Archives for category: Projects

At this week’s meeting we had Kate Howland telling us about what she’s been up to recently. Kate has been working as a lecturer in Informatics since successfully completing her PhD last year, and this was a look at the research work she has been doing.

She initially started out working on TERENCE project, which is a large EU project supporting reading comprehension in children with and without hearing impairments of age 7-11. The project is a web-based game-like tool using an adaptive learning system to match the difficulty level to the skill of the child. Kate was involved with Nicola Yuill in conducting an initial small scale evaluation with users and teachers. Sadly due to the timing of the study (mid-July, just as all the schools go on summer holiday), they were unable to find the numbers of child participants they had been hoping for, so a lot of the feedback they got was from the teachers. This threw up some interesting results in itself. The game is designed to be used by an individual child, and the adaptive learning system models that child and their progress. However, some teachers said that they would be far more likely to use it in a full-class situation, discussing the solution with the class as a whole before responding. This is somewhat counter to the design of the application, and a useful thing to find out.

Another project that Kate was involved with was the Expertise scoping study, alongside Caroline Bassett. This was looking at the concept of expertise in digital technologies, particularly as they intersect with cultures and communities. A series of interviews was carried out with members of a wide variety of different communities to build up a picture of the way different people view their ability with digital technologies and what they perceived as the barriers to them becoming “expert”.

Kate was involved with a local school, and rather than conducting interviews in isolation ran an activity with them to see them actually using their digital skills. She started with a taster session where they came to campus and used the green screen technology to create some short film clips. Then she ran a series of after-school events, leading the children through the process of making their own stop-motion animations. She showed us one of the resulting animations, which was really fun! She felt that this followed on from  her thesis work, and allowed her to examine the way that children constructed a narrative and could be supported in doing so by digital means. She found it generated a lot of interesting data, but needs a bit more time to analyse it properly.

The third project Kate has been involved in this year is the Space Invaders project with the Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth. This has two parts: a competition for young people to submit short videos on their experiences of social media and online gaming (as opposed to adults discussing what they think happens with children in these situations), and a live debate as part of the Brighton Fringe where the top 10 videos will also be shown.

As well as all that, Kate is also part of a project that has secured funding and is due to start in September. Face 2 Face (too new to have a web page yet!) is a collaboration with the School of Education and Social Work, the University of Brighton, and the Open University. It will examine the ubiquitous nature of screens in our lives these days, and the effects that is having on children and families.

So combined with teaching, it’s been a spectacularly busy year so far for Kate! There’s some really interesting stuff to follow up on with the work she’s been doing, and we look forward to seeing what happens next.


Today the lab group were asked to be lab rats for the first-time-in-the-world-ever playing of a computer game! We also welcomed a couple of guests: Helen Pain from the University of Edinburgh and John Thompson from the Institute for Development Studies

African Farmer is an online, multiplayer game that is being written by Ellie and Jim for the Green Revolution project. It is loosely based on a couple of boardgames used in teaching scenarios for International Development and for policy makers. The game is ideally aimed at groups of between 15 and 25, with players being asked to take care of a family in a rural farming village in Africa.

The game revolves around a series of locations that each provide different information and access to functionality:-

  • Home – gives information about the health and wealth of the family. 
  • Farm – shows the state of the crops and fields that the family own.
  • Village – allows the players to get a feel for how other people in the village are getting on.
  • Market – allows players to buy and sell things that they need, such as crops, fertiliser, food, school vouchers etc.
  • Bank – for loans, and the payment of penalties.
Farm view

The farm view.

The idea is that people have incomplete information about the growing conditions, how much their crop will be worth and so on, and have to make some quite complex decisions. The outcome for the families can be harsh – if they do not secure enough food each year, family members will die. The simulation is a very simplistic view of farming and environment, but the decisions soon mount up and allow for a wide range of strategies to be employed.

This was the first time that the game had been run with multiple people logging in simultaneously, and the lab group were asked not to hold back with their feedback (although Ellie did say if they wanted to be nice about it they could be!). We had a lively session which completely overran our usual 12pm stop, and generated a lot of feedback on the interface. Sadly we didn’t get quite as far through the game as was hoped. Some of the interface difficulties slowed down people getting to grips with the game and being able to find the right information.

Still, as Jim put it this was a pre-alpha version, and the feedback was immensely useful for clearly indicating which areas need more work. The range of backgrounds within the group highlighted different problems – some very quickly got to grips with the communication panel and other elements of the interface, others grasped the flow of the game much more quickly. The game itself actually fared quite well – the group were absorbed and wanted to see what the outcomes of their actions were – so with a few changes to the interface the whole thing is looking extremely promising. Jim and Ellie have been left with a lot of ideas to think over.

Maybe after the next iteration the lab group will agree to play again!

Pejman has had a paper accepted at CHI 2013 based on his research into biometric storyboards. He looks at the way using either traditional or biometric user testing to provide feedback to games designers leads to an improvement in the rating of the final game. Whilst this seems like it should intuitively be true (or why bother?!) this is the first paper at CHI to show the impact of user research throughout the development cycle of the game.

He’s put a much more detailed post up about it over on the biometric storyboards site, so for the full story (sorry) and an extra video you should really check that out.