Play, Click, Learn: Understanding Globalization Processes through a Virtual World Tour developed by Ncite

Play, Click, Learn: Understanding Globalization Processes through a Virtual World Tour developed by Ncite

Ncite and Eberhard Karl University of Tübingen in Germany developed a new E-Learning format that enriches the university course program in Global Awareness Education.

Access to the New Aula is blocked, but those who have found two bones from the skeleton of Tübingosaurus meierfritzorum are granted entry. Inside, you receive the necessary bus ticket to embark on a journey to the far corners of the world: from Tübingen to Milton Keynes, from Mexico City to Jerusalem, and finally to Johannesburg. The goal of this journey: Learning about globalization.

A virtual Tübingen marks the beginning of the computer game “Graveler,” an e-learning format that the Global Awareness Education department first introduced in the teaching curriculum during the summer semester of 2023. The department’s objective is to impart intercultural competence and an understanding of global connections to students. With Graveler, short for “Global Traveler,” this is achieved through an online role-playing game, a so-called Serious Game that combines knowledge and playful elements. Students travel the world, explore cities, interact with locals, and must complete tasks – answering knowledge questions, solving puzzles, or collecting vanished dinosaur bones and other objects necessary for their progress. In each region they visit, they eventually receive stamps that certify the success of the respective (learning) mission.

Working with Graveler is integrated into a clearly structured online seminar format: After an initial Zoom session, each region is covered in three course sessions. Glaucia Peres da Silva, a lecturer for Global Awareness Education and the brain behind the game, deliberately selected the four cities of Milton Keynes, Mexico City, Johannesburg, and Jerusalem. She explains, “Authors of key texts in the current globalization debate have worked or are currently working at universities in those cities.” The game provides biographical backgrounds that have influenced the work of these authors and also introduces the political, social, and cultural conditions of the respective regions. In one session, students gather all this information from characters or specific locations within the game. The game hides photos, videos, web links, and short texts for this purpose.

With this prior knowledge, students discuss one of the globalization texts in the following session. The course concludes with a reflection phase: “How do we connect the text to the region we visited, the university, and the author’s biography? What can I criticize in the text, or why do I agree? This leads to discussions,” says Peres da Silva. Graveler combines virtual worlds with the functionalities of a video conferencing software. Thus, the seminar takes place in an online space accessible through the game, and when students meet as avatars, they are connected via camera and microphone for conversation.

Students are enthusiastic about the new course format, and Peres da Silva is delighted. “They remember content better, and the game sparks conversations about the topic of globalization.” In this way, the lecturer is getting closer to her goal: “Students should develop sensitivity to the fact that things work differently in other places – and that it’s okay.”

Soweto Township in Johannesburg with the Orlando Towers, the cooling towers of a former power plant.

Glaucia Peres da Silva came up with the idea for a learning game during the COVID-19 pandemic to create new perspectives through innovative teaching. “It was important for us to travel the world, and for students not to have to read too many academic texts but to acquire knowledge in a different way,” she explains. Although she had a complete concept in mind, the practical implementation was not straightforward. Esther Fink from the Didactics department contributed expertise in education, and Kevin Körner, the coordinator in the Digital Humanities Master’s program, was responsible for technical aspects. “With Serious Games, it’s essential not to focus too much on learning and neglect the playful aspects,” says Körner. He created an almost 100-page specification document of necessary functions, and the task to implement Graveler was awarded in the spring of 2022. This gave rise to a “world-building kit” that student assistants used to design the individual regions. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the Pyramids of Teotihuacán in Mexico, and the Soweto Township near Johannesburg were all included. Glaucia Peres da Silva had provided locations and landmarks, and student assistants contributed their ideas, including names and appearances of the characters.

Game design based on the construction kit principle: Places and landscapes are created by placing individual elements, such as bushes or benches (right edge of the image), in the “game field.”

In the future, the lecturer plans to improve the details of the game and utilize its potential even better. Initially, she wants to adapt the game for use in other Global Awareness courses. In the long run, Graveler could be used in additional courses in the realm of General Education and Career Orientation or across various faculties. After all, the theme of the journey can easily be transferred to other contexts: “It could be a journey through the human body or even the universe,” says Peres da Silva. If they can secure funding for further development and bring interested instructors together, the journey of Graveler through the university can continue.