News, Teaching Stories

Gamifying Histology

From an initial interest in creating a histology game and some rough drawings on the back of playing cards, Frankie Macmillan and Zoe Palmer have created a fun and exciting way to teach a subject that students find hard to engage with.

Histology is taught on medical, veterinary and dental courses but many students find it a challenging subject. Frankie and Zoe hope to use this game to change perceptions; to make histology more fun and to help students engage.

After designing the basic concept and creating a simple test pack, Zoe and Frankie secured Discretionary Seedcorn funding from BILT in January and started developing their game.

Histo-link is a picture card game in which students make links between different images of cells, tissues and organs. A player lays a card and the next player has to lay a card that links to it. For example, an image of the spinal cord could be followed by an image of a nerve cell, or a section of peripheral nerves. If the students cannot make an obvious link, they can chose to try a more obscure link, but another player could challenge it. The rest of the group then discuss whether they think the link is factually correct. If it isn’t, the student has to ‘pay’ a counter to the challenger, as a penalty for a poor link. If it is deemed to be a good link the challenger must pay a counter as a penalty.  The game continues until players have laid all their cards, the player with the most counters at the end wins. Students can also spend their counters (shaped like red blood cells) by buying an answer from the other players, or the associated crib sheet if they cannot identify one of their cards. The game contains sixty cards and each player starts with five red blood cell counters.

Initial feedback from students is very promising. Every single student that attended a test session (31 students) would recommend the game to a fellow student and said that the game would improve their knowledge of histology.  Almost all the students found that the game was pitched at the right level and that it was easy to play. Three test sessions were run; some students from each session were interested in buying the game – leading Frankie and Zoe to consider the possibility that the game could be sold to students and even to other universities! Students in the test sessions were given simple instructions but were not directly told how to play. Zoe and Frankie had expected them to play competitively as individuals, but some students played collaboratively, with their cards laid flat on the table, working together. 

Although the game is still in testing phase, Frankie and Zoe have plans for how it will be embedded in teaching across year groups. First years could play in teams of two or three, with students playing as individuals in second year as their confidence in their histology knowledge builds. Students won’t necessarily be given all the cards in first year to ensure that they play using cards relating to the teaching they have had, with more cards being added into game as they learn more throughout the year. The adding and removal of cards is a simple way to differentiate learning with this game. The flexibility of Histo-link is one of its best features and means it can be a valuable resource for a student through their entire degree.

The game won’t replace the current method of teaching histology, Zoe says, but will make for a great revision tool and might help to demonstrate that histology can be an enjoyable subject to learn! Having to create links between the different images means the students not only have to identify sections but they also have to apply logic and reasoning to make the connections. This strengthens their understanding of histology which can then be applied to other areas of the curriculum. Teaching something is one of the best ways to learn and Histo-link does exactly this – students in the test sessions challenged each other and discussed their answers – something which doesn’t always happen during normal teaching activity.  Frankie and Zoe not only hope that this game will help students to get excited about histology,  but that it might even inspire some histopathologists of the future!

500 Words, News

Learning Games #3

The third Learning Games event took place against a backdrop of thundery showers in the Victoria Rooms on Wednesday 8th May. In attendance were colleagues from both professional and academic backgrounds, ranging in discipline and service but all with one common interest – the use of games in learning.

The session started with a throwback to the previous Learning Games event, in which we discussed the barriers to implementing game-based learning in our roles. The main issues we found were (in order of most common) – time and resource, resistance to change and knowing where to start. This time we were asked to come up with solutions to these problems, but in true academia style, we ended up conjuring up more problems than we started with, with a number of groups highlighting the issue of games not being viewed as ‘serious’ or ‘academic’ enough – the solution to which would be to demonstrate the learning that had happened as a consequence of the game shortly afterwards.

The main part of the session was delivered by Neil Carhart from the Department of Civil Engineering, who shared his ‘Gone Fishing’ game with the group. The game, which combines sustainability, fishing and economics into a strategic ocean-based venture, was originally played on a board, but has taken a 21st century twist and is now played online. Neil wanted to highlight these changes and demonstrate how the game was played differently through the two mediums.

Players in the game (in which the cohort are split into teams) each take on a role but work together to ‘beat’ the other teams to have the highest net profit at the end of the game. Interestingly, although the game was designed to highlight and teach sustainable systems, it always ends with students creating an unsustainable environment – the game always ends with the ecosystem being destroyed through over-fishing (and a desperation for profit – not too unlike the world we actually live in). What is even more interesting, however, is the way that playing the game online has changed how the students interact with it.

