Five Ways to Make Your Library More Accessible

This article was originally published in the ALIA Journal – Incite, July/August, 2018.

I am a student librarian and a parent of five children, three of whom have a disability – although their disabilities are not immediately visible. Earlier this year I took my children to the library where my son was loud and active. I did my best to redirect his energy and encouraged him to sit quietly. However, the librarian at the desk – rather than approach me or allow me to supervise my child – stepped in to reprimand my son directly.

To me, this communicated that my parenting wasn’t adequate. To my son, it communicated that the library was not a welcoming space where he is able to be himself. For both of us, it made for an unpleasant experience in the library.

Unlike many other places, libraries are supposed to be accessible spaces. They are meant to be places of safety where people can learn and be themselves. However, all too often this does not hold true for my family. Library staff need to better understand that not all disabilities are visible and not all users can be treated in the same manner. Librarians need to be patient with patrons, especially those that may not fit their ideals.

To ensure that you, as a professional, are able to be welcoming to patrons of all abilities, I recommend the following.

Examine your own bias. Do you have a certain image on what an ideal patron should look like? Do you have assumptions about what disability looks like?  Before you can address your biases you need to acknowledge them.  Then you can educate yourself.

Remember that not all disabilities are visible. Some disabilities are immediately obvious – a wheelchair, a white cane or leg splints are immediately visible.  A lot of disabilities are not visible.

Accept that noise and disruption are part of the job. You may prefer the library to be silent, and so may patrons, but unless a noisy disruption is occurring in a dedicated quiet study area, you should not intervene. 

Do not intervene if the child is being attended to. An unsupervised child in the library is another issue altogether, but if a parent or carer is addressing the child’s behaviour there is no need for you to intervene unless there is a significant risk of imminent danger.  If in doubt, ask the carer if they need assistance. 

Consult with the community. I have toyed with the idea of requesting a regular accessible time-slot at our local library, like the local cinema does.  Personally I have come to the conclusion that the cinema environment needed modification to be inclusive, but the library environment does not.  However, the families in your local community may disagree.  Contact local organisations to see if a dedicated accessible time-slot is desirable.

Provide staff with training. If you are in a position of authority in your organisation, consider providing staff with training.  Knowing what to expect and having confidence to deal with difficult situations may bring about a change in attitude. 

Together we can ensure that the library is seen as a safe and welcoming space for all. A person with a disability, or in fact any person, who is welcomed into the library and made to feel comfortable is more likely to return.

The Story of a Boy and his Lion

This is not a sad tale nor a cautionary one (unlike a book we borrowed from the library recently based on this poem). This story is of my little boy and his favourite soft toy.

Once a upon a time, in a place not so very far from here (in fact, about three blocks from where we live) a little boy was born (actually, he wasn’t really that little at all).  He was given the name Josiah, after the child-king in the Bible.

Josiah was not alone in this world, for he had a brother and two sisters to keep him company.  He was also surrounded by uncles, aunts, grandparents, godparents and many family friends.

Josiah had a Grandpa, who loved him very much (I’m sure no more or no less than any of his other grandparents, but the fact is that Josiah was loved, and the object in question was a gift from his Grandpa). Grandpa gave Josiah a small gift when he was born – a toy lion.  There was nothing particularly special about this lion (in fact I think it was bought on clearance at the local grocery shop) except that it was given with love.

baby-josiah-lion

I took this photo on my old (and very outdated, even at the time) phone, so the quality is as good as it gets, I’m afraid.  However, this picture is special because it is the first picture we have of Josiah and his lion.

Photo0035

Josiah grew, and, at first, he didn’t seem to have a preference for this toy or the other, but around his first birthday he was showing a bit of a preference for his lion.  We had a bit of a preference for it, too, as it matched nicely with the quilt his Aunty Rachael had made for him.  It also matched nicely with his middle name, Ryan (which means little king).

josiah-lion-quilt

His Aunty Rachael (who is exceedingly clever, creative and has always been generous for as long as I’ve known her – and considering she’s my little sister, I can say that’s a fair while) also made him this beautiful birthday cake for his first birthday, to go with that theme.

The cake-topper lion has survived this last year, although only just. This is due to a dreadful mauling incident involving a little girl who shall remain nameless.  Unfortunately for the lion (or fortunately, as you would normally consider mauling incidents between little girls and big cats) the lion was the worse for the incident.
josiah-cake-lion It seems that little girls find sugar-lions just as tasty as real lions would find little girls.  His head now floats above his body and will only face sideways or backwards, not forwards.  His mane is lacking the same thickness and lustre it once did, probably from the stress of losing his tail and hind leg.

However, this is a tale about a BOY and his LION not about a boy and his sister who has a thing for eating lions.

So, Josiah had developed a preference for his lion.  He would take it to bed most nights (although he was content enough to take another toy when his lion could not be found, or take no toy at all if needed).  He liked to carry it around the house.  He would sometimes take it in the car, but we always left it safely in the car so as not to lose it (although he may have made a trip or two to Granny’s house).
lion-1

The lion had come out of the house with us on a few special occasions though.  Josiah’s lion had come to the hospital with us when Josiah was suddenly hospitalised for two nights.  He also had ventured out on holidays with us (which had also involved a hospital trip).  This lion had become SPECIAL.

