muse: n. a source of inspiration

Interesting Questing, continued

If you’ve been following this blog for any time, you know that gaming in education, especially of the digital kind, is a big passion of mine. I was fortunate enough to be able to explore a variety of ways of doing this with the support of an iCenter iChallenge grant this year, and I even managed to figure out how to work digital hunting into my ILP (Individual Learning Project) that I’m doing for my certificate in Israel Education through the iCenter and Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies.

I recently presented on Interesting Questing at the annual conference of the Illinois Computing Educators. My wiki page can be found here and my Livebinder is here.

So – what did I actually do? I created and ran two quests so far this year:

The first was for about 300 6th graders. They used mobile devices to scan QR codes to read instructions, watch videos online and seek out various locations in a local synagogue while performing tasks such as making a map of Israel with their bodies and making up bag lunches for a soup kitchen. The students were divided into groups of about ten students and used their own devices – iPods, SMART Phones and iPads – to read the codes. They had a lot of fun doing it. The buzz was unmistakable as they entered the synagogue and saw the codes posted. The code shown here is the one to the opening video.

The second was far more complicated. I used ARIS, which is being developed at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. It’s in development, so some wonkiness should be expected, but it’s reasonably stable. The user interface is pretty straightforward. There’s a pretty minimal online user guide and a community forum, but I found the easiest way to learn the software was to just jump in and use it. The Flash-based editor must be used on a computer, and the game is played using iOS devices. I created a hunt that had seven stations in the school, with a task to be completed at each station. The app features data collecting tools such as audio and video recording, so kids had to complete tasks such as uploading a recording of themselves singing “Ha Kova Sheli” or a photo of the group with a particular item. ARIS allows you to create characters, which made it a great choice for a Purim-themed game. Some screen shots are shown here.

The other incredibly cool thing about ARIS is that you design it using a Google map, which allows you to put clues in the real world. Literally, you can sit at home on your couch (I speak from experience here, people) and place the clues wherever you want them. Additionally, you set the range so that you can determine precisely (well, sort of – see below) where a person needs to be when a clue becomes visible to them.

ARIS allows you to have the player interact with a character, get clues, pick up or give items, so a game designed in ARIS can have all the qualities of a regular scavenger hunt with the addition of immediate gratification.

The Purim quest was designed to take place during a 35-minute rotation, in which the students were guided through joining the school network (which had been opened for the event), downloading the app and creating a user ID. They were given a brief demo on how to use the tools and access the camera, recorder and QR code scanner (called the decoder in the app). Because we were concerned about the interaction between the devices’ GPS location services and the game we made extensive use of QR codes rather than relying on the range settings in the maps.

What did we learn?

Like all activities that involved the Internet, always have a plan B. The biggest problem with the Purim quest was that our bandwidth was really stretched to the limit, which prevented the kids from uploading the media they created (such as the movies or audio recording). Unfortunately, most of the logic for the Purim quest involved uploading media before the next clue could be seen, so if the kids couldn’t upload their media the game was stopped. Luckily I had created seven different versions (for purposes of staggering the groups) with QR codes as opening plaques, so we were able to get the students started on new games when the one they were on stopped.

The other thing we noticed with the QR code scavenger hunt in the first case was that groups of ten were too large. It’s not like a group of kids following a scavenger hunt on paper; the lure of the electronic device is just too strong – if the kids can’t touch the device at least part of the time, it loses its appeal.

The other issue was the accuracy of the devices’ GPS systems. When we tested ARIS on various devices – iPads, iPhones and iPods – we discovered that the accuracy of their GPS systems varied tremendously. Not surprisingly, phones seemed to work the best. I don’t know if that was because of the devices themselves or the fact that we were in the school building, but since the game was going to be played in the building, we felt we needed to compensate for the inaccuracy by setting the range pretty wide. This, of course, causes other issues in when clues showed up where they weren’t supposed to. To avoid that we used QR codes, rather than rely on the clues appearing automatically.

Designing in ARIS takes a lot of time. There’s a lot of testing involved, and it can get tedious with placing the items on the map. But it was a blast! The kids were excited to be using their devices in school, and the “coolness” factor is terrific. It’s definitely worth working with, and I’m excited to figure out where to use it next.


