PS3 Immersion Day @ Inverurie Academy

First real blog post on Games Based Learning here at Took me a while to remember my username, never mind the password! The aim is to continue to document the progress of this project and share with anyone who is interested. There may be other related blog posts too, if they catch my interest…

In the run up to this morning I had spent 3 periods with my S5/6 Intermediate 2 Information Systems class investigating the PS3 console and the game Little Big Planet through internet research and discussion. It became clear that there was a distinct split in ability and experience when it came to using consoles and the Little Big Planet game in particular however discussion was lively and the questions brought up (and mostly resolved) by the pupils demonstrated high-order thinking and great motivation for the proposed project. My pupils were the ones who created the specification for the bid submission, costing and evaluating each peripheral, arguing whether genuine was worth the extra money or third-party was an acceptible choice at a reduced price. Most of the time during these three periods I just sat and listened, chipping in with questions to increase my own understanding.

Today the students came up trumps after offering to take in various pieces of hardware to make sure the immersion day (ok, 2 hours – but the only time I see them that day!) was as interactive as possible for all pupils. One brought his PS3 with LBP and others brought control pads and leads to make sure everyone could play at once. I swapped rooms to avoid disrupting other classes in the open plan area and arranged for AV equipment to be in the room so two PS3s could be used at once. Took a long time to get all the technology in one place (and to dismantle afterwards – perhaps an extra hour in total) but all worked when required.

The tasks the students had to complete were high level and designed to inspire investigation of the Little Big Planet game. A few students had previous experience of using the game so moved on to the level creation tasks straight away. The others worked through the game’s tutorials to familiarise themselves with the PS3 controller and how to make progress through the pre-created levels.

The successes of the immersion day were the unexpected amount of co-operation and peer teaching that occured with the inexperienced group and the way each student could articulate their experience and impression of the game. State of flow was high, especially at the beginning of the lesson, all students were completely focussed on their tasks. Later in the session more general experimentation with Little Big Planet occured including looking at co-operative sections where players must work together to reach their goal. Strong leadership skills emerged here which were not anticipated due to having not investigated the co-operative mode prior to this session.

Students were generally patient and usually offered informal advice to allow the game to continue. At times I was amazed at the speed each group of students worked through logical problems  and arrived at good solutions e.g. driving a car which drags a trapeze hung with other players through a sequence of hazards. Little Big Planet allowed scope for trial and error without players feeling left out or disconnected from the game for too long, this was aided by the speed the students moved through the level allowing players knocked out of the game by hazards to rejoin quickly at checkpoints.

While I knew about the exciting possibilities of My Moon, the section of Little Big Planet which allows user-defined levels to be created, I did not know that these levels could be created co-operatively. Watching three students create their sample level in a matter of minutes before playing, evaluating, discussing and adjusting objects to improve gameplay brought home the clear advantages of using Little Big Planet over creating games from square one using Scratch, Game Maker, Flash or Visual Basic with this ability group: Information Systems is not about teaching pupils computer programming, one of the issues of our link project last year. Little Big Planet offers a form of rapid development which keeps students engaged and therefore more willing to spend time tweaking their levels.

There are potential issues with using the PS3 and Little Big Planet as the framework for this year’s link project between Inverurie Academy and Market Place Primary. In previous years the target age group for the resources were P1/2. At this stage we are not sure if the PS3 controller is too complicated for pupils to understand, an issue echoed by Jo Barcas Buchan in her investigation into using Little Big Planet with her P2 class. Another more serious issue is that the PS3 was unable to connect to the internet via the school network and the error report from the PS3 was unhelpful. This would increase the time between creation of the levels by the S5/6 pupils and the primary class’ evaluation and feedback if not resolved. Multiple controllers for each PS3 seem essential to maintain rapid development of student skills (each PS3 can have a maximum of 7 controllers) and to personalise their level with images a PS3Eye camera seems to be required. Each of these issues seem addressable however it would impact on the timetable for the project.

In summary the informal feedback from the pupils on the immersion day was excellent. There were no negative impressions of the game, in fact one student who had suggested the game appeared too complex before the immersion day showed resilience in getting to grips with the game and was enthusiastic about how we could use Little Big Planet to achieve our link project. I also observed that the logical and analytical skills used during the 2 hours was far in excess of usual ‘standard’ lessons and am interested to see if this continues as the project develops.


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