Then, disaster struck.  Well, it wasn’t a disaster at first.  It was just that one day we couldn’t find his lion at bedtime.  No biggie, just give him another toy.  But then we couldn’t find him the next night, or the next, or the next.  He didn’t seem to be fretting about it, but we were a little sad and also completely miffed as to where this lion, who rarely left the house (being a bit of a homebody), could possibly be.

lion-book-week

We looked in every room, in the soft toy basket, under beds, in drawers… and he was nowhere to be found.  We were feeling a bit sad, but what could we do?  Thankfully Josiah (with his very limited verbal skills… but that’s a post for another day) wasn’t expressing any signs of missing his friend, but we still wanted to find it for him.

Then, one Sunday,  we were having a quiet Resting Day at home together after church.  lion-2The big children and Mark were playing up at the table with Lego and I was playing with the little two on the floor with the duplo.  I pulled the big box of duplo out from the just-above-floor-height cupboard shelf it was on.  A minute or so later, Josiah started pointing and making noise.  The “Uh-uh” I want it type noise.  I looked…  and there was his lion, stuffed in the back of the shelf, behind where the duplo box had been.

I quickly rescued the somewhat squished lion from the back of the cupboard and handed him to Josiah, who hugged him tightly.  I think I was as equally pleased and relieved to have him found.

Nowadays, Josiah likes to sleep with his lion every night, and reaches around in his cot for him if he can’t see it when he first gets in the cot.  He will accept another toy if needed, but he does prefer his lion.  He often wants to bring it when he gets up in the morning, although we have an objection to Josiah sharing his breakfast with his lion (but not lunch, apparently, as you can see in the photo).

lion-3

His lion has been dunked in the bath and had his feet dipped into a bucket of water.  He has had vegemite smears on his face and been given a liberal coating of yoghurt.  He has been cuddled, bitten, thrown, sat on and used as a pillow.

lion-4

Josiah’s lion often gets cuddled then laid down on a cushion, after which we are all told to “shh” because it is asleep.  Despite being Josiah’s favourite toy, he is generous with sharing cuddles with others.

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Recently, as we browsed an op shop, we spotted another identical lion and figured it was good to have as a back up.  50c changed hands and he was ours.  Josiah knows he has two lions – he’s more than happy to cuddle both – and doesn’t show partiality for one or the other (or maybe he does, since it’s most often his original one that I can’t find because he’s left it somewhere).

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So here ends the happy tale of a boy and his lion.

lion-close-up

Happy Second Birthday Josiah!  We wish you a hundred or more birthdays ahead, but more importantly that you will grow to love and serve the Lord.

This post was originally written almost eight years ago, for Josiah’s second birthday. I reposted it six and a half years ago, on what would have been my Dad’s 58th birthday (My Dad was Josiah’s Grandpa who bought him this lion and he died nearly seven years ago). I am reposting it now because I love this post and the story and we still have the lion! He’s looking a little worse for wear but Josiah still loves him.

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NLS9 Event Wrap Up

NLS9 was held in Adelaide on the 5th-7th of July, with tours held on the 5th and the conference proper on 6th and 7th July.

I’ve thought long and hard about what I wanted to say about this conference, and at the prompting of Sally Turbitt I’ve decided to share my thoughts.

The upshot is, I didn’t enjoy this conference.  There were some factors that were well within the organisers’ control however there was a lot that wasn’t and was simply about me.  From “what could be improved” I found that the breakout space wasn’t really kept for downtime as advertised (it was multipurpose, used for meal breaks, meetings and chill out time) and I also thought that the keynotes had zero promotion about them, and they didn’t even have titles/topics in the programs, so I couldn’t make an educated decision about whether I should go to the keynote or skip it and get some rest.  On a personal note, I was worn out going into the conference, and ended up with a migraine on Sunday morning as a result.  I’m starting to think that conferences just aren’t my jam – there is so much information to absorb in a short space of time, and so many people.  As an introvert and a neurodiverse person (ADHD including sensory processing issues) conferences are really, really hard.

I was disappointed by the keynotes, as some seemed to be a bit too niche interest for me and some rehashed ideas I’d heard before (however, I must also note that not everyone – ie most people at NLS9 – did not have the privilege of attending ALIA Information Online 2019 and hearing the amazing keynotes there).  As I said earlier, I couldn’t make an informed decision about whether or not to attend because there was no information given about them leading up to the event.  I was also disappointed in the one teacher-librarian lightning talk – the speaker has no experience as a teacher librarian and just presented the sort of stuff we write in assignments and blog posts, not anything inspiring.

On the plus side, I really enjoyed Alissa McCulloch‘s talk “We Need To Talk About Cataloguing“.  Absolute highlight of the conference proper.

What I enjoyed about the NLS9 experience was:

  • Exploring Adelaide a little myself and discovering the Central Markets and Chinatown, especially discovering a pirate-costume-wearing didgeridoo player playing along to Shaggy’s Boombastic
  • Hiring an electric scooter and riding to the State Library for the conference dinner.

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  • Catching up with friends including Alissa, Sally, and Mel.

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  • Being in a new city I’d never been to before.
  • Contributing to the NLS9 zine.
    Screen Shot 2019-08-19 at 3.05.27 pm
    None of that was really about the conference.

    While there were things the organisers could have done to improve the conference experience, please don’t take this post as saying the conference was awful.  It wasn’t. It was pretty groundbreaking for Australia with a strong sustainability focus and the organisers worked really hard.  It’s just I think… maybe conferences aren’t for me.