When played as a board game, the average time to complete it took three hours. When played online (still in the classroom but using a shared laptop to do calculations and move the ships), the game takes an average of 90 minutes. The fact students do not have to physically move their ships around a big shared board anymore may count for some of those saved minutes, but not 50% of them. Students playing online, Neil notes, are more likely to make quick, less thought-through decisions and don’t discuss with each other or with other teams too much. In a way, students are more focused on getting the highest profit than they are on working together to fish sustainably (so to speak).

Suzi and Chrysanthi then talked about their game, which aims to help people consider accessibility and inclusivity issues when designing learning games. They are looking for volunteers to test out or provide feedback – get in touch with them if you are interested.

The session ended with a game about thinking about games for learning (if you can manage to decipher that!). In our groups, we were given a piece of A2 paper, split into four rows and four columns (see image below). We were tasked with thinking of four ‘subjects’ (as wide-ranging as we wanted them to be- ours were French, science, sewing and dogs) which were used as the column headers, and then the four rows needed to be populated with different types of games for each (see image below). The idea for this game was taken from this blog post, and is a quick way for coming up with new ideas or approaches to a solution.  

Email Suzi Wells and/or Chrysanthi Tseloudi if you are interested in testing our their new game, which looks at inclusivity and accessibility when designing learning games.

Further reading

The board games turning science into playtime 

My nursing team created Poopology – a board game about diarrhoea 

News

Learning Games #2

The second ‘Learning Games’ event took place on 17th January. To give everyone a chance to eat their lunch, the session started with a discussion around the tables about where we would like to use games in our teaching, and barriers we have (except for time – time is a problem for everyone!). Each group fed back and the key barriers were:

  • Resistance to change – some colleagues may not believe that learning with games can be as effective as more ‘traditional’ forms of learning.
  • Not knowing where to start – lack of experience in making/ designing games, what to make the games for, what tools to use, etc.
  • Having the resource/ capacity – this is quite similar to lack of time but is a key point – many staff would like to take time to create a game for their learners but there is not capacity in the team.

Dr Kieren Pitts, a senior developer in Research IT, presented a game he has been working on as part of a research grant with colleagues from physiological science. The game, EyeTrain, was developed to improve oculomotor control in children and consists of three ‘scenes’ (one urban, one woodland and a high contrast scene) in which the player has to tap when they see an animal move. The game encourages the player to move their eyes in repeated, specific movements with both smooth and saccade motion. The game begins with an animal that has quite obvious movement (e.g. a hare that moves its ears) and as you improve more animals are unlocked, each with more subtle movements, and the backgrounds (scenes) becoming more complex and detailed as the player improves. Illustrations were done by Bristol-based illustrator, Alex Lucas, whose work can be seen in the School of Education and on walls across the city.

eyetrain.jpg
Example image from ‘EyeTrain’.

Settings in the game are highly configurable and it has been programmed to collect vast amounts of data to ensure its effectiveness. Early testing has shown it to be effective in improving oculomotor control in children. More information about the game can be found here.

We then heard from two members of staff who have recently been awarded Discretionary Seedcorn Funds from BILT. Dr Frankie MacMillan from the School of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience explained the card game they are making for students studying Histology. Students must place down a card, with the next player putting down a card linked the image on the card before and explaining why. If a student can not go, they can use red blood cell ‘counters’ to buy an answer off another player. They hope that this game will make quite a ‘dry’ topic more interesting and memorable as the students have to create links between the types of cells and tissue themselves.

Next, we heard from Dr Isabel Murillo Cabeza from the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and her game, Microbial Pursuit. The plan for this game is for it to be played across two sessions and is to be used as both a learning and revision tool. The first session students are split into small groups and each write multiple choice questions with three options. The students can use their lecture notes, eBioLab materials, tutorials, essays and other academic material to help them write the questions. In the second session, students are reshuffled into different groups and use the questions to play a board game, similar to the layout of Trivial Pursuit. Students can play as individuals, in pairs or in threes.

The session concluded with a short game that was based around weather predictions (but I’m not sure where the weather link came in!). We all started with a coloured counter balanced on the back of our hands and the aim of the game was to be the last person with their counter on their hand, while at the same time attempting to knock off other peoples.

If you’d like to come along to play a silly game, hear about what others are doing with games and their teaching and discuss your ideas for gamifying learning, get in touch with Chrysanthi Tseloudi or Suzi Wells to find out when the next session is on.

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Learning Games #2

If you’ve ever used games in your teaching, wondered how, or want to hear what other people are doing, come along to the latest Learning Games lunch on the 17th January between 1-2pm. This event is a chance to share your plans, get ideas and meet others who are interested in the topic.

This event does not require booking, but as lunch is provided we would be grateful if you could email Suzi Wells to let us know you intend to come. We will let you know the location of the event upon your email.