OpenMoments: The Stories
3 Teaching Empathy through Learning Games
Andrea Moraes is a contract lecturer at Ryerson, where she teaches at the School of Nutrition in the Faculty of Community Services, and for the Certificate in Food Security at the Chang School of Continuing Education. Andrea is also a research associate at Ryerson’s Centre for Studies in Food Security. Together with Kosha Bramesfeld, Andrea was the co-principal investigator for the eCampus Ontario funded learning game, The Food Security Quest. The game is available as an open resource and is free to use for anyone.
Coming to Open
“We need to be able to connect the classroom to the real world and students are the key to do that.”
Andrea is passionate about teaching and learning and is always looking for alternative ways to engage her students. After she participated in a conference about Family Farming at Ryerson, she learned about an online simulation game called The Family Farmer . She started using it in her classes as supplementary material and asked students to do it at home. When it was time for student feedback, Andrea was amazed by how much students learned from the realistic challenges and decisions they had to make as small farmers while playing the game. Students could now understand these challenges not only from the perspective presented by their readings, but also through their own simulated experiences. The educational impact of the game was undeniable and Andrea started using it regularly as homework, followed by class discussions. From this experience she began thinking of creating a similar simulation game on the topic of food security — a very important topic in food studies. This idea gained force when she met Kosha Bramesfield at the Ryerson Learning & Teaching Conference in 2015. There Kosha presented on the board game The Game of Social Life, Poverty Simulation, the two started communicating. When the eCampus Ontario call for proposals for open resources appeared, they put these ideas on paper for the research and creation of the online Food Security Quest simulation game.
Publishing the Food Security Quest game as an open resource was a great way to share an educational tool promoting greater understanding of food security in Ontario with a wide audience. When teaching large classes, textbooks and lecturing alone cannot teach students the reality of broader social contexts, such as poverty and food insecurity. In addition, these are sensitive issues and many students who have experienced food insecurity may not feel comfortable self-identifying. A simulation game such as the Food Security Quest enables students to choose the characters they want to play, make decisions for their characters, and face the consequences of such decisions.
Andrea has been consistently using the game in her online and face-to-face courses. From the feedback received so far, students have enjoyed and engaged with it. Some students commented that they didn’t realize that food insecurity could be so difficult to deal with, and have demonstrated through their course assessments that they have gained empathy for those experiencing it. These students are now able to connect with an experience that is at the same time separate from their usual life but also close and personal. The Food Security Quest game shares information about food security in Ontario and also mobilizes students to care about it. The game is also accompanied by an instructor guide to help other university instructors effectively incorporate the resource into their curriculum.
The development of the game was a large undertaking that took a lot of different people and skills to finish. “When we started, there was no methodology to follow,” said Andrea. The creative team was mostly composed of students who met bi-weekly for one year to share results about their research, character development, and the structure of the game. The later stages in the development of the game also benefitted from the support of a number of members from the Ryerson Collaboratory, Library, and Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. From making sure the game was accessible and beautiful to creating the website that houses the game, many brains and hands were involved.
Learning from Open
“Learning should be fun!”
Andrea finds that the game is both exciting and interesting to students, as well as an effective tool to reach her learning outcomes. However, the reach of the game goes beyond Andrea’s students. Both Andrea and Kosha promoted the game in conferences and professional mailing lists to make sure other communities, organizations, and educational institutions in Canada knew about the game. Although the focus of Food Security Quest is about food insecurity in Ontario, the game is accessible on the web for anyone. The open license means it can be updated, challenged, or expanded for use anywhere in the world.
As for the future of Andrea’s involvement with open, she is hoping to create a geo-caching style game where students need to engage in the world around them and check-in to different food locations, learning something about each location as they go. “After you do one, you want to do more,” argues Andrea. The creative process of building an open resource can be very stimulating, and there are challenges, too.
Student involvement in a project like this is essential to make it meaningful but it is not always easy to get funds to support their work. The competition for funds could be even harder for contract faculty like Andrea. In addition there are fewer opportunities and resources that recognize the time contract faculty spend on developing such projects. It is important to give recognition to the instructors who are spending their time on this, such as financial support. These projects matter to students and the community in the long run.
Advice for Other Faculty
- Choose your partners carefully, it is not easy to co-manage a project
- Create a common vision. What do you want to build? Why? How?
- Find the learning gaps and challenges, then fill them using a creative solution that excites you. This is your ultimate reward!
- Engage students with your project and listen to their ideas. Students often know what works and what doesn’t.
- Ask for help when you need it. The generosity of people at Ryerson is amazing.
- Make sure you are respecting everyone involved
- Have fun!
From Andrea: It can be a lot of work to create an open resource, and it is not always easy. However, with an open mind, a supporting community and engaged students this can be a very rewarding project.
Credits: Game by Adrien Coquet from the Noun Project, CC-BY.
Logo of the Food Security Quest game by Ryerson University licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Ryerson University logos and the Ryerson University name are trademarks of Ryerson University, registered in Canada and other countries, and are excluded from Creative Commons licensing.