A History of Education In Australia

Many years ago I researched and wrote an article for Education Choices Magazine called A History of Education in Australia.  If I were to write such an article now, it would be different.  I probably wouldn’t use the term “Australian Aboriginals” and I would now have a better understanding that Aboriginal people are not one homogenous group, but that they were made up of many hundreds of different nations.  But, being written in 2006, it is what it is.  It also wasn’t written for a peer reviewed journal or university assignment so it isn’t referenced in the way I would do it now.

To cite this article (in APA format):

Parnell, L. (2006) A history of education in Australia. Education Choices. (6) (pages unknown).

Unfortunately I can’t find my own hard copy of the printed issue to reference the page numbers.

Continue reading “A History of Education In Australia”

INF541: Assessment 4: Reflection

Reflection (660 Words)

Learning through play is not a new concept to me; studying Piaget and Vygotsky in my undergraduate Early Childhood Education degree is what sold learning through play to me, at least for children birth to eight years.  What this course has opened up to me more than ever is the benefits of learning through play – firstly in digital environments (not really part of my studies twenty years ago) and secondly for older students and adult learners.  Additionally, computers and digital gaming consoles are not new to me.  As I wrote on the forum, I grew up in a house with a computer from about the age of three in the early 80s, and live with a web-developer, so I am well acquainted with digital technologies (Parnell, 2019a).

Game Based Learning is theoretically appropriate for all ages, although the method really sings when used for older learners who benefit from the challenging tasks and world building offered, in a way that is difficult (or impossible) and expensive to reproduce as a hands on task.  Medical students can practice surgical procedures in a risk-free virtual environment, forklift drivers can practice safety procedures where no property can get damaged and, as I explored in Assessment Two, students can play with the orbit and tilt of a planet to examine the effects, without risking the lives and safety of billions of people.

Digital Game Based Learning (DGBL) is a proven way to increase student engagement (Woo, 2014; Pereira de Aguiar, Winn, Cezarotto, Battaiola, & Varella Gomes, 2018), improves problem-solving skills (Tsekleves, Cosmas, & Aggoun, 2016), aids in memory retention and retrieval (Jean, 2019) and encourages students to pursue further study in subjects that incorporate it (Dobrescu, Holden, Motta & Wong, 2019).  Recent studies suggest that group or team DGBL increases students ability to achieve a flow state (Chan, Leung, & Kung 2019) and improves students’ teamwork and communication skills (Boikou, 2019).

However, the creation of DGBL environments is time consuming for teachers (Dondlinger & McLeod, 2015) and generally cost-prohibitive to purchase, unless the environment is going to be used across an entire school or school system.  Some examples of successful implementation of DGBL include World of Warcraft (Fletcher, Emadi-Coffin, & Hetherington, 2016) and Minecraft Education Edition (Stuckey, 2018) however these out of the box, commercial applications still require teacher expertise to successfully create meaningful learning experiences within the DGBL environment. Depending on the teacher’s own level of digital literacy, which isn’t always proficient (Urbani, Roshandel, Michaels & Truesdell, 2017), the time investment required to implement DGBL may be too great.  Even teachers who have been part of fully funded projects to bring digital media into the classroom failed to continue its implementation once the project was over, citing a lack of both time and money to continue the implementation of this type of learning (Share, 2009).

The single most important issue that has me sold on game based learning is the “safety” aspect (Parnell, 2019b).  In a game, unlike in an exam, failure is fine, and most definitely expected (McGonigal, 2012). In fact “games are all about exploration in a safe space” (Extra Credits, 2016, timestamp 6:30).  Karl Kapp, a renowned author and speaker on GBL, says a student’s ability to explore and experiment in a safe environment with no penalties for mistakes is really important for learning (Learning News, 2019). We know from Maslow’s (1943) Hierarchy of Needs that students aren’t ready to learn if their safety needs aren’t met.  In addition, if students are in a classroom situation where they feel especially safe, they are more able to learn.  If students feel they are in a safe place where failure is not only possible but an expected part of the learning experience, they will flourish and take learning risks they never would have been willing to take before.

I hope to take what I have learned about GBL into my casual teaching and any library or teaching positions I hold in the future.

References

Boikou, Α.G. (2019). Game based learning’s impact in learning achievement: a systematic review. Retrieved from https://dspace.lib.uom.gr/bitstream/2159/22815/4/BoikouAndromachiMsc2019.pdf

Chan, C. K., Leung, H. M., & Kung, M. W. (2019). Understanding the Effect of Gamification of Learning Using Flow Theory. In Shaping the Future of Education, Communication and Technology (pp. 3-14). Springer, Singapore.

Dobrescu, L., Holden, R., Motta, A., & Wong, C. (2019). Fun in education. SSRN 2772371. Retrieved from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2772371

Extra Credits (2016, Dec 7) Because games matter – A better vision – Extra credits. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6xz58O4xq8&list=PLhyKYa0YJ_5AgQCI0R7DY0BDrRLmRjkpw

Fletcher, B., Emadi-Coffin, B., & Hetherington, J. (2016). Massive Multiplayer Online Games Communities: Lessons for Diversity in School Classrooms.

