13:45 - 14:15
The Time Travelling Classroom – Alternate Reality Gaming in Primary School

Short thesis

Imagine you are a 10 year old at school and it is your first lesson of the day. As your teacher prepares to examine your homework there is a knock on the door. A mysterious parcel is delivered which is revealed to be a miniature time machine. A screen on the machine springs to life and a crazy scientist explains to you that you are his only hope to return to the present. You agree to help and embark on an adventure that will last the entire year. This is how the game begins ...


We care about people in stories because we can relate to them on the basis of our own experiences. But what happens when the story is no longer broadcast in a single direction but unfolds as part of a very personal dialogue? How do you feel when you find out that the people in the story also care about you? What would change if you could send them real objects and they could send objects back to you? What impact does this kind of engagement have on learning outcomes?

In 2009 I started looking for answers to these questions and with the help of three primary schools, a new kind of learning game was developed: “Professor S.” a location based alternate reality game that transforms a fourth grade classroom into a story driven treasure hunt.

The story is about an odd couple. Two chaotic but ingenious scientists who have invented a time machine. By accident, they start travelling through time and space with no control over their destination. In their desperation, they ask the kids for help. Every day, they have a new quest for the kids. More than often, the quests lead the kids into their own world and require them to look for clues on the school yard or at the local library. When they have an answer, they report back to the time travellers by sending a message through a website or transmitting objects or video through a bespoke hardware: “The Time Portal”. Thus, learning is put into a real context and for the kids, engaging with the story is extremely motivating. They learn because they want to help the time travellers. Learning goals no longer relate to abstract figures on a report card. The answer to the question “why am I learning this?” becomes obvious: “Because Professor S. needs my help”. The teacher slips into the role of Professor S.: she becomes a storyteller, entering into a completely new and very personal dialogue with her pupils. She guides them through the quests, helping them generate their own unique solutions along the way.

This talk will examine the answer to some of the questions above and describe the challenges and rewards that accompanied the development process.