Category Archives: digital learning

BUILDING BLOCKS OF IMAGINATION

As an undergraduate, I was taught that ‘edutainment’ was a taboo within museums due to the reluctance of staff members wanting to engage with new-fangled digital practice, and because it was where all of the little funding was being focused. Now, however, the tables have turned and this concept has become almost wholly integrated into everyday practice for a lot of museums (whether the staff like it or not!). As such, I was initially a little sceptical about the increased focus of museum ‘gamification’ and was wary of the number of museums using Minecraft as a way of enticing children through the door. However, having read through many articles describing the successes of this foray into the virtual, playable world, I can more readily see its potential.

The only connection I’ve personally had with the game Minecraft is watching my brother play it, but recently it seems to be following me everywhere: in shops, in books, and now in museums. The more I Googled, the more museums I found jumping on this pixelated bandwagon. There have been Minecraft projects at the V&A, Norwich Castle Museum, Gallipoli Museum, the British Museum, and Tullie House Art Gallery, to name but a few.

I remember seeing a poster advertising ‘Tate Worlds’ last time I visited Tate Britain (it is free to download but only if you have the game installed already). The worlds are designed to look like paintings from the Tate collection, aiming to create an immersive and challenging game environment that ‘uniquely’ combines “art, history and adventure”. As I begrudge paying £17.95 to purchase the original game, my only window into ‘Tate Worlds’ is through watching the accompanying videos that, from a non-player perspective, didn’t really capture my interest. The paintings they’ve chosen – in my opinion at least – are lesser-known pieces from the collection. Although this gives them a chance to shine over the more popular or favourite artworks, it may not work as effectively if they are not currently on display. How would the players then be able to engage with them in real life?

Although I could not find anything specifically relating him to ‘Tate Worlds’, artist Adam Clarke was shortlisted for the 2014 IK Prize at Tate Britain for his Tate-Minecraft game ‘TateCraft’. This, in a similar vein to ‘Tate Worlds’ uses the game as a foundation for engaging players with British Art – even recreating the galleries using the pixelated blocks. Not only does it teach history, art, and architecture, but it promotes teamwork, friendships, creativity and imagination and – perhaps most closely linked with the Tate’s mission statement – having fun with learning. As Clarke said, “[i]t doesn’t seem like education but it is… It feels like an adventure in art and culture.”

The intricacies of the Minecraft world are only really known to the initiated but, as Rhiannon Looseley discussed, this can be empowering. With the Museum of London workshop, there was an obvious shift in power as the children were explaining things to the adults, helping to create a more engaging experience whilst building relationships with the museum, the collection, and their family and friends. The adults came away from the workshop having gained new knowledge.

With this move into the digital realm, why not utilise a popular game such as Minecraft to help attract new audiences? It is something that already has an established following, so it seems beneficial to use it as a means of ‘learning through doing’ – interacting with a subject on a more experiential level (using the senses as well as bringing in personal experience and emotions). It’s taking something that children are already interested – and obsessed – with and using it as a platform to create a new fun but educational experience. It is introducing them to history, art, and culture through a medium they are happy and comfortable with, helping to eliminate any ‘threshold fear’ barriers they may have about the museum environment.

The Minecraft fad won’t last forever, of course, but neither will it be the end-all museum experience for these children; it will open doors to new opportunities and introduce them to an alternative way of viewing art and history. It is an accessible pathway in to the museum, which the children may not have had otherwise.  If playing it – and, indeed, any museum based game – sparks a little bit of interest or imagination in the children, then it is a success. The inspiration, of course, can work both ways: the museums might want to use this as a learning opportunity for themselves, finding similarly creative ways of encouraging and engaging children.

As a final closing thought, the V&A held a very interesting Minecraft event that saw specifically-created physical objects placed within display cases across the museum. The real life and virtual worlds collided – something that becomes even more interesting if thought about in relation to the ongoing debate about how to display the digital within physical spaces…

What other popular games could be utilised by museums?

‘Tate Worlds’ requires Minecraft to already be installed. Could this be seen as an act of exclusion against those who are not able to afford to buy the game, but want to join in? 