Jean, P. H. (2019). Brain-based and learning theories: Application of theories in the classroom. European Journal of Education Studies. 5(12). Retrieved from https://oapub.org/edu/index.php/ejes/index

Learning News (2019, April) Stop thinking like an instructional designer – start thinking like a game designer’ – Karl Kapp, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, explains how learning can benefit from the techniques used in game design in an in-depth interview with Learning News at LT19uk. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6522506428660408320/

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological review, 50(4), 370.

McGonigal, J. (2012). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. Vintage: London.

Parnell, E. (2019a) https://interact2.csu.edu.au/webapps/discussionboard/do/message?action=list_messages&course_id=_39861_1&conf_id=_76364_1&forum_id=_151971_1&message_id=_2140623_1&nav=discussion_board_entry

Parnell, E. (2019b) Module 3.2 Games are all about…  Retrieved from https://interact2.csu.edu.au/webapps/discussionboard/do/message?action=list_messages&course_id=_39861_1&conf_id=_76364_1&forum_id=_151976_1&message_id=_2195414_1&nav=discussion_board_entry

Pereira de Aguiar M., Winn B., Cezarotto M., Battaiola A.L., Varella Gomes P. (2018) Educational Digital Games: A Theoretical Framework About Design Models, Learning Theories and User Experience. In: Marcus A., Wang W. (eds) Design, User Experience, and Usability: Theory and Practice. DUXU 2018. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 10918. Springer, Cham

Share, J. (2009) Voices from the trenches: Elementary school teachers speak about implementing media literacy. In Tyner, K. (Ed.). (2009). Media literacy : New agendas in communication. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Stuckey, B. (2018) Minecraft: Education Edition. Pathways across the Australian curriculum. [pdf file] Retrieved from https://education.minecraft.net/wp-content/uploads/Australian-Minecraft-Curriculum-.pdf

Tsekleves, E., Cosmas, J., & Aggoun, A. (2016). Benefits, barriers and guideline recommendations for the implementation of serious games in education for stakeholders and policymakers. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(1), 164-183.

Urbani, J. M., Roshandel, S., Michaels, R., & Truesdell, E. (2017). Developing and Modeling 21st-Century Skills with Preservice Teachers. Teacher Education Quarterly, 44(4), 27+. Retrieved from http:// link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/apps/doc/A511004847/EAIM? u=csu_au&sid=EAIM&xid=80b0979a

Woo, J. C. (2014). Digital game-based learning supports student motivation, cognitive success, and performance outcomes. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 17(3), 291-307.

Week Twelve Wrap Up and the Coming Weeks

Week Twelve Wrap Up

  • Get first draft of Part A for ETL505 complete
  • Proofread entire ETL505 assignment ✔︎ and get someone else to proofread
  • Submit ETL505 assignment✔︎
  • Finish first draft of INF541 Rationale ✔︎
  • Finish first draft of INF541 Reflection ✔︎
  • Complete the last small section of my escape room ✔︎
  • Submit INF541 assignment (this isn’t due until the following Friday so I do have a little wiggle room if needed)
  • Re-read expectations for Study Visits, and the ETL507 assessments, especially the post-study-visit one ✔︎
  • Ideally I would like to write a blog post about the classification of a book I borrowed from my local library, but this is not a priority this week
  • I ideally don’t want to work more than two days next week, although I will make an exception if the third day is a library day and my uni work/assignments are on track – ✔︎ basically I got sick and lost my voice so that ruled out the possibility of work for most of the week.

I was also able to get a few people who weren’t family members to play-test my escape room this week.

Week Thirteen

For me, week thirteen is study visits Tues to Fri.  I’m visiting the State Library NSW, Customs House Library, Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Library, Law Courts Library of NSW, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital – Susman Library, University of NSW Library and Sydney Institute of TAFE, Ultimo College Library.

On the Wednesday evening I’ll be at the CSU/ALIA social.  CSU Social Wed 29th 5pm Hotel Sweeneys

Week Thirteen (Study Visits) Goals

  • Each afternoon/evening after my visits I want to take some notes while they are still fresh in my mind, because I need to write a 1200 essay and a 300 word reflection on my visits, and the week after visits I’m on prac so I need to get this down ASAP.
  • Have lunch with fellow student, Jodie Webber.
  • Attend the CSU/ALIA social I helped organise.
  • Have both INF541 and ETL505 assignments submitted on the Monday, if not before.
  • Meet with Soraya, one of my team members from the ALIA National 2020 Committee
  • Research on my chosen study visit essay topic

Week Fourteen, Fifteen and Sixteen (Prac Placement) Goals

  • I want to work a variety of shifts, including at least one weekend and one evening shift.
  • I want to make a good impression (I want to work there!)
  • I want to learn everything I can
  • I want to bring my expertise as a teacher to the library

Session Break Goals

  • Prepare for chairing a session at NLS9
  • Attend NLS9
  • Do some more casual teaching and maybe even some more school library shifts
  • Read! Read! Read! I’m nearly finished the books I got for my birthday in March (only a few chapters left) but I have another two new books on my shelf since and two books from the library, so I’d really like to get some reading done.
  • Go on a long walk (bushwalk?) or three
  • Get a head start on my final subject – ETL504
  • Get started on my reflective portfolio

 

 

The Year Of Living Danishly – A Dewey Discussion

Recently, I borrowed the book The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell.  It is an autobiography of sorts; the author – a journalist – finds herself living in Denmark for a year, and sets out to find out what makes Danes the happiest people in the world.  It’s definitely memoir, lifestyle, social experiment.

