I all windswept and exhausted after standing for 40 minutes watching a school PE class. The windsweptness comes from being outside, the exhaustion from Mr Bitey's nocturnal teething habits. I went with Andy the Model PhD student to a local school to interview a PE teacher about the location based fitness game for teenagers that he is designing. As luck would have it, the next lesson she was teaching involved a fitness test so we stayed to observe it. This was ideal as I really wanted a sense of what the target use group do during a normal fitness session. The answer is "suprisingly little".
On the one hand you have the government's guidelines about physical activity for teenagers where they should be exercising for 2 hours a week. And then you have the reality of how that works in school. (I know that it isn't only up to schools to take responsibility for fitness, but they are part of the jigsaw). Of a 50 minute lesson, the teacher told us that 5 mins might be spent in warm up, 5 in cool down and 10 minutes for vigorous activity. But she said that many of the kids would find it difficult to jog without stopping for 5 minutes at a time. It was interesting to observe a lesson, where even during the warm up time, the kids tended to stop exercising when the teacher turned her back to get something set up. They did a speed test which was 100% effort for 35m x3, with a recovery of 3 or 4 minutes inbetween. There was also (necessary) time for instruction, and time for changing clothes. The lack of time spent in activity during the lesson has various repercussions for our project!
It means that the mini games in our project can be much shorter than we thought. 5 minutes is a long time when you are on a playing field, I can testify. It also means that we might well find it difficult to get pre-test post-test fitness gains even after several weeks on the grounds that they won't be exercising enough. We may have to get data from the teacher on what rate of change one would normally expect.
I was interested to learn that the children set their own goals for improvement based on a variety of test results (such as the speed test we saw today). They compare their performances to normative data published online, identify strengths and weaknesses and set targets. This is actually pretty close to what we intend to do, but in game form. As we observed, the kids were already comparing their scores to each other and trying to beat each other, which is interesting for the motivational theories Andy the Model PhD student is looking at.
Another major design concern which cropped up is the safety aspect of the kids looking at screens while on the playing field. Running while looking at screen, falling, breaking neck? Not good.We'll probably have to come up with some audio game design at least for parts of it.
The next stage is to run some focus group sessions on early design ideas for the game with some teenagers. That should be interesting too. The teacher told us what they need to do for exercise; hopefully they will tell us how best to incorporate it in a game.