Monday was testing day at Campie PS - peer-testing of the children's games, and a chance for us to road test the third strand of the Adventure Author software we've been developing, as well as some poor souls trying to complete National Tests in the midst of it all! The children were anxious (some felt their games still needed work), but excited, too - they were really looking forward to seeing each other's games, and to getting feedback on their own.
Testing the games
So what does playtesting involve? Basically the designer has to sit back and keep quiet while they watch a player try to make sense of their game for the very first time. It's quite a challenge, and child designers find it hard to resist intervening - either verbally (cries of, "Over there, over there!" or, "No, not that way!!" abound) or physically (jabbing at the screen or grabbing the mouse from the poor player's unwitting hand or even dancing in an exasperated fashion as they watch the hapless player heading to their doom, not part of their master plan!). Definitely a steep learning curve for the designer as surprises come thick and fast, and very entertaining for us adults to watch; but the Campie P7s were in fact great at trying to sit on their hands and be objective, and they reflected that they had gained a lot from having this new perspective on their game. We encouraged the designers to look for anything unexpected, or things that didn't work very well, or things that they were really pleased about, and all the children found much to comment on.
Using the evaluation software
The testers had to give feedback to the designer - two things that they liked, and one thing that they felt needed further work. They also gave star ratings for the area design, the storyline and the playability. The designers then had to comment on what they had learned from the experience, and decide what action they were now going to take to improve their game.
The worksheet allowed the children to write in comments and was set up to allow supporting evidence to be attached, e.g. a screenshot of an interesting piece of dialogue or a great area design, and although though we were too pressed for time to use this, the children loved the idea. Teachers can tailor-make worksheets to suit any aspect of learning and the curriculum, making decisions about sections, titles and question content, as well as whether or not to leave space for comments, use star ratings, etc. It's a hugely flexible piece of software which we hope at some point to able to offer as a stand-alone resource.
The children enjoyed using the onscreen evaluation sheets, part of which they completed on the designer's machine, giving their verdict on the game they had tested, and part on their own machine once they had read the comments of their tester. They liked the "right to reply" facility (see "Switch to Discuss Mode" button in image above) which allows the child to reply to comments made, and allows others such as the teacher, visitors or other class members to comment on the work, too. I added a couple of extra questions for the designer over lunch time when I realised I had not left space for them to state what had surprised them and what they were pleased about - an easy insertion that didn't mean lots of wasted photocopying when I spotted the omission!
What the children found
The children's comments showed they were very aware of the importance of area design, and a good storyline with interesting dialogue, reflecting the transfer of knowledge from class-based tasks which were key to the World Builder project. They enjoyed getting feedback, finding it affirming and motivating, although, interestingly, one or two children were very hard on themselves and found it difficult to accept praise. Some of the designers had to face the dilemma that although they liked their game being full of traps and action, their reviewer found these things tedious - a tough decision knowing what to do next, a definite case of needing to know your audience.
One pair explored the idea of characters having personalities - Steffani said she hadn't known who to trust in Morgan's game, so Morgan felt she should try to use the dialogue to give her characters stronger personalities. Interestingly, Morgan's dialogue already carries a huge amount of story information and a high level of interest for the reader, so Steffani's criticism represented quite a challenge and showed a good degree of sophistication in her as a reader/player. Great that Morgan was ready to rise to meet that challenge!
What now . . .
The children seemed quite wowed by the fact that they had been involved in a world first with the evaluation software, and gave us some useful feedback that will allow us, along with our own observations, to develop the evaluation facility further. There may be a little bit of time now for the children to act on the testing experience and refine their games before sharing them with parents next Monday, but for me time has run out - I won't be back to the school again, but I have to say I am thoroughly looking forward to analysing the games for myself. Well done, Campie P7, I think your games will give me a huge amount of food for thought. And thank you, Miss Collins, for allowing me to visit and work with the children. I'll be back here to blog some of my findings in a few weeks - see you then!