And yet I found it alongside travel guides for Denmark.
Cover of book

Why? How is this possible?

Well, it turns out that most libraries classify it as

900 – History and Geography

940 – History of Europe

948 – Scandinavia and Finland

948.9 Denmark and Finland. Trove stops here – 948.9

and then I lose the thread to get to 948.950612. One NSW library uses this specific Dewey number for their electronic copy of the book.

I don’t see this is a history book.  It’s definitely about culture.

But this is not where my library classifies it.

My library classifies it as

900 – History and geography

910 – Geography and travel

914.89 – Using table 2 for 4- Europe 48 – Scandinavia – 489 Denmark and Finland

Which means it sits with the travel guides (Lonely Planet Denmark is 914.8904).

To me, another option (less popular but used enough to warrant a mention on Classify) makes more sense.

300 – Social Sciences

306 – Culture and Institutions

306.09 – Social history

306.09489 – From table 2, 4 for Europe, 48 for Scandinavia, 489 for Denmark and Finland

That at least places it in with social customs, rather than travel guides.

The back of the book has a small topic guide – Society/Travel. But it’s primarily society, not travel and definitely not history.

Dewey Number and Book Number

Mystery #2. My local library uses the title (well the first three letters of the title) as the book number, instead of the author like SCIS does.  Is this common?  I checked two other libraries I’m a member of that Trove listed as having a copy, and they both use “RUSS” for the book number.

Week Eleven Wrap Up, Week Twelve Goals

Week Eleven Goals were:

  • No work at least Mon-Tues-Wed – ✔︎ I succeeded even though it meant turning down work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  I worked Thursday and Friday, though.
  • Get five hours of work done on my escape room – ✔︎ Done.  I worked really hard on this game this week.  It’s not quite complete but is fully functional and is being play-tested but family and close friends.
  • Get either Part A or Part B of ETL505 Assignment first draft complete – ✔︎ I’ve completed Part B draft, which means that next week I need to tackle Part A, proof read and edit it all and then it’s ready to submit Monday-week.
  • Begin work on the other part of my INF541 assignment – rationale for my game and a reflection – ✔︎ These are both done or close to done but very much in draft form.
  • Work on the readings of Module 6 of INF541 – ✔︎ I’ve explored some more of these although I will confess that I have spent more time on the game than on the readings.
  • Work on the readings of Module 6 of ETL505 – ✔︎ I’ve completed the readings for this subject.
  • Edit genrefication essay – ✔︎ This is done, and it’s just waiting on a final proofread.

 

Four of my five children and one of my nieces watch the ducks.
Four of my five children and one of my nieces watch the ducks.

Week Twelve Goals

Week Thirteen (for me) is four days of study visits in the city and Week Fourteen is my prac placement.  Plus my two assignments are due in week Thirteen (Monday and Friday) so this is the week it all has to get finished.

  • Get first draft of Part A for ETL505 complete
  • Proofread entire ETL505 assignment and get someone else to proofread
  • Submit ETL505 assignment
  • Finish first draft of INF541 Rationale
  • Finish first draft of INF541 Reflection
  • Complete the last small section of my escape room
  • Submit INF541 assignment (this isn’t due until the following Friday so I do have a little wiggle room if needed)
  • Re-read expectations for Study Visits, and the ETL507 assessments, especially the post-study-visit one
  • Ideally I would like to write a blog post about the classification of a book I borrowed from my local library, but this is not a priority this week
  • I ideally don’t want to work more than two days next week, although I will make an exception if the third day is a library day and my uni work/assignments are on track

Planet Mechanic – Game Evaluation

Game Evaluation Report

Introduction

Games have gradually moved into classrooms of all levels over the past few decades and are gaining acceptance in situations as vastly different as early childhood settings, universities and workplace learning environments.  This article will explain why games belong in the classroom and evaluate a serious game, Planet Mechanic, as evidence of this value.

Before discussing the benefits of games in education, and evaluating their worth, the concept of what a game is must first be defined.  McGonigal (2012) defines a game according to four key traits; a goal, rules, a feedback system and voluntary participation. This definition is useful, and can be applied to nearly all games, as diverse as billiards and bridge.  Serious games, otherwise known as games for learning or educational games, are games that have been designed with a specific audience and specific learning outcomes in mind (Rodríguez-Aflecht, Hannula-Sormunen, McMullen, Jaakkola, & Lehtinen, 2017).  

Voluntary participation is a difficult concept in educational settings, however recent research shows that the voluntary participation aspect has little impact on learning (Rodríguez-Aflecht, et al., 2017).  Therefore, for the purposes of this evaluation, the voluntary participation aspect of games will be eliminated, which leaves the operational definition of a game, for this paper, to be an activity that contains a goal, rules and a feedback system.  

Game Based Learning

Raph Koster (2013) says that all games require learning and, in fact, the fun is in the learning and therefore games being brought into the educational environment should not be surprising.  Koster says that players play the game to learn how to play the game better, and when the learning stops, the enjoyment stops. In fact, research has shown that playing a game and failing is actually just as enjoyable as winning the game, possibly even more so (McGonigal, 2012).  

