Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 14 October 2008   Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ISSN 1748-3603

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JISC Users and Innovation Programme
Scoping a vision for formative e-assessment
Think first: the Benchmarking and Pathfinder Programme 2005-2008
Conference reviews
ALT Conference 2008
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In memory of Keith Duckitt
Chief Executive's Report
An interview with Diana Laurillard
ALT Conference 2009
ALT Workshops
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Issue 13 July 2008
July 21, 2008
Issue 12 May 2008
May 6, 2008
Issue 11 January 2008
January 25, 2008
Issue 10 October 2007
October 19, 2007
Issue 9 July 2007
July 20, 2007

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by Andrew Middleton

Inspired by journeys
Travelling on public transport can be an inspiring experience; however, for me it frequently results in ideas that can skew my workplan trajectory into unknown and dangerous places. One such 10 minute bus commute, on my way to a Podcasting for Pedagogic Purposes Special Interest Group (PPP SIG) steering group meeting, led to the following exchange.

Chair: "What shall we do at ALT-C?"
Me: (With apparent spontaneity) "Let's do an ARG." 

Easily said. Having explained the little I understood about ARGs (Alternate Reality Games), which was based upon the work of my colleagues at Sheffield Hallam University and a presentation I had seen Scott Wilson of ARGOSI give, I found that I had somehow tasked myself with pulling it off!

Creative exploration of podcasting and ARGs
The PPP SIG has been surprised by the recent interest of the Higher and Further Education community in the use of educational podcasting, as well as its readiness to collectively engage in developing our understanding of its potential. At the last count, in the region of 170 people have attended relevant meetings and workshops, while further regional workshops are planned for the coming months. Initially funded as an HEA Pathfinder project, the PPP SIG has an enviable life-energy of its own and we wanted to find a way to virally engage further interest at the ALT conference.

An ARG (Alternate Reality Game) is a social, interactive game played across physical and virtual spaces, usually driven by a strong narrative. Both educational ARGs and podcasting have a lot in common: when used well, both can demand an engaged and active response to leads designed to allow the learner to develop and navigate his or her own learning.

The PPP SIG ARG at the ALT conference mostly took the form of a treasure hunt (a fairly simple take on the concept). Having reassured the conference organisers that we would adhere to health and safety procedures, avoid requiring players to attend our own sessions, and add to the conference experience, I designed the three day activity whilst travelling from Warrington to Sheffield by train.

Blended and open-ended
Delegates had seven clues to find over three days through realistic challenges: offline, online and social. Add to that the fact that I had no idea what the venue would look like and whether the organisers would 'tidy up' some of the clues that would have to be planted. We wanted people to say "hello" to us, we wanted them to go to our wiki, and we wanted them to listen to the voices of members on the SIG's own podcast. Really there wasn't much room for design.

First Leeds, then the world!
I managed to get access to the venue the night before to plant clue one, which led players to clue two (players had to speak to the people wearing the blue PPP badges). That led to the wiki, then the podcast, on to our open-house SIG meeting on the Tuesday evening, then back to the poster session, before finally sending players chasing the PPP SIG tag across "their favourite social networking sites": twitter, YouTube,, and a large slice of the international educational blogosphere.

"So everyone played! That must have been amazing!" Well, no. I think most people were blissfully unaware of why a dogged cohort was roaming the vendor stalls and poster sessions asking, "Have you got a PPP SIG clue?" But for those who saw it as an opportunity to talk to strangers, as we did, it was really nice to have an excuse to shake hands.

If you are wondering what the task was you can find out by... oh alright, I'll tell you. Players had to construct the following sentence: "Enriching the student experience with digital media, especially podcasting, via flexible access, location and time, and many voices."

My main memories will probably be of convincing Victoria on the Conference help desk, on several occasions, to stow the cardboard submissions box away to save me from carrying it around with all my other conference paraphernalia! Being deprived of sustenance, distracted by planting clues and getting caught up in fascinating conversations with people trying to worm answers out of me (even though I have the knack of forgetting such knowledge as soon as I have dispensed with it). That and writing this, on the train, on the way back from a thoroughly enjoyable and successful experience. And one that was quite simple to organise. Thanks to all who played and to the international educational blogosphere for hiding clue seven ("...and many voices" - how apt don't you think?) in their little parts of our less digitally divided planet.

The three prizes, good quality MP3 recorders, were won by:
Julie Voce - Imperial College London;
Fleur Corfield - Staffordshire University; and
Heather Rai - Nottingham University.

You can find out more about the PPP SIG at, and the ARGOSI project (who know a lot more about ARGs than I do) at:
Andrew Middleton,
Sheffield Hallam University

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