those two levels, I was floundering a bit:  

 I thought that at square eight is might be fun to reward our tutor with a role/grade according to what proportion of their students are suggesting topics and resources. Using a corporate metaphor for example, just 10% of your students suggesting topics would earn you the lowest Team Leader rank, 100% would make you Chairman of the Board, and in between you might become Assistant Manager; Manager; Head of Department; VP; President; or CEO. The whole corporate metaphor doesn’t fit very well with my Tribal story, but I’m nervous of making up ranks in a tribal society for fear of being too “orientalist”, and I already discarded a military one from Cadet to General. Given that by square 8 we’re about to move in Act 3 of our story Founding the City, a civic ranking system, with Mayor at the top might be more appropriate. What do you think?

By your level 10, I was feeling more confident suggesting  an “Architect” badge:

  And on your square 11, the tutor earns a “Wise Old One” badge, because at this point we are preparing the tutor to let go of his/her community building, and let the Community of Practice that they help create survive on its own terms (I think? Am I right?).
  And that’s about as far as got. How about you?

Opposites Attract

Today I met with Nashwa Ismail, my collaborator for the next six weeks on the Opposites Attract challenge, which I first wrote about a couple of weeks back. We had some say in our collaboration partners, but the final decision was made by the organisers, which I’m thankful for because everyone I’d met at the earlier session was so good it would have been very hard for me to choose.

We talked a little bit about each others studies. Nashwa shared with me her “game metaphore” for building interactive communities of practice among students using on-line collaboration tools (such as wikis). As I read, way back in August 2014, students get more out of online discussions, the more they put in. So Nashwa’s efforts are about enabling course leaders to better encourage that on-line interaction among their students. *edit* I forgot to mention we also discussed the debate around learning styles, which I prefer to think of as preferences, and Nashwa shared another free on-line test, the VARK questionnaire, which I hadn’t seen before. I’m pleased to see that, although headlined “learning styles”, it tells me I have a “learning preference.” I had a go this morning, and I’ve posted my results above.

The game that she is using as a metaphor for the process is a board-game a bit like snakes and ladders. We talked about the different motivational mechanics that games use, and soon we were talking about gamification. In the end we had the beginnings of an idea about creating a motivational app for course leaders.

More anon.


Yesterday I attended the kick-off briefing/networking meeting for the University’s Opposites Attract Collaboration Challenge. It is an effort by the university to encourage broader cross-disciplinary collaboration, modeled on something that Bristol University have done. The challenge itself is a bit of an experiment, and we’re all feel our way a little bit.

Initially I sat at a table with Daniel and Adam. Adam is an archaeologist, so we didn’t stay together long at the table, as they wanted to mix people from different departments up. But before we join other groups, we worked on Elevator Pitches for our own research, I was very impressed by Adam’s – “Changing Rooms” for Roman Villas he said, with the practiced air of somebody who’d been touting his work around all the museums of the South West (which he had). Daniel was working on European politics, which is a hot topic might now.

Having given each other some feedback on our elevator pitches, and taken away bullet points that each of our listeners had heard us say, we moved to different tables for another challenge. Now I was sat with Anthony, a theoretical physicist, Hang, from the Business School, and Xiaotong from the school of education. First we had to distill the six bullet points that our previous audience had thought our research was about to just two. Then we had work together to propose a collaboration project that address at least one is not both of everyone’s bullet points. Not only that we had to imagine what the output might be: a game; a blog; a poster; a film or podcast; a hands-on display or installation; a live performance; or, an app (or I guess, something else entirely – hovering trampoline shoes was the example they gave from this video).

At first the task seemed impossible. Hang’s interests were about career management and the impact of the choices we make during our working lives. Anthony was working at the most mathematical end of theoretical physics, exploring better mathematical methods to interpret the problem of scale. I’d brought two very simplistic points from my research to the table: digital good and screens bad. Xiaotong was working on a gap analysis of Chinese students expectations of, and the reality of, UK higher education.

But then we had the idea of helping Xiaotong collect data for her project. We talked about the career-planning impacts that might motivate Chinese students to seek UK HE. Just for the purposes of the twenty minutes he had to discuss it, we came up with four examples – Reputation and prestige, experiencing Culture, Global Employability and Money. Then we talked about creating a mini exhibition on careers that had those four motives built into the space in four distinct locations. Rather than (or maybe actually as well as) asking students about their motivations, the exhibition would track their movement around the space, using Anthony’s machine learning algorithms to see which of the four motives they were most interested in, based upon the time they spend lingering in that area of the exhibition.

Admittedly, I feel Anthony was hard-done-by in this proposal. There wasn’t much actual cosmic physics here – he’d sacrificed his research aims, in order to contribute his mathematical expertise. And lets face it the maths wouldn’t even be very hard, not as challenging and exciting as the maths problems he’s already working on. So I think with more time we might have found something for satisfying for him, but the other three of us were pretty pleased that with just twenty minutes discussion, we’d come up with something that might contribute to our own research in different ways.

The intention wasn’t it bring this particular brainstorm to life, just to get us all thinking collaboratively. Though afterwards, Xiaotong indicated she might like to explore it further. So, I wonder if any of these ten reasons to the collaborate that the organisers cribbed from The Collaborative Researcher resource developed by Vitae would be enough to persuade Anthony to join us?


  1. It’s fun! Collaboration gives you opportunities to work with interesting people, on research that delivers a clear benefit, on topic that really engage your enthusiasm and interest.
  2. 2. Funding Most major funding providers are keen to promote collaborative research as a means to answer bigger questions. The skills and knowledge you gain will strengthen your position to apply for future funding.
  3. Improve your research vision Developing close ties with other researchers also gives you a community with whom to discuss you current and future plans. Their feedback and suggestions will help you to enhance or redefine your vision
  4. Boost your CV A group of researchers should produce more results than an individual! With a team of people writing on various aspects on interconnected work, there is a greater chance of adding to your publication list.
  5. Connect with many people Collaborations are a good way to work with many people at once – in a few years you could work with more researchers than you would during an entire career pursuing solo projects.
  6. 6. Improve your judgment Working with new people can be risky, so you’ll need to develop your own strategies for being sure you can trust your co-workers. Once you learn how to spot evidence of integrity and trustworthiness, you’ll be well positioned to find future partners.
  7. Publish more widely Each researcher in a collaboration will want to reach their own audiences, broadening your reach if you are publishing with them. Multi-disciplinary projects are also more likely to publish in high-impact, wide readership journals.
  8. 8. Improve communication and project management skills If you are involved in helping to write a project plan and communication strategy to manage the different partners, you’ll have marketable skills for the future.
  9. 9. Learn to manage and minimise risk By having a Plan B ready and a process for monitoring progress, you are increasing the likelihood of a successful project and will learn how to establish future research in the most effective way.
  10. Develop a niche As a specialist on a project you have a chance to showcase your expertise and develop your reputation in a particular field.