Resources

Anstey, Tom. 24 June 2014. Revealed: How Minecraft can get more kids into museums and galleries [http://am2.jobs/index.cfm?pagetype=news&codeID=309986], accessed 08/12/15.

Anstey, Tom. 29 September 2014. British Museum turns to Minecraft in attempt to lure new audience [http://www.attractionsmanagement.com/detail.cfm?pagetype=detail&subject=news&codeID=311657], accessed 08/12/15.

Lefebvre, Rob. 14 August 2014. Minecraft lures kids to museums like nothing else [http://www.cultofmac.com/291089/minecraft-brings-kids-museum-like-nothing-else/], accessed 08/12/15.

Lufkin, Bryan. Date unknown. How To Keep Museums Alive In The Age Of Minecraft [http://www.fastcolabs.com/3026074/how-to-keep-museums-alive-in-the-age-of-minecraft], accessed 08/12/15.

Reynolds, Matthew. 8 September 2013. The World of ‘Minecraft’: How the V&A Museum has embraced games [http://www.digitalspy.com/gaming/news/a512151/the-world-of-minecraft-how-the-va-museum-has-embraced-games/], accessed 10/12/15.

Warr, Philippa. 30 September 2013. Games and art: Minecraft at the London Victoria & Albert museum [http://www.pcgamer.com/games-and-art-minecraft-at-the-london-victoria-albert-museum/], accessed 10/12/15.

Projects:

Gallipoli Museum project: http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/whats-on/exhibitions/gallipoli-in-minecraft [accessed 13/12/15].

British Museum: http://www.thespace.org/news/view/british-museum-minecraft [accessed 13/12/15].

Norwich Castle Museum: https://www.facebook.com/NorwichCastleMuseum/posts/1083945931645054 [accessed 13/12/15].

‘TateCraft’ project: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/ik-prize-2014-shortlist-tatecraft [accessed 13/13/15].

Tate Worlds: http://www.tate.org.uk/about/projects/tate-worlds-art-reimagined-minecraft [accessed 13/12/15].

Tullie House Art Gallery: http://thecommonpeople.tv/bringing-history-to-life-with-minecraft-for-museums-at-night/ [accessed 13/12/15].

Tagged , , , , ,

IS IT ALL FUN AND GAMES?

The session with Rhiannon Looseley, member of the Digital Learning Team at the Museum of London, demonstrated the benefits and challenges of using digital and virtual media as part of the learning programmes. As the next generation of museum-goers are growing up with technology in everyday life, it seems sensible and appropriate to utilise these tools in their education (though, as Merete Sanderhoff points out in her paper, just because this generation have been given the title “digital natives” does not mean they automatically understand what exactly they see and read online. Museums offer a ‘truth’ in their content, which gives them an educational authority over questionably-sourced websites such as Wikipedia. Today’s children may be born into a digitally-dominant world but they need guidance in how to utilise this to its full learning potential).

The end goal for the Museum of London is for digital technology to become part of the learning tool box both inside and outside the physical building – it will no longer be considered a separate entity or alternative medium. Given the rate of technological growth and the current experimentations, this goal of becoming a “postdigital museum” sounds very achievable. The lines are beginning to blur, but museums are still very much in the transformative phase.

Using online games for educational purposes is not a new concept (I remember the BBC Bitesize games being a staple of revision during my GCSEs, a tool very much encouraged and welcomed by the teachers), however recently in the museum world, it seems to be an increasing venture with various levels of output and prerogatives. Are they successful in achieving their educational goals, or is this overlooked in favour of playing something just for fun? Is it a case of “chocolate covered broccoli”, or do they strike a balance between education and enjoyment?

As we looked at the Wellcome Collection and Museum of London’s games prior to and during the class, I decided to turn my attention to another large institution that is integrating digitalisation into their everyday practice – the Tate. Digital learning is generally aimed at children and families, but I will obviously be considering them from an adult perspective.

The Tate has an interesting and varied compendium of games on the ‘Tate Kids’ website (also listed on the regular Tate site under ‘Learning Resource’), ranging from simple drag-and-drop activities to one that uses a webcam. A star system rates the difficulty/skills level, presumably taking the depth of involvement, commitment, and concentration into consideration. It is also interesting to note the differences in art styles and graphics – from the Microsoft Paint-esque ‘Street Art’ (a game I’m not sure I agree with – should we be encouraging children to graffiti, albeit virtually?!), to the sophisticated Tim Burton-esque ‘Cuboom’. The simplistic games seem more aimed at encouraging creativity and the sharing of achievements, than learning about specific subjects.