Game Based Learning (GBL) should not supplant traditional teaching methods, but rather support them as a valuable way to teach and reinforce learning (Koster, 2013) and GBL has many benefits for students.  GBL improves knowledge acquisition for students (Perrotta, Featherstone, Aston, & Houghton, 2013),  improves problem-solving skills in both global and topic-specific senses (Tsekleves, Cosmas, & Aggoun, 2016) and aids in memory retention and retrieval (Jean, 2019). Some studies have shown that GBL increases learner motivation (Woo, 2014; Pereira de Aguiar, Winn, Cezarotto, Battaiola, & Varella Gomes, 2018), although this claim has been disputed (Rodríguez-Aflecht, et al., 2017). Students playing games based on subject content are able to see the concepts with fresh eyes (Johnson, Adams, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman, & Ludgate, 2012).  Additionally, GBL that requires students to work in teams fosters the Twenty-First Century skills of teamwork and communication (Boikou, 2019).  Game Based Learning is undoubtedly beneficial for students.

Serious Game Design Assessment Framework

The Serious Game Design Assessment Framework (SGDA Framework) was developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab to fill a perceived gap in the market of evaluative methods used when assessing the worth of serious games (Mitgutsch & Alvarado, 2012).  They reviewed the few existing models of evaluation and found them lacking due to either a narrow focus on the design aspect of the game, or the absence of evaluation regarding the game’s purpose and whether it is achieved.  Subsequently the SGDA Framework was developed, which assesses a game on seven aspects: purpose, content, fiction and narrative, mechanics, aesthetics and graphics, framing and the game system.  

Game Evaluation

Planet Mechanic

Planet Mechanic (Filament Games, 2015) is an educational game designed to teach students in middle school about earth and space sciences.  It contains fifteen levels of increasing difficulty, and takes about 30 mins to play, with the potential to extend, as the final level is free play.  It is available on iOS and Android tablets as a standalone game and is available on iOS and Android tablets and web browsers in the education edition (Filament Games, n.d.) and therefore should be accessible to all schools, although the $2.99USD per student fee may put this app out of budgetary reach for some schools. These factors are important as technological requirements and finances are significant obstacles to teachers implementing game based learning (Katmada, Mavridis, & Tsiatsos, 2013).

For this evaluation, the standalone edition for iOS was tested on an iPad running iOS 12.1.1. 

Purpose

Planet Mechanic is a goal oriented game (Hickey, North & Nagy, 2019) that aims to teach students about earth and space sciences, specifically how a planet’s lunar cycles, atmosphere, revolutions, tilt and rotation impact temperature, time and seasons (Filament Learning, 2015).  It aligns with the Australian Curriculum Year Seven Science program in the area of Earth and Space Sciences and Science Inquiry Skills (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2018).  The gameplay involves the student as the planet mechanic with a control panel to adjust the settings of the planet on the screen, with a non-playing character (NPC) of an alien who makes requests on adjustments required to the planet in question.  Clear learning outcomes, like the ones Planet Mechanic targets, are an important factor in ensuring the game meets its learning objectives (Doney, 2019), and a logical integration of the content into the gameplay makes the GBL meaningful (Perrotta, Featherstone, Aston, & Houghton, 2013). 

The first level involves a planet with no moon, and the alien requesting that the planet be given tides so that a chocolate-bearing shipwreck may be retrieved. The solution is to give the planet a moon, reinforcing the learning that the moon controls the earths tides.  Subsequent levels involve making the year shorter so that birthdays will happen more frequently, or creating a planet with specific climactic conditions.

Content and Information

The content and information aspect involves all in-game text, and data that appears on the screen (Mitgutsch & Alvarado, 2012). Planet Mechanic provides data on the alien’s latest requirements, and includes a heads up display (HUD) with the current settings of the planet and the impact those settings has on the climate (in displays for temperature, seasons, the length of days and years and so on, labelled “planetary details”). In addition, it provides factual information throughout the course of the game as to the “settings” that would apply to Earth.  (Pereira de Aguiar, Winn, Cezarotto, Battaiola, & Varella Gomes, 2018). 

The information on screen is easy to understand, factual and relevant to the task at hand, while providing information ‘just in time’, which helps students to understand and apply the new information well (Gee, 2005).  It also provides a voice over (which can be switched off) that would enable students with poorer literacy to still participate in this GBL experience.  The information could be improved, however, by including factual information about other planets in our solar system, and how their “settings” impact their climate.  That said, it teaches everything it can before the player has a chance to be bored and stop playing and so is a good game, as defined by Koster (2013). 

Game Mechanics

 

Game mechanics are the actions a player takes to have an impact on the game environment and, as such, are described using verbs (Sicart, 2008).  It can also refer to the challenges faced, and the win state of the game (Pereira de Aguiar, Winn, Cezarotto, Battaiola, & Varella Gomes, 2018).

The game mechanics in Planet Mechanic are simple, most actions are completed by making adjustments to planet settings, via either a slider or an on-off switch and then submitting your planet for assessment.  The other action taken is positioning the moon in the correct place to cause an eclipse. 

The complexity of the game comes from the sometimes unexpected impact the changing settings have on the “planetary details”, enabling students to understand how these factors interact.  

Fiction and Narrative

 

The story in Planet Mechanic is a short and simple linear narrative (Pereira de Aguiar, et al., 2018), but engaging enough to give the tasks meaning.  A fantasy setting, such as Planet Mechanic’s space theme, can create deeper learning engagement and player immersion in the game experience (Doney, 2019).  While the narrative is relatively shallow, it is sufficient for this game that could be completed in one or two lessons, as a more engaging narrative would take more time to develop.  A longer game may then consume too much classroom time, and may not be seen as a suitable investment of time for teaching to a relatively small number of science outcomes.

