Archives for posts with tag: green revolution

…or a book or a journal article, anyway! This was the question facing the group this week, in the first meeting focussing on a lab member’s goal. Ben has been trying to write something quite specific in content, but the format has been a little unclear and that has been causing him issues with the writing. 

Ben’s initial task for this week was to produce a 2-page book blurb, to send around prior to the meeting for us all to read. Without giving too much away (he is trying to publish this, after all), he wants to produce an overview of current research in the area of intelligent tutors. He presented his ideas to us, sketching in some of the detail around why he wants to do this. Ben has been interested in the general area of intelligent tutors for a long time now (as he kept emphasising by referring to work he did in the last century!) and feels that the area currently needs this overview, looking at how the various pieces of the current research fit together but also to show where the gaps are. He says he isn’t really interested in providing the filler for these gaps. Ben has his imaginary reader as a would-be PhD student, looking for an interesting hole to plug. 

The discussion about what the format of the piece should take was interesting. Everyone agreed there was enough material for a book. Some felt that Ben didn’t need write the whole book himself, but should ask for chapters from people currently researching in the various areas. The resounding group opinion was that Ben was in the perfect position to introduce the subject and pull all of the threads together. The big difference was around the journal paper. Some felt that an initial journal paper should also be written, almost as a call-to-arms for possible contributors. Ben actually rather liked that idea, and felt that quite apart from anything else the journal paper would be a less daunting proposition! 

So the process has hopefully given him a good, clear next step. He even thought he might be able to commit to finishing the journal paper by mid-summer. In management-speak he now has a SMART objective, rather than a vague goal. Witness the power of presenting to the group! 

In other news, Jim and Ellie’s African Farmer Game has been attracting attention, with contact from a journalist reporting for El País recently. Also, Eric let us all know that he has managed to find a new job with Rica working on consumer research for older and disabled people, which fits right into his recent research interests but sadly means he won’t be around much. Still, we have him for a couple of weeks yet. 


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!