I was most intrigued by the Secret Dancer game – a collaborative project with the Royal Ballet School, inspired by Degas’ Little Dancer Aged 14 sculpture. At the beginning, the game states it will last approximately 20 minutes, though it is possible to skip sections. The narrative is based on the ‘night at the museum’ premise, whereby the security guard sees an object – in this case, the Little Dancer – come to life after dark. The ballerina leaves behind clues and activities for her to solve, for which the prize – SPOILER – is a performance from the dancer herself. The learning element is in the story of the model and inspiration behind the sculpture, Marie van Goethem, presented in the guise of puzzles, maths riddles, and a navigational treasure hunt. The majority of the story takes place within the tanks of Tate Modern, adding an interesting – if slightly spooky – behind-the-scenes-at-the-museum element.

Although I am not the intended audience for this game, I nonetheless found the activities quite enjoyable. Overall, though, it did feel too long, and some of the acting and scripting was a bit ropey. The final dance was lovely to watch, but it was a rather long-winded trip to get to that point. From an educational standpoint, I did learn about the Little Dancer’s model and followed up the experience by finding more information about her online. This, in essence, is the aim for such games, though I question whether a younger audience would do the same. I can now sympathise with Rhiannon’s concerns about the challenges of creating long-form activities and being able to create narrated content that will stand the test of short attention spans. Are skippable sections the way to go?

My favourite game on the website was ‘Wondermind’, created with support from the Wellcome Trust (and thus has a very different feel from the rest of the compendium). It is a highly educational game based on Alice in Wonderland, combining challenging activities with trivia and quizzes about the workings of the brain. ‘The Tea Party’ was especially difficult, and I found myself playing it several times to try and better my score. Of all the games, I feel this one has the most educational output, though perhaps a little too much for a very young audience. I was also unsure how Alice in Wonderland related to the Tate, as there were no mentions of any particularly artworks like the other games. I was also unsure how Alice in Wonderland related to the Tate as there were no mentions of any particularly artworks however, on consulting Google, I discovered there was an Alice exhibition at Tate Liverpool a few years ago.

4

Source: ttp://www2.tate.org.uk/wondermind/

As is evident from the ages of those who have shared their finished works on Tate Kids, age is not a barrier when it comes to playing these games. Rhiannon said that digital learning tends to be aimed at children and families, but why exclude adults from this? As the Wellcome collection has shown through its compendium, it is possible to make fun, educational, and challenging games (or ‘interactives’) for adults too. Perhaps there is room for Tate to offer something in the future as part of their ongoing digital revolution. After all, adults want to have fun when learning too!

Does it matter if the ‘fun’ to ‘educational’ ratio is skewed in favour of overall enjoyment?

Is there a market for adult-oriented museum games, or are those largely intended for a young audience more universal in their ‘edu-tainment’ output?


Resources

BBC Bitesize Games: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/games/ [accessed 01/12/15].

Bouchard, Sean. November 2011. Chocolate Covered Broccoli: Building Better Games [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrK7VXCfsS0], accessed  01/12/15.

Museum of London Games: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/explore-online/our-games/ [accessed 25/11/15].

Rodley, Ed. 11th September 2011. ‘Tracing the contours of digital transformation Part One’ in: Thinking About Museums [https://exhibitdev.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/tracing-the-contours-of-digital-transformation-part-one/], access 01/12/15.

Sanderhoff, Merete. 29th January 2015. Wanna play? Building bridges between open museum content and digital learning in public schools [https://medium.com/code-words-technology-and-theory-in-the-museum/wanna-play-8f8e2e8cb2fe#.5wvj4gfgq], accessed 01/12/15.

Tate Kids Games: https://kids.tate.org.uk/games/ [accessed 25/11/15].

Wellcome Collection Interactives: http://wellcomecollection.org/play [accessed 01/12/15].

Tagged , , ,