Aesthetics and Graphics

Planet Mechanic has two dimensional cartoon-like graphics, with a simple graphical representation of a planet orbiting a sun, surrounded by sliders and the “planetary details” HUD. The cartoon-like images allow students to more easily put themselves in the shoes of the Planet Mechanic and suspend disbelief, something that would be hindered with more realistic graphics (McCloud, 1994).  The simpler images also allow students to focus on the content and learning as complex animations can increase cognitive load (Woo, 2014). The music, an ambient track that evokes a sense of vast empty spaces, complements the theme of the game without being distracting

(Pereira de Aguiar, Winn, Cezarotto, Battaiola, & Varella Gomes, 2018).

Framing

Framing refers to the way that the game has been designed for a particular target group, in this case students in year 7, and whether the game and the play literacy required, are suitable for this type of student (Mitgutsch & Alvarado, 2012).  The game is well designed for 11-13 year olds (although early levels could be played by younger players) and the learning curve for learning to play is minimal, as students do not require any prior experience with video games to quickly learn this game.

The framing aspect also includes whether the game is responsive to the players by increasing the difficulty as the game progresses, as this progression in difficulty enhances learner engagement (Djelil, et al. 2014). The game begins with the aforementioned tide challenge (see the section on Purpose), which can be completed in under a minute, but gets progressively more difficult over the fourteen key game levels. 

 

In the instance of an incorrect response the game replies “this planet is broken” and the player is prompted to try again.  This repeated predictable fail outcome does not meet the criteria for a good learning game, which requires a variable feedback system and a cost for failure (Koster, 2013).  Fail states that are relevant but less predictable and boring enhance enjoyment of the game and encourage players to persevere even when they are struggling (McGonigal, 2012).

Each of these incorrect responses is counted and is viewable to the teacher (in the education edition) (Filament Learning, n.d.), and by the player themselves at the end of the game, but does not have an impact on gameplay.  Failure to complete a level does not preclude a student from completing subsequent levels, although a player must return to the home screen to select a different level if they are not progressing through the levels sequentially.  

After completion of each level, there is a multiple choice question generally relating to the changes made in that level to ascertain that the student understands what changes were necessary and why, rather than simply clicking everything until something worked.  This second possible fail state encourages students to grasp the underlying knowledge rather than simply guess, and their results of these challenge questions are recorded. 

Due to the format requiring a single correct answer, this game does not easily lend itself to replayability, although the free play level included at the end of the game allows room for experimentation and perhaps teacher- or student-set challenges for the class.

One way the framing in Planet Mechanic could be improved is by allowing teachers to customise the game for the benefit of their specific cohort of students, to better suit their prior learning and needs (Ak, 2012). Adding further advanced levels, including those with multiple solutions, would improve the learning benefits by helping students to feel like they have agency and their choices make a difference to the gameplay (Gee, 2005).  

Coherence and cohesiveness

This aspect the evaluation examines how well the previous elements of the game work together to achieve the purpose of the game (Mitgutsch & Alvarado, 2012).  Planet Mechanic is fairly simple in gameplay but it effectively demonstrates the principle of the Goldilocks Zone (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, n.d.) by allowing students to make adjustments to the planet that ultimately affect its liveability. The game is developed from a constructivism learning theory foundation (Pereira de Aguiar, et al., 2018) which allows students to experiment in a safe space to build their own learning. It shows the interconnectedness of planetary systems which teaches students the complex notion of systems thinking, the understanding that small actions in one area can have broad implications across multiple other areas (Molderez, & Ceulemans, 2018).

Overall Evaluation

Overall, Planet Mechanic is sufficiently engaging and detailed for a game played across one to two classroom lessons.  It quickly teaches students about the climactic impact that atmosphere, tilt, rotation, revolution and lunar cycles have on planets in a way that encourages systems thinking. It also has a minimal learning curve for teacher and student alike, allowing reluctant teachers to investigate Game Based Learning on a small scale. Improvements could be made in allowing further teacher customisation and having advanced levels with more variables and multiple solutions that would help students to feel they were active agents in the game.  Additional work on the fail state of the game being less predictable (such as the planet wobbling off its axis, or the alien being upset that the snow has melted) would increase enjoyment and consequences for failing would encourage students to work hard to produce the right answer.

Conclusion

Game based learning is a valuable teaching method and should be incorporated into classrooms, bringing student benefits in not only content learning but transferrable skills such as systems thinking and team work.  Planet Mechanic represents a low-investment game that allows teachers to experiment with incorporating game based learning into their classrooms. References

Ak, O. (2012). A game scale to evaluate educational computer games. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 46, 2477-2481.

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (2018) Australian Curriculum: Science. Version 8.4. Retrieved from https://australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/science/

Boikou, Α.G. (2019). Game based learning’s impact in learning achievement: a systematic review. Retrieved from https://dspace.lib.uom.gr/bitstream/2159/22815/4/BoikouAndromachiMsc2019.pdf

Djelil, F., Sanchez, E., Albouy-Kissi, B., Lavest, J., & Albouy-Kissi, A. (2014). Towards a learning game evaluation methodology in a training context: A literature review. Reading: Academic Conferences International Limited. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/1674246431?accountid=10344

Doney, I. (2019). Research into effective gamification features to inform e-learning design. Research in Learning Technology, 27.

