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also demonstrates how an ecosystem can
support many different types of animals
and even touches on food webs there are
several possible suspects in the case, all ani-
mals that could have killed a wood pigeon.
At the end of the game, the `murderer' is
released because they didn't actually do
anything wrong, they were only following
their natural instincts, hunting and eating
in order to survive, which is learning on a
different level.
Design a Habitat was intended to demon-
strate the practical aspects of animal con-
servation and to tell a conservation story
from start to finish. It is based on fact;
black-footed ferrets were brought to the
brink of extinction by the actions of
humankind, but were also saved by
humans.The learning objectives were to
show how something as simple as farming
could endanger a species and to show that
something can still be done to save species.
A conservation message shouldn't be all
doom and gloom!
You mentioned evaluation of learning
objectives have you conducted any
other evaluation of how the games
are used, or how effective they are?
As we are in the very early stages of
Planet ARKive, so far the only evaluations
carried out were prior to launch to ensure
that we were heading in the right direc-
tion.We tested games with three schools in
the local area, beginning by testing the
texts with students.We evaluated readabili-
ty and style, to ensure that all of the stu-
dents could read and understand the texts
and then looked at how the texts would be
presented to the users. Most children go to
an information source with a specific ques-
tion in mind, so the texts were written as
answers to general questions such as:What
does [the animal] look like? Where does it
live? How does it have babies? And so on.
Once we had got to a working stage, we
went back to the schools to evaluate
design and navigation of the site.The kids
were very honest about what they liked
When we were looking at the type of
games we wanted to include on the site
we were aware of the need for a certain
level of familiarity for children. For some
users, being confronted with an unfamiliar
game can be off-putting.That is why we
included word searches and sliding puzzles
every child is familiar with them.The
word searches were also included as we
knew teachers might find these useful
when teaching certain topics.While using
a word search a child may come across a
word that s/he is unfamiliar with and go
on to find out more about it.The words
are grouped, demonstrating the relation-
ship between the words and implanting
that relationship in the mind of the user.
The animal survival game is designed as
a quiz it is a game that is easy to evaluate
from a learning point of view as you can
ask the children the questions before they
use the game and again once they have
completed the game, thus finding out what
they have learned if anything! There is
only one correct answer and an explana-
tion of that answer, which reinforces the
learning objective.
Evaluating the learning experience of a
game such as Design a Habitat or Copse
and Robbers is much harder. Copse and
Robbers was designed to show children
that you do not need to see an animal to
know that it is there. All of the clues in the
woodland scene could be found in a typi-
cal woodland area, but you need to be
observant. Observation is the basis of sci-
ence and therefore a key skill to develop. It
accurate in every aspect, not just the textu-
al information but also the way the animals
looked and behaved. All of the information
had to be presented in a fun and interest-
ing manner but without losing its integrity,
which isn't an easy balancing act.
The species texts were the basis of all of
our games.We spent time discussing which
species to use and then how to present the
information. For a heavily text-based game
such as Animal Survival (http://www.pla,
we had to condense the information and
make it accessible. For Design A Habitat
nAHabitat.html) we had to get all of the
information about black-footed ferrets
across to the user so that they could play
the game but without giving them reams
of text to read during evaluation sessions
we noted that children often will not take
the time to read instructions or informa-
tion, preferring to click away and get on
with it.This gave us the idea for the old
slide show with voice over; children are
used to listening to information and sto-
ries, it's a really great way of getting your
point across.
Once a game was in its final stages of
development, it was circulated around the
rest of the team for comment.The text
authors and the media researchers are all
really familiar with the species and they
would be the first to tell us if we got
something wrong! In other games such as
Copse and Robbers (http://www.plane-,
we let the environment of the game give
the information initially and then gradually
revealed more information as the game
went on. For example, the X-ray machine
gives children an insight into a species' diet.
The games currently available on
Planet ARKive range from online ver-
sions of simple word games and puz-
zles to investigative or `God' role-
playing. How do these different appro-
aches affect the learning experience?
Users can drag an X-ray machine which
describes an animal's stomach contents, helping
children decide which 'suspects' are carnivorous
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