Before actually writing about the second day at PELECON, I would like to reflect a bit upon Helen Keegan’s spotlight talk and which I – together with, I would guess, the rest of the participants here at PELECON, just absolutely loved. Helen Keegan described an Alternate Reality Game which she literally pulled on her students – students who were following a BSc Professional Sound and Video Technology, Advanced Multimedia module.
Now, even the phrase pull on one’s students starts triggering ethical questions… should I? Shouldn’t I? Ethics in Education seems to be a very sore point and at times I feel that many Educators and researchers hide behind the ethics cover to justify their lack of innovation in approach and their need for standardization throughout.
In fact Helen said many things which one needs to ponder on. For example 1) learning initially sparked off from a sense of paranoia (student tweets showed that some got really scared that an unknown person had actually started sending them confused information messages) – what does this mean and imply? 2) one needs to be willing to take certain amounts of risks. This is a very interesting point. I find, sadly I must say that I am surrounded by many academics who are not willing to take risks. As my colleague Alex Grech says, people just fall into the Gramscian Hegemony – many love the ‘status quo’. One does appreciate, that ‘status quo’ implies stability – the known, the experienced. But the unknown is fearsome, might be chaotic – who knows? and that is particularly the question which really really somehow needs to make its way into our learners’ brain. WHO KNOWS IF?
Anyway this who knows kind of attitude, featured particularly in Helen Keegan’s ARG game (for more info about ARGs visit this link). Students were deceived, the ARG rules do declare the need for a degree of deception, into believing that this person, the famous or infamous Rufi Franzen, had actually hacked into their lives and was disseminating bits of code and information which they had to take as clues to solve a puzzle which they had no idea what it was, or why it was done. They were just asked to “join the dots”. What they had no idea of was, that the actual module curriculum, was indeed being followed. As Helen Keegan said – “It took a lot of effort to balance the curriculum with the wild wild west”. The students were indeed doing what is normally covered in the course, albeit following it in an entirely different way. What the students didn’t realize was that rather than having their lecturer tell them that they need to watch 20 videos, (for which they wouldn’t be assessed and which in all probability none would have watched), it was the mysterious Rufi that actually told them that they had so many clues in these videos and one learner after the other, started watching these videos more closely, more attentively to try and solve the conundrum. In the end the ARG culminated in a rather theatrical display which the students loved and which I believe does make some justice to all the hard work thinking through the problems which were posed throughout the 12 week course duration.
However the learning that occurred via this ARG, as testified by the students themselves, took them to a so much deeper level that so amount of theatrical display can actually make up for it. Students were immersed in such a way that it took them ages, (for some it was really hard to stop playing the game) to realize that after all they were “conned” into learning. For many, Rufi was someone who was a “real” presence throughout the course, even though Rufi was completely imaginary! So much for behavioral change that is directly related to the perceptions in the mind. This idea of immersion, whether it is through a virtual world or an alternate reality game is an aspect of cognitive science which I am very interested in exploring – and I am already thinking of ways of how to do this with my own pre-service teachers. I wonder though – am I really willing to take the plunge and risk? Will I find partners who will support this leap in the dark? And as Helen said, “is such an approach justified for the sake of Education?” Hmmm – yes…and now to some serious thinking stuff…how shall I do it?