March 11, 2012 Posted by | Interesting Questing, QR Codes | , , | 1 Comment

Designing a Digital Quest…

Update on learning how to design a digital quest:

I introduced my religious school students to last week. I broke out the laptops and had the kids go to my Interesting Questing wiki page. They watched some movies about using ARIS and SCVNGR and about Global Kids’ NY Haunts game. They are EXCITED!

After getting them excited about the project we played Grow a Game (thank you Natalie from the iCenter for introducing us to this!). I wanted to get their creative juices flowing.

Then we talked about what kind of quests we could send Jewish teenagers on. My students offered ideas like “teach about Judaism to someone who doesn’t know about it,” and “wear a kippah for a day and journal about what happens.” They had some great questions too, like “can we link this to Facebook?” (great idea!)

Then I started spending some time playing with ARIS. The editor is still under construction, and the creators warn you that the interface is shaky, but I haven’t had any problems in my limited testing. The biggest issue for me is that support materials are rather scarce: I like to work through tutorials and read manuals and those just don’t exist. But that’s part of the fun of using emerging technology, right?

I’m totally psyched about using ARIS for this project. I love that you can drop items anywhere using the map interface, so we can create the game from the comfort of our classroom and then just go into the field to test it. Once I understood the basic interface I found creating quests and characters fairly intuitive. I still need to master the terminology and how to logically create quests, and of course, how the game flows will be a big challenge. But I definitely see this having tremendous potential!

Next steps:

1. Design a few quests that kids can experience in the synagogue so they get the idea
2. Create a plan for designing a game flow
3. Design classroom dynamics. There are close to twenty kids who come regularly. How do we split these kids up so everyone’s engaged and productive?

Big questions: what are the educational goals for the activity? How do you blend “experiential education” with mobile devices?

To be continued!

October 30, 2011 Posted by | iCenter, Interesting Questing, Technology | , , , | Leave a comment

Interesting Questing

Interesting questing logoA new interest for me is developing digital quests. These might be digital versions of old-fashioned scavenger hunts, or more complex activities like city-wide activities using GPS navigation devices. When I was in Vienna this past summer with Centropa, we went on part of a geocaching tour that was created by middle school kids. What a great activity, both for the people who are participating and the kids who prepared it.

What’s super exciting for me is that I’m going to getting support from the great staff at the iCenter as part of my iChallenge incubator grant. There are three projects which I’m working on:

  1. A pretty straightforward digital scavenger hunt to be held in the synagogue building.
  2. A digital quest for Purim.
  3. My preconfirmation (8th and 9th graders) “Finding the Jew in You” quest. My students and I will be creating a digital quest for Chicago-area teenagers to use. The quest will include going to various Jewish sites in the Chicago area, performing tasks and collecting student reflections

I’ve started to compile resources on my wiki. Here are a few of my favorites:


SCVNGR is an app which is widely used commercially. It has a clean interface and it doesn’t seem terribly complicated to create challenges. Free accounts are limited to five challenges, but the developers graciously granted me an increase to 25 just for the asking. The editor is online, and the user needs to download an app to play.

ARIS is a platform developed at the University of Wisconsin. The site is impressive and extensive, with user docs and samples. Players can interact with virtual guides and collect artifacts (which can then be annotated using voice or a smartphone camera).  The learning curve on this product looks steeper than SCVNGR, but there’s great documentation. Like SCVNGR, the user needs to download a free app in order to play.

QR (quick response) codes are not software per se, but rather digital tools. You create a QR code to encode some kind of data, such as displaying text or directing someone to a website or to create an email. There’s been a lot of discussion on how to use them in education, including digital scavenger hunts, links to podcasts and students portfolios and more. Users with smartphones, laptops or computers with webcams can use QR code scanners to read the code.For a video on how you can use QR codes in school, check this out.

Need some inspiration?

Getting a grip on the tech side is one thing, but there’s nothing like a little show and tell to get you going. Here are a few videos that might help:

Aris demo


And for a real dose of inspiration, check out Global Kids. Their New York City Haunts game will blow you away!

If you’d like to share what you’re doing, or what you’d like to do – please let me know!

September 14, 2011 Posted by | iCenter, Interesting Questing, QR Codes, Technology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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