Dubai Delivery: A study in Stealth Learning
In this unique hybrid feature, that includes editorial content and an app developer interview rolled into one, Steve takes a look at gamification and the opportunities offered through games-based learning. The focus of the article is the recently released Dubai Delivery app - something particularly relevant to us here at iPad Educators since we are based out of Dubai.
A LITTLE HISTORY
I was born in 1978. I grew up playing Spectrum games then Nintendo games then Playstation games then Xbox games.
I played a LOT of games... but did I learn anything from them without realising it?
Well on a physical level, I know I developed my hand-eye coordination and refelexes. Trying to make that one particular trick on Tony Hawk's Pro Skater for what seemed like days will do that to you. simultaneously my ability to focus on a task and look for opportunities to revise my approach became a crucial tool. I was problem-solving in context and I never realised it.
But what about knowledge? Understanding?
Again the answer is a resounding yes - I just never knew it. This is why game-based learning is often reffered to as invisible learning or by the ultra-hip sounding "stealth learning."
The Medal of Honour games and early Call of Duty games taught me about events from World War Two and gave me the unique experience of "living" through some key events of the conflict.
I learnt more about basketball strategies and team formations through the NBA Live series than I ever did watching the game live as I was given the opportniyu to harness them myself,
How about those infernal puzzle games like the original Tetris on the Gameboy? I sure learnt a lot about the rotation and tessalation of shapes there.
And the stories, oh the stories were so very immersive as I had such control over them as they unfolded. From the heart-pounding terror of the original Resident Evil titles to the epic Hollywood style heroics of titles like Halo and Gears of War. Games developers have long been produing high quality fiction wrapped in a digital box. Kids just realised this before their parents did as the evolution of games generated an explosion of creativity.
I could go on and on here but I wont. Instead I want to take a little look at what games can offer learners of 2013. The oft-reffered to "digital natives" that populate our classrooms are even more game-literate then my generation (or the one after mine!) They engage and interact with content in a different way and can gain so much from games that inspire them. When it comes to our classrooms then - do we still say no?
I recently set a problem-solving task for a maths homework with my Yr6 class. They were challenged to calculate how many permutations of an airplane aisle seating plan could be achieved within given parameters. Many used pen and pencil, some used apps. Then there was the boy who used Minecraft. He actually designed the interior of the plane with the world-building game and used this to help him visualise the problem. I was awestruck by thie ingenuity. (He then used it again for a fractions-based presentation.)
I like to give children choice in the classroom - the ability to choose their own tools to deliver their own content their own way. In this instance, allowing a game to be one of those choices was definitely a great idea.
The main issue with games when it comes to a classroom setting is often the insular nature of them. They are absorption tools and as such very much 1 on 1 experiences in general. For the modern educator this can oppose the collaborative, constructivist apporach that an enquiry-based and skills-focused curriculum can necessitate. They can also be hard to moderate. They are engaging though and the careful implementation of a game-based app like those developed by the educationally-focused Motion Maths company can generate high levels of engagement and thus deeper understanding of concepts like fractions and place value.
Often parents will approach me looking for app suggestions and I will recommend game-based apps as they are more likely to engage their children with ease at home using games. Homework tasks can also be a good option.
In fact there has been a fair amount of research into the benefits of simulation style games to learning outcomes. One paper I found particularly interesting can be found here. For those who want it boiled down to the basics, let me put it like this: human beings learn best by doing. Returning to my previous example of WW2 themed games like Medal Of Honor and Call of Duty, the contextualisation of the historical content and milirtary methodologies made the understanding easier and more authentic.
Now there's a popular term at the moment - "Authentic Learning" - and yes I'm using it not in a real world situation as it is most commonly applied but in the context of virtual worlds and simulations. Which leads me to -
FOCUS APP: DUBAI DELIVERY
Before I go on, I just want to own up to a few things:
1. This entire article was inspired by this app.
2. I didn't want to simply review the app because it is technically iPhone only at the moment (though it works just fine on iPad generally.) Also, as we are Dubai-based, our opinion is a little biased.
3. I've been spending WAY too much time playing this lately. In fact it is genuinely the first game that has engaged me so much since the days before I had kids and my Xbox began gathering dust.
So what is it?
Dubai Delivery is a simulation of a delivery firm based in Dubai. Now that may not seem too dazzling an idea but the clever structure coupled with the problem-solving challenges that it presents are incredibly engaging. It's that classic example of a game that seems to stop time and all of a sudden a five minute blast has turned into a half hour session.
You start with a simple bike that can carry just a few packages between a couple of locations and as you earn capital, your challenge is to expand your delivery empire to incorporate a huge fleet that can transport varied cargo like frozen goods and even gold. The dedicated deliverer will even progress to delivering by sea and air!
So what can you learn from this game? The more I thought about it, the more examples I could come up with - here's a brief breakdown by curriculum area:
As a map based game, this was a given but I can honestly say that after five years in Dubai I learnt more about where key locations are in relation to each other than I ever had before from playing this game. The need to deliver parcels effectively forced me to consider my routes and plan carefully. In fact the inclusion of the "Cargoman's Friend" bonus (offered for stacking the boxes on the trucks in delivery order) made this even more crucial to my planning.
