UX & UI Designer
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Gamifying learning through augmented reality

At Denmark’s largest hackathon for students, two developers and I created a team-oriented treasure-hunting game that combines augmented reality and LEGOs to challenge pupils in various disciplines.

 
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What was the problem?

Brain research tells us that when the fun stops, learning often stops too. Ensuring fun in learning environments, pupils experience increased dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen levels—all of which foster improved learning and ability to recall information taught.

That’s why LEGO Education decided to focus on learning in their challenge for AUHack 2018 to “shape the education of tomorrow” as they called it themselves. More specifically, they wanted to see how students of design and development from all over the world could utilize new technologies and LEGO to create new, fun, and engaging learning experiences for children in schools.

What did you make?

In collaboration with two developers, I created the concept and a prototype for LEGO Hunt—a treasure hunting game that utilize augmented reality, physical play and gamification to motivate children to learn in new ways.

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Collaboration between design and development

From left to right: Me, Nicolai Bonde (Electroengineer), Mikkel Jensby (IT & Product Development).

Given our success, one would have thought Nicolai, Mikkel and I had collaborated before. Quite the contrary, we had never met before this case competition or knew about each other’s educations. Thus, the first thing we did was to sit down and have a good talk about what skills we each had and how we thought it could contribute to this challenge.

While Nicolai and Mikkel wanted to focus their efforts on the actual technology of the prototype/product, I insisted that we focused our efforts on creating a clearly defined concept to which the prototype would help people realize the concept. We agreed that we would have to showcase both a strong concept and prototype, and had a quick traditional brainstorming session followed by a planning session.

We took our ideas and turned categorized them intro three groups.

After our many post-its, we decided to go with a treasure hunting game that would have children go from location to location to complete various challenges and collect points. The challenges would all be unique and require students to use their creativity and collaboration skills through LEGO bricks and augmented reality to finish them. As they finish more and more challenges, they earn points. Thus being quick can earn your more points.

With this rough idea for our concept, we then created a plan for how we would finish our concept and make sure to have something to show to the judges in two days.

Although our assigned tasks looks like a mess, these notes on the board outlines the weekend’s upcoming work.

Although our assigned tasks looks like a mess, these notes on the board outlines the weekend’s upcoming work.

After heavy discussion, we decided that we wanted to create something that not only demonstrated a cool technology. We wanted it to be an entire game from start to finish that was well-thought out, and we wanted to use game rules and visual materials as a way to use storytelling of the game for the jury. After some time, we settled down on a treasure hunting game that would utilize our learnings from the augmented reality workshop in Unity.

 

Understanding the problem… from the client’s perspective

A thing I learned from a great designer at Designit was to always get as much knowledge out from your client as you can. Before presenting your solution, ask a lot of question to make sure your solution conforms to their situation and the problem.

Therefore, while Mikkel and Nicolai was building the prototype, I went over and had a chat with the LEGO Education booth. More specifically, I needed to understand more about the children we were designing for.

While the LEGO Education staff, obviously, didn’t want to tell us much, they complimented our interest in getting to know more about our users. And to our benefit, we were told that there’s great difference in schooling systems around the world in and what motivates children. In American culture, there’s a greater focus on winning and doing high performance whereas in Europe competitive nature is not as welcomed. Secondly, we were told that it would be a good idea to think what role teachers play as they most likely can maintain facilitative roles. 

Knowing a little more about children and the school system, we felt better equipped to finalize our solution for our target group.

Working… tirelessly

As said earlier, we had less than 36 hours to finalize our concept and prototype. While Nicolai and Mikkel concentrated their efforts on the prototype, I contributed with the design and experience of the game. This included game design(creategame rules, define challenges, think the product into the schooling system), visual design(brandand visual style, AR stickers, user interface, banner, and challenges), and presentation(preparepitch and decorate our booth with designs).

Although it sounds like we worked individually, we did often give feedback and share ideas on how to solve conflicts that came along the way. We collaborated really well, but we also worked very hard to make the best thing we possibly could. 

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How does the game work?

