söndag 15 september 2013

Carbonopoly in the classroom

Back in April, I wrote a blog post about the game Carbonopoly. More specifically, I wrote that we would use the game in my course on Sustainability and Media Technology. That course started two weeks ago and we have played Carbonopoly three times during the two preceding weeks.

The game isn't called Carbonopoly and longer after the toy and game manufacturer Parker Brothers (who own the trademark for the game Monopoly) sent a cease and desist letter to the game designer (Patrik). The game is instead officially called GaSuCo now. But as you still can read about the game on the Swedish-language web site carbonopoly.se, I'll continue to refer to it as Carbonopoly for now.

The game has been updated and translated over the summer and it is now a better game than when I played it over Christmas. Our students agree. We divided the class into groups of four so that you always got to play with (and got to know) new people every time you played. To me as a teacher, the most interesting part of the game is the discussion cards. There are different decks and we change them between gaming sessions so that there are new topics to discuss every time you play. The whole purpose of the game is to get people talking. The questions are nifty, there is seldom a clear-cut answer that is right, so there are ample opportunities to discuss and compare your opinions with others. It's also a great way to get students to think about a wide range of sustainability issues (that we might or might not touch upon in the course). The rules are easy, you learn them by spending just five minutes reading one single sheet.

What I found particularly interesting was that the students quickly went from discussing a question in the abstract to "in my family, we usually...", or, "last autumn, during Earth hour, me and my boyfriend...". That is great and it proves to me that the students quickly engage in the questions and in the game. We have also had the chance to influence and customize the discussion cards and we thus have a number of questions specifically concerning ICT and media technologies, for example "Is it sustainable to have free internet services (mail, twitter, facebook)?" and "What would the implications be if all carbon emissions data would be publicly available through ICT/media for everyone to see? Would people's behavior change if the real environmental costs would be visible?". The student who led a particular discussion had to keep it going for three minutes, but we often saw discussions continue long after the 3-minute hourglass was empty. Hardly any students tried to rush through the game so as to be able to leave the seminar early. Quite the opposite was in fact true.

Beyond all the beneficial effects that I have written about, the game was also supposed to tie back to contents from the previous lecture and point forward towards the next lecture. All in all, we are very happy with the game. We printed 20 copies and it for sure did cost some. But we can use the games again next year. The idea is that it is possible to update the discussion cards but to hang on to all the other parts of the game. Perhaps this year's course will raise some questions we like a lot. These questions can then be "promoted" to be printed on discussion cards for next year's game! The introductory part of the course (gaming sessions + lectures) was outsourced this year and we would as a matter of principle like to insource as much as possible of the course. We'll see where we land next year.

Me and my course assistant, Elina, also hope to write an academic paper about our use of Carbonopoly for the upcoming ICT4S conference that KTH will organize next year (Aug 2014). We thus prepared a short survey that we have asked students to fill out after the first part of the course was just finished. Around 60 students take the course and about a third of them did answer the survey immediately. We'll remind the students again in the beginning of the coming week - our goal is to get at least two-thirds of the class to answer it. There is already great material in the 23 answers we have received this far. One of the questions is formulated as follows: "What is your opinion about the GaSuCo gaming sessions?". Some of the answers we got are:

- Pretty fun and an easy way to get into the subject of sustainability.
- I think it is a brilliant way of getting students to think about the various aspects of sustainability (and forcing them to take some kind of stand), as well as giving a review of the facts while answering the questions cards.
- Smart. The nerd in me feels compelled to point out is isn't very clever in terms of game theory or balance, but as a way to start an actual conversation it works way better than just telling four people to discuss something.
- Very intense - which is good. However the game is so intense (with the discussions and the expressing opinions and thoughts and debating etc.) that playing it for more then 1.5 hours straight is very exhausting.

I admit that I have cherry-picked these answers, but the majority of the students were positive or very positive towards the game. There are of course exceptions:

- It felt quite boring and useless. I think it would have been better if we just had been given some questions to discuss. 

I disagree and so does the majority of the students. People are of course different but the game was on the whole a resounding success and we will for sure use it again in next year's course (especially since we have already invested in printing 20 copies of the game...). I hope and believe that we will also have written an academic paper about Carbonopoly/GaSuCo by then.

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