Co-creating a gaming world

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Children at the core of Can’t Wait to Learn

In Uganda, as it had been the case in previous countries, War Child’s tablet-based playful education programme Can’t Wait to Learn took particular care of putting children at the centre of various development and implementation steps. From talking with them during the needs assessment phase, to co-creating the games with them, and implementing inclusive games that allow every children to learn at their own pace.

A group of Ugandan illustrators has been working closely with War Child, Butterfly Works and several groups of children to develop the design of the gaming world, all the characters and the look and feel of each element included in the game. The story below, illustrating a day within this co-creation process, is inspired by Butterfly Works Merel van der Woude’s report on her workshops in Uganda.

Co-creating a gaming world, how does that work?

It’s early morning when the War Child driver and l leave Arua to go to Mvepi. Mvepi, about one and half hours away on dirt roads, is one of the settlements in Uganda where Sudanese refugee children live, go to school and will be learning with Can’t Wait to Learn. As soon as we arrive Mr. Agele, a community leader in this settlement welcomes us. He is a former school director from South Sudan and he will be our translator and co-facilitator today. In total, this week we will visit four school locations that will implement Can’t Wait to Learn. The goal is to receive feedback and collect information from the children which will guide us to design and build a game that they will be able to identify with and efficiently learn from.

The first group of children has arrived and is waiting outside the classroom. We hang up the series of drawings that was created by the Ugandan illustrators we cooperate with so we can get first-hand feedback on these. As soon as we have prepared the space and arranged the tables, the children enter the classroom eager to get started.

A game on ‘big mobile phones’

The classrooms are newly built according to a specific design to stimulate accelerated learning. The outside wall is only about one meter high and the rest is open, which makes it light and airy, and windy at times. The children sit on benches, facing each other.
I also sit on one of the benches and start by explaining Can’t Wait to Learn to them: we are making a tool for learning on a tablet (like ‘big mobile phones’); it will look like a game world and it will help them to learn reading, writing and mathematics. Mr. Agele translates what I say into their mother tongue. Sometimes, the groups are mixed, including Ugandan children, in which case we have another translator for them.

Soft-spoken and proud

Mr. Agele and I then go on explaining that today, we will do some fun and creative exercises, which will help us to make the game more specifically for them, with situations and activities they know from their own lives. We also stress that this is not a test and they are free to share what they want. We then want to get to know the children a little better, so they share their name, their age and what they would like to become in the future. Most of the children talk very softly and Mr. Agele often needs to repeat their names for my understanding. And some of the children already know how to say their age in English, which they proudly do.

Drawing their surroundings

After the introduction, we review some of the drawings that illustrators made based on the indications of other children, and we ask their opinions about them. Each category includes several drawings: a series of different-looking houses, a series of different-looking teachers etc. Each child comes forward and picks the drawing they like the most in each category, they do not need to explain why. I note down their preferences.

The next step is for the children to draw their surroundings, which includes for example, the things and the people they see regularly in their community. We first talk about the topic and we start collecting their answers, after which each child use the paper and markers on the table and start representing their world. The children work on their own, with a lot of concentration. Some need a bit more encouragement to get started, but most get into it quite quickly. With the support of Mr. Agele, I ask them more questions about what they are drawing, so I understand it well and write it down so I don’t forget. These drawings are part of the feedback that the illustrators need for the next round of iterations.

Pots and mortars

Another method which works well is to have them work with coloured clay, which they like the brighter the better. It is important for us to get good insights into which everyday tools and objects are familiar to them, for instance at home. At first, some children hide what they make under their desk. But when encouraged they quickly enjoy that they can make more than one object, just as long as I can take a photo before they make the next one. They gradually become more creative and have fun while doing it. Pots and mortars are very recurrent objects, maybe because these object in real life are also made of clay and it feels natural for them to make these. For some, the process is fast, others work more precisely and take their time. And of course, when they are done, they can keep the clay and take it home with them.

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… And Lego

Finally, it’s time for them to get into small groups of 2 or 3 and be creative with Lego. This time, they are asked to build a specific location, like a school or a market. They also can add Lego characters to their location. At this moment, the group becomes a bit looser and more talkative, group dynamics become more obvious: leaders in each group are taking charge, where others are comfortable following.  Again here, it is crucial to hear the groups explain what they are making in their own words, and take photos and make notes to remember everything.

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By this time other children from the neighbourhood have gathered to see what we are doing. They stand outside the classroom and peak inside. The group keeps growing, but remains quiet, and if it becomes too disruptive, one of the teachers intervenes and ask for some quiet.

Today, we repeat the same process with a second group of children at the same location, after which we drive on to another location, in the same settlement, about 10 minutes away.

Immediate feedback

Already from the car, I give a call to the group of illustrators and their coordinator to give them a heads-up of the feedback we obtained and what the children drew and made, so they can integrate it in their changes straight away. At the end of the day, after engaging with four groups of children, we arrive back at the artists’ studio in Arua with all the children's drawings, notes and photos and all the information about the children’s creations and reactions.

Quick iteration

The end of day meeting is used to go through all the feedback, as well as the adaptations the illustrators already made during the day, so that we can plan tomorrow’s session. By then, we can make a list of the information we still need to hear from the children, as well as a selection of the drawings to be tested. We make copies of all these drawings which will be our starting point for tomorrow’s sessions.

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