MozFest 2019: some reflections on games based learning

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Jane and Dom at MozFest 2018

A few weekends ago I found myself at Ravensbourne College on a Saturday, which is the site of the O2 in North Greenwich. No I wasn’t seeing John Legend in concert (he was playing!), this was the second time I was attending MozFest which is run by the Mozilla Foundation (who created the web browser Firefox). It’s a conference / festival about all things related to the open internet – it’s a real ‘geek fest’ in many ways attracting activists, coders and educators. This year was the 10th anniversary of the event and the last time the conference was going to be held in London so I really wanted to attend. It was an opportunity to connect with some people working in different fields as the conference attracts more than just open education enthusiasts, but a whole bunch of folks with really overlapping interests related to technology, privacy, inclusivity and many more issues. This year’s conference had the theme of ‘Healthy AI’ as artificial intelligence is something of a big issue these days. At MozFest the theme was AI and ethics, and when and why we might devolve decision making to machines.

The Internet Health report 2019 had identified 8 themes related to the internet and web technologies and these were used to structure the conference. Web literacy and openness were the two that appealed most to me. And this year I was really fortunate to have two workshops accepted, one in each strand. One with Dom Pates, one of our Senior Educational Technologists and the person who persuaded me to attend MozFest as a delegate last year. I also ran a workshop on copyright literacy and playful learning with Chris Morrison from the University of Kent, with whom I run the website copyrightliteracy.org and do lots of research with. Both sessions were on the Saturday afternoon and pretty much back to back. I reflected a little on the manic schedule I created for myself when running from floor 7 to 4 between sessions. Am I trying to do too much? Perhaps, but it’s a bit inevitable when you keep saying yes to things!

Dom’s AI Games Jam poster

One of the best bits about MozFest was being invited to facilitator training the day before the conference kicked off. Dom and I attended wondering a little skeptically what this day was going to be all about. But we got to meet lots of other presenters in the Web Literacy and Openness strand, we had fun making posters to advertise our sessions and I certainly left feeling we were part of a community. On the Friday I met people who I was able to encourage to attend our sessions and I found out about some great related sessions. With so much going on at MozFest navigating the schedule is one of the biggest challenges and so the Friday really helped me a lot get my head around MozFest far better than the previous year. The previous year did however have the advantage of me running around less and I got to see Tim Berners-Lee (one of my personal heroes!)

The first session I did with Chris was partly based on the workshop we ran earlier in the year at the Creative Commons Summit in Lisbon entitled Playful Approaches to Copyright Education. We gave people a taster of both our copyright education games, although this session was slightly shorter than previous we have done, so we focused on Copyright the Card Game. We had a fairly small but enthusiastic group of people who came to find out about our resources. Some worked in education, others were in the library world, all were quite geeky and really liked the games-based learning approach we use (as well as the beautiful cards). We also had an international audience so we were able to share the Canadian, Australian and US versions of the game that others have created because our materials are licensed under Creative Commons. We played the first round of the game and talked people through how the rest of it worked. It was fun, it was a nice space on the 7th floor and I felt energised. You can find out more about this session and see our resources here.
At the end of the session there was barely any time to pack up our cards and for me to scoot down 3 floors to the web literacy strand where Dom and I set up our “AI Games Jam”. Dom had pitched this idea to me several months go because City have launched at masters in Artificial Intelligence and he thought we might produce some games that could be useful in the course. I was inspired by the approaches used by Alex Moseley when he ran a workshop at the LEaD Away Day in 2018 (as is the co-chair of the Playful Learning Conference), and also by Stephanie (Charlie) Farley from the University of Edinburgh who runs a Games Jam approach in workshops for staff and students (and was a keynote at the Icepops conference in June 2019). In the true spirit of openness we mashed up the two approaches to come up with a 90 minute workshop on devising games related to the ethical use of AI. Each team (we ended up with 5 of them) worked on a different AI related scenario and we led them through the stages of game design in around an hour. The final 20 minutes was a chance for each team to pitch their game and for us all to vote for the one we all liked the best (using Poll Everywhere of course!)

Playful approaches to copyright

We’re really grateful to Alex and Charlie for sharing their resources with us. Alex’s cards (which involve interjecting constraints and then a secret objective into the game design process) worked really well – although the introduction of cheese into a game on AI and healthcare proved quite bizarre! Charlie’s worksheet on game mechanics gave people loads of ideas for card games, computer games, dice rolling and ways of winning the game. Our scenarios on AI and ethics resulted in a few rather dark games that were created on topics such as the ethics of using AI to programme self-driving cars in the event of accidents, or using AI for care of the elderly or in defence. However, the games jam / game design mash-up we created could be adapted for any type of educational games in all sorts disciplines, so we’ve shared the resources we’ve produced (licensed under Creative Commons) here. However, I wouldn’t want anyway to go away thinking making a game is an easy option as I know from all the work Chris and I are doing on the Publishing Trap version 2, getting a really good educational game is really hard work!

MozFest won’t be in London in future, so depending on the location and time of year I may not be able to attend next next, but there were many really great aspects to the event, which gave me a real sense of being part of a community. If you get a chance to go to something different such as MozFest I really suggest you try it! It was a lot of fun and as well as showing off my approach to games-based learning to a new audience, Dom and I now have a workshop we can now use in LEaD for staff development sessions. Thanks to both Dom and Chris for presenting with me and to MozFest for giving us the chance to be part of their community.
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