The game is very similar to a traditional treasure hunting game. This time, however, children work in groups and compete against each other. The team earning the most points in the allocated time wins the game. To understand the basics of the game, see the step-wise explanation below:

 

Why did you design the game like this?

We had two principles that we decided was very important for the success of this game. First, it had to have gamification elements and not purely rely on augmented reality. Secondly, it had to have some level of scalability so teachers can fit the difficulty of the game to the level of their pupils.

With limited time, leaderboards and thematization using LEGO, we wanted to promote competition in a healthy way. Just enough so that children feel motivated to do their best, but not too much so that they feel behind and hence unmotivated.

In terms of scalability, we allowed teachers to scale the game difficulty in two ways. First of all, the game does not run by itself. It requires a teacher to spread these challenges on various physical locations and mark them on the map. In that way, regardless of physical location and depending on the desired physical activity, teachers can use location as a way to alter the difficulty of the game.

Secondly, the difficulty of each challenge also varies. Some include more challenging puzzles like building geometrically correct triangles whereas only requires children to count the number of LEGOs. Through scalability, teachers can alter the physical activity and the difficulty of the game and target the level of their pupils.

These challenges appear as augmented reality when kids scan the AR stickers.

 

LEGO-friendly playful design

The visual style was build to appear playful, yet fun and eye-catching with vivid colors. This includes the game banner, augmented reality stickers, the challenges, and the interface for the game. 

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These AR-stickers weren’t scannable.

So I redesigned them into these instead.

 

Mockup of UI

The interface had to be super simple for kids and even more simple so that the jury who would have less than 5 minutes to evaluate the concept be able to understand how it would work. Furthermore, we did not have enough time to include all of these features in our prototype so therefore we just made a mock-up as a way to explain the concept.

The interface consists of an initial welcome screen, picking a team, and then the game-play screen with three tabs. The first tab allows access to the maps where kids can see where the challenges are located. The second tab takes them to the AR camera that is used to scan stickers. The last tab reveals leading teams.

Note, because the purpose of the mock-up was to showcase the concept, simplicity was preferred over usability. There’s a lot of things “wrong” with this interface, and if it was to be made into a real app, it would require heavy changes. However, for demonstrations purposes and following our storytelling, this mock-up was perfect. A normal app would need some login, synchronization, settings, among other things.

Prototype

While I worked on the above, Nicolai and Mikkel had finished the prototype. See a demonstration of it on 2 out of the 4 challenges we managed to implement into the prototype.

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AUHack Jury

The game won 1st place in LEGO Education’s category and 2nd place for the overall hackathon. We were complimented on our strong concept with great visual design and the cool utilization of augmented reality technology.

We were 1st place in the LEGO Education category and 2nd place for the overall hackathon.

 

Visiting LEGO headquarters in Billund

Because we won the case, we were invited over to LEGO Education in Billund to showcase our concept and demonstrate the prototype. This picture was taken with the Front End Innovators team. The concept was received very well, and they thought it was very inspiring to see a combination of play, physical activity, education, technology... and LEGO. They were furthermore surprised by how much work we had achieved in one weekend.

The feedback we received was very positive, but even more interesting, they complimented the concept of being so finished and ready for production.

Nicolai demonstrating our prototype to the Front-End Innovation team including their Vice-President.

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Summary

The above have described how two developers and I tackled LEGO Education’s challenge at AUHack 2018. Through the combination of gamification, augmented reality, and LEGO, we created a treasure hunting game that enables teachers to challenge pupils in new engaging learning experiences.

See the pictures below to get a sense of AUHack, or check out the trailer for the event on YouTube.

 

Whoever is lucky enough to get Caglar on their team has struck gold, and let me tell you why. From the moment our little group banded together at AUHack, Caglar has been an absolute pleasure to work with. With his work and ideas, he brings an impressive level of creativity and competence to the table, along with an enthusiasm and endurance that makes it obvious he really cares about what he is doing. To top that, he somehow manages to pull it off while also being open to everyone else's ideas, exuding warmth and making us feel like a team. Everyone should be more like Caglar.

- Mikkel Jensby, IT Product Development