CO:RE Blog

Teaching digital literacies through an “analogue” board game?

Diana Poudel is a media and digital literacies teacher in Estonia. Over the past decade, she has toured the schools to listen to parents, teachers, and kids talk about what puzzles or bothers them in online settings. Giving talks and seminars, guest lectures and courses on the opportunities and risks of digital life seemed to work just fine. But not great. But how can one bring these topics “on the table” in everyday life contexts, so that various issues around passwords and spam, awesome and awful people on the web, netiquette and information disorders, etc., would not be merely topics discussed in schools, but would be debated casually and informally outside of schools, too?

Should there be an app for that? No, there’s already tons. Should it be a website that collects all relevant materials? No, every educational project already does that. Pre-recorded Zoom-lectures or YouTube videos? Thousands of hours of such content is already out, and kids very often steer clear of it. However, what about… a board game? Board games are relatively habitual in Estonian families’ leisure time.

Moreover, in recent years, board game subcultures are emerging and booming. The popularity and benefit of board games are not just about bringing different generations together but also about social and emotional learning, problem-solving and decision-making. The features of various apps are rather individual while playing a board game seems more universal as it brings everyone on the same page and engages all parties.

DigComp transformed into 150 questions

Thus, Diana set off to create a board game designed to enhance children’s digital literacy and safety (which can spill over to grown-ups as well!). Combining game studies, media studies, internet studies, work and play, and extensive personal experiences, she created a game called “Battle of Hackers”. The details of the design, theories, methods and processes, testing and conclusions are captured in her award-winning Master’s thesis, defended at the University of Tartu (see the English summary).

The game "Battle of Hackers", (c) Diana Poudel

Using the DigComp framework, Diana designed a game where the players first have to choose their character. The choices range from “Drone-Boy” to “Robotics-Girl” to “VR-Granny”, as the examples below demonstrate.

In short, without digging too deep into the game mechanics and gameplay, the players take turns to answer questions about “all things internet”, arranged by difficulty, starting with the easiest. If they get it right, criminal hackers and malware markers can be fought off. About 150 questions cover all of the four C-s of online risks.

Example of the cards designed by Diana Poudel

The first-level question card (left) asks: “Why do bad hackers share games for free online?” The player has to choose the correct answer from a, b, or c (a – they feel sorry for the kids who don’t have enough allowance; b – they bought the game and want to share it with others; c – they want to plant malware and viruses on users’ computers). For another example, the fifth-level card (right) asks: “What is a processor?” (a – a university teacher; b – computer’s “brain”, necessary for the device to work; c – an app for making great videos for Instagram). Correct answers and explanations are given on the back of each card.

Discussions sparked secretly

A thorough testing phase made it clear that a playful approach was, indeed, an effective way of acquiring factual knowledge and educational information. However, the true strength of the board game was its role as a conversation starter. The players often argued about the “correctness” of some multiple choice answers, gave additional relevant and recent examples, told their own stories, and sometimes even forgot about the game altogether and dug deep into specific knowledge and skills.

So, the game did just what Diana was hoping for: playfully “tricking” people – families, classmates, teachers, friend groups – into talking and noticing various aspects of the “always-on” lifestyle brought about by the ubiquitous availability of various digital media technologies.

The game was crowdfunded and backed by a telecom company Telia, published in 2019. So far, the game has been introduced in schools and youth centres. Played with families and amongst kids, the “Battle of Hackers” has enjoyed success in Estonia. With Zoom-fatigue and an overwhelming amount of screen mediated communication in digital learning environments, people seem to appreciate a different way to learn and talk about digital lives.

Click here to learn more about this educational project.

diana poudel Robomikul

Diana Poudel | Game creator and digital literacies teacher | Digikool

All images by Diana Poudel (Digikool) and Maria Murumaa-Mengel (University of Tartu).

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