Co-op games to promote speaking and learning skills

pixeljunk_monstersWith Jim Rose’s review of the UK primary curriculum placing particular emphasis on speaking and listening skills, I’ve been thinking about games that promote communication. Of course, most games can be played with contributions from other people and there are plenty of multiplayer competitive games. However, my girlfriend and I have developed an obsession with co-op Pixeljunk Monsters on PS3, and it’s become obvious that perfect-clearing some of the trickier levels hinges entirely on our ability to articulate tactics clearly to each other.

While organisations such as LTS’ Consolarium use videogames as sociable starting-points for cooperative classroom project work, most games so far selected are singleplayer or competitive experiences (for example, Myst, Wii Sports and Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training – although Guitar Hero provides a different type of co-op experience). Perhaps there’s a place in schools for using commercially-available but less overtly educational games that require speaking and listening skills in order for pupils to succeed?

Some examples that spring to mind include LittleBigPlanet and Pixeljunk Monsters on PS3 (and with the persistant rumours of the lower-cost slim PS3, perhaps this hardware will soon become more affordable for schools), and the classic PS2 puzzle game Kuri Kuri Mix.

1066 Flash game from Channel 4

1066Channel 4 has produced a 1066 Flash game to complement its TV drama of the same name (discovered via Wonderland). Developed by Preloaded, the game can be played as a singleplayer campaign or against online opponents. The interface is impressively complex, allowing the player to command each Viking unit, with added authentic taunts and insults. There’s even some squelchy blood effects during the battle sequences.

Hopefully the steep learning curve won’t put teachers and students off as there’s real depth to this game, and could really help bring the topic to life.

Google Earth as game engine

ships_queen_mary_2_manhattanShips is a serious application in which you take control of a variety of barges, container ships and cruise liners, and drive them around the world. The application is built around the Google Earth browser plugin and features an onscreen user interface added to the usual Google Earth view.

If you have the Google Earth plugin installed, visit Planet in Action to play Ships right now. Also, see here for case study notes about using Google Earth as a game engine.

Word clouds from Wordle

wordleWordle is a neat tool allowing you to create word clouds from copy-pasted text from any source or even whole websites (as in the example above, covering SeriousGamePlan’s text to date).  While you can print the word cloud or link to it online, currently the only way of saving the image is to take a screengrab.

Mobile phones in learning

nonzero_logoThere’s a handy page of links over at Teachnet to websites allowing constructive use of mobile phones in learning contexts. This includes resources to share cameraphone images, including the ability to upload to blogs directly from the phone. There are also links to resources such as TextTheMob, allowing instant display of survey results and messages direct from mobile phones.

Learning and Teaching Scotland videos on iTunes

iTunes U is part of the iTunes store featuring lectures and audiobooks from universities and museums, all available for free. Learning and Teaching Scotland, in typically trailblazing fashion, are leading the charge to add videos aimed at teachers developing and supporting 3-18 education and the new Scottish Primary curriculum, ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. While not games-based, exploiting iTunes in this way is an effective way of using current leisure software for the delivery of educational materials, and could be a conduit for pupil-focussed materials as well as teacher support.

To access the videos you’ll first need to download the free iTunes software, then go to the LTS section on iTunes U.

US Army uses videogames to recruit

Reuters gives a detailed report on the US Army Experience Center, a recruitment center in a Philadephia shopping mall featuring 60 PCs and 19 Xbox 360 consoles that allows potential recruits to simulate battle conditions:

The Philadelphia center lures recruits with a separate room for prospective soldiers to “fire” from a real Humvee on enemy encampments projected on a 15-foot-high (4.5-meter-high) battleground scenario that also has deafening sound effects.
In another room, those inclined to attack from above can join helicopter raids in which enemy soldiers emerge from hide-outs to be felled by automatic gunfire rattling from a simulator modeled on an Apache or Blackhawk helicopter.

Representatives say that the recruitment centre “aims to dispel misperceptions about Army life”. It’s unclear whether the games used are commercially-available games or bespoke software.

See Gamepolitics for coverage of a recent protest rally, in which 7 people were arrested.