The app also has a lot to offer in terms of human geography in that it teaches a little about the regulations and economy behind the import/export trade. Permissions must be sought to access visas for drivers, acces ports and commercial areas. This is a great touch and adds to the real-life learning that the app offers.
Historical facts about Dubai are earned by routing deliveries through star markers. There are a lot of these and they offer some valuable insights into the history of the area - sometimes dating back hundreds of years! They are tempered by the inclusion of modern day "fun" facts which offer a light-hearted glimpse into life in Dubai.
The logistics involved in stacking the best selection of cargo into each delivery vehicle can actually become quite the puzzle. You have to try to maximise profits by reducing the length of trips and thus the cost of petrol, as well as grab as many bonuses as you can for packing in the right order. This is mathematical problem solving at its best as it is contextualised and authentic in its purpose.
Add to that the real-world issue of profit/cost for each delivery and the need to run the business effectively and you begin to appreciate the powerful enterprise-based learning that could be based upon the game. The desire to imbue young learners with knowledge of basic economics has become more distinct in the last few years and this game presents a great way to support or even frame such an enquiry.
There's also the time factor - each delivery takes a certain amount of real world time. Naturally it's longer if the destination is further away. This could form the basis of a maths session looking at duration and destination. It could even be used as a springboard into looking at the actual destinations and the time between them using Google Maps or other such apps!
The great thing with all of these curriculum areas is that the student is being stealth taught - they don't see the learning happening. The engagement level would be through the roof too - imagine setting a half hour homework playing the game then logging their experiences/learning reflections! No child is going to turn their nose up at a gaming homework. In the classroom it is admittedly a little different but the app can still find purpose. The best example would be that mentioned above - using it as a framing device for a real-world enquiry task into a genuine economy. How cool would it be to springboard from the app into interviewing actual shipping firms about their job?
Here at iPad Educators, we like to speak with app developers directly and we were lucky enough to get some time with the director of Sentiomedia who designed Dubai Delivery, Peter Saghegyi:
FACETIME: PETER SAGHEGYI
Tell us a little about yourself and your role at the company.
Sentiomedia was started by three Hungarian guys in 2010. Previously we worked for several game development studios, but spent most of our professional gaming careers at Rockstar Games in Vienna and London. In Dubai we widened our skill set by forming the digital department at a branding agency. After setting up Sentiomedia, I became the director of the company. My time is shared between creative conceptualisation, business strategy, sales and accounting- the usual headaches a start-up company owner needs to cope with.
What inspired the Dubai Delivery app?
After the financial crisis in 2009, our parents and friends started to ask us that why were we still in Dubai. Most of the people read the censorious articles about the city, when Western media had a good laugh about the situation. This point of view hasn’t changed much since then, however in the meantime the city has become more liveable, learned a few lessons and got up on its feet again. We wanted to show it to the world that apart from the very rich and poor, there is a significant number of people here who make their living and call Dubai their home.
How long was the development process?
It took us approximately six months. I can't tell exactly because the team was too lazy to use the daily time log, despite my sarcastic remarks and later the shouting! Since then we developed our own system to make task tracking more effective.
What key features do you think make the app unique?
The game area is set in Dubai, this is of course one of the key aspects. Although we saw games earlier featuring some game play in the city, there is no other game on the market which is about Dubai’s history, present and future and also about the people living here.
Also I thought we could come up with an engaging way to play around with the packages. There are a lot of ways to combine them together and make more points. Unfortunately however players hardly recognise it as a great tool to get ahead faster. We need to tweak the tutorial system a bit.
How important was it to portray a realistic picture of Dubai?
It was quite important and therein lies the trap. In the Middle East, freedom of speech can still be an issue therefore we needed to be very careful. Dubai and the UAE are much more open and that encouraged us to implement the 200+ fun "facts" about the city.
We received a few emails to remove some fun facts which we did in certain cases. However as one of our reviews stated; the game is definitely not the propaganda machine for Dubai they expected it to be. I think that is a sign that we did a good job in balancing the game.
Have you been happy with the reception for the app?
Worldwide we did what we could with our limited marketing budget. We received several nice reviews in magazines and also the mFWA award, which is a renowned recognition in the field of digital content. To be honest I expected a bit more media attention from Dubai entities. The interest in our story was low, except a few passionate journalists and individuals for whom we are very grateful.
When can we expect a dedicated iPad version of the app?
We're going to skip the Christmas rush. That is a very busy period on the market for the big players in the game. Hopefully we can release the iPad version around end of January. Instead of releasing the same game, we're trying to learn from the reviews and implement some changes in the mechanic as well, including new areas and a different type of vehicle management.
What's next after that for Sentio?
Currently we need to focus on paid contractual projects to allow us to fund another period of game development. After releasing Dubai Delivery for iPad, we plan to work on a new game. The mobile game market is constantly changing and towards a rather wrong direction. Games nowadays are getting to be more similar to addictive gambling machines. We want to try to infuse some educational and learning values into our games and our next one will follow this path again similar to Dubai Delivery.
Thanks for speaking with us Peter and good luck with the launch of the iPad version!
For more information about Dubai Delivery, click here.
For more on Sentio Media, click here.