Gee, J. P. (2005). Learning by design: Good video games as learning machines. E-learning and Digital Media, 2(1), 5-16.

Hickey, S., North, C & Nagy, G. (2019) Games and Learner Engagement: Gamification, eLearning, and Virtual Reality. Participant Resources (AECT) [pdf file] Games and Learner Engagement webinar series, AECT Learner Engagement Division. Retrieved from https://osu.app.box.com/s/pf64cn3mmxal01tukw3fhx3g0pcxlvv7/file/430086752454

Jean, P. H. (2019). Brain-based and learning theories: Application of theories in the classroom. European Journal of Education Studies. 5(12). Retrieved from https://oapub.org/edu/index.php/ejes/index

Johnson, L., Adams, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., & Ludgate, H. (2012). The NMC horizon report: 2012 K-12. The New Media Consortium, Austin, Texas. Retrieved from https://www.nmc.org/publication/nmccosn-horizon-report-2017-k-12-edition/

Katmada, A., Mavridis, A., & Tsiatsos, T. (2013). Game based learning in mathematics: Teachers’ support by a flexible tool. Reading: Academic Conferences International Limited. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/1549957118?accountid=10344

Koster, R. (2013). Theory of fun for game design. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

McCloud, S. (1994) Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York: Harper Perennial.

McGonigal, J. (2012). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. Vintage: London.

Mitgutsch, K., & Alvarado, N. (2012, May). Purposeful by design?: a serious game design assessment framework. In Proceedings of the International Conference on the foundations of digital games (pp. 121-128). ACM.

Molderez, I., & Ceulemans, K. (2018). The power of art to foster systems thinking, one of the key competencies of education for sustainable development. Journal of Cleaner Production, 186, 758-770.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (n.d.) The Goldilocks Zone. Retrieved from https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/resources/323/goldilocks-zone/

Pereira de Aguiar M., Winn B., Cezarotto M., Battaiola A.L., Varella Gomes P. (2018) Educational Digital Games: A Theoretical Framework About Design Models, Learning Theories and User Experience. In: Marcus A., Wang W. (eds) Design, User Experience, and Usability: Theory and Practice. DUXU 2018. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 10918. Springer, Cham

Perrotta, C., Featherstone, G., Aston, H., & Houghton, E. (2013). Game-based learning: Latest evidence and future directions. Slough: NFER. Retrieved from https://www.nfer.ac.uk/nfer/publications/GAME01/GAME01.pdf

Rodríguez-Aflecht, G., Hannula-Sormunen, M., McMullen, J., Jaakkola, T., & Lehtinen, E. (2017). Voluntary vs Compulsory Playing Contexts: Motivational, Cognitive, and Game Experience Effects. Simulation & Gaming, 48(1), 36–55. https://doi.org/10.1177/1046878116673679

Sicart, M. (2008). Defining game mechanics. Game Studies, 8(2). Retrieved from http://gamestudies.org/

Tsekleves, E., Cosmas, J., & Aggoun, A. (2016). Benefits, barriers and guideline recommendations for the implementation of serious games in education for stakeholders and policymakers. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(1), 164-183.

Woo, J. C. (2014). Digital game-based learning supports student motivation, cognitive success, and performance outcomes. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 17(3), 291-307.

Week Ten Wrap up and Week Eleven Goals

I’m Week ten didn’t entirely go as planned.  I ended up working (casual teaching) both Monday and Tuesday, then Wednesday was taken up by driving five hours to and from Bathurst for the Executive Dean’s Awards, followed by a child’s medical appointment and then the meeting – I chose ETL505.  Then I was offered a day of work in a local high school library, so I took the opportunity even though it cut into uni work time. So I only had one day (instead of four) to get the work I assigned myself done.  I also had ALIA SNGG commitments to complete.

Me with my award

Week ten’s goals were

  • Complete ETL505 module 5✔︎
  • Continue working on my escape room, for at least four hours next week – I got about 90 mins completed so short of goal but I was also assuming I had four days to get uni work done.
  • Attend the Executive Dean’s awards, which will take a whole day since the ceremony is in Bathurst, a 2.5 hour drive away. ✔︎
  • Begin module 6 of INF541 – edited to add: I managed to get started on this while we had a quiet moment at work and there wasn’t any meaningful library work I could do ✅
  • Begin module 6 of ETL505 – edited to add: I managed to get started on this too 🙂 I’ve actually read all the module content for this but I need to catch up on the textbook reading ✅
  • Attend my meeting for ETL505 ✔︎
  • Participate in #auslibchat on Tuesday night ✘- I didn’t manage to participate this month as I was exhausted after teaching for two days, attending hockey training and then having to come home and wash dishes, get three teenagers to bed etc. I did contribute something to the discussion the following day, however.
  • Complete the first draft of my genrefication essay ✔︎ – it’s currently longer than it ought to be – by about 200 words – so I need to cull it down.

High school library

Week Eleven Goals are:

  • No work at least Mon-Tues-Wed
  • Get five hours of work done on my escape room
  • Get either Part A or Part B of ETL505 Assignment first draft complete
  • Begin work on the other part of my INF541 assignment – rationale for my game and a reflection
  • Work on the readings of Module 6 of INF541
  • Work on the readings of Module 6 of ETL505
  • Edit genrefication essay