A Course in Experiments: Connected Learning through Game Design

 In Connected Learning, Featured

Andover senior Sophiya Chiang (PA Class of 2014) has been finding ways to follow her passion for innovative game design and fashion throughout her years at Andover, threading and creating pathways both within and outside of current curricular offerings. After developing basic coding skills through a computer science class at PA, Sophiya forged a relationship with Kaho Abe, a game designer and media artist dedicated to improving social and personal experiences through the use of technology, fashion and games. In spring 2013, Sophiya traveled to New York University Polytechnic to meet with Abe and visit her lab and grad students. Abe captured Sophiya’s imagination with her vision for creating games that are interactive and social, and tackle the passivity of modern games by using the body to engage more fully in the experience.

The impact of this experience was evident in the incredibly creative final project that Sophiya developed for Head of School John Palfrey’s Hacking class this winter. Further inspired by Cory Doctorow’s Makers, in her own words, Sophiya sought to “illustrate the democratizing effect of hacks that challenge and repurpose existing systems, and draw on common materials.” Using the MakeyMakey circuit board, which allows any conductive material to potentially become a computer key (by completing a circuit, the computer recognizes that a key is pressed), Sophiya created a range of consoles with objects like a yoga mat, gloves, tin foil, and paper. Her final presentation culminated with a fierce competition between classmates, who used a game console she created for Guitar Hero. Instead of using fingers and hands to play different notes, each player had to jump across the yoga mat to hit different notes as they appear on the screen. The dynamic was intense and excited, emblematic of the key themes of the course and Sophiya’s creative determination. “

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“Hacking: A Course in Experiments” was the perfect avenue through which to bring Sophiya’s percolating ideas to fruition. It is one of a number of Andover courses that embody a Connected Learning model by developing and building upon key issues, approaches, and tools throughout a term, all the while inviting students to bring their own passions, interests, and skills to bear on the topics and the learning process. Themes of ethics and computer science are explored through the lens of cases such as WikiLeaks and Khan Academy, among others. One of the several purposes of the course is to give high school seniors an opportunity to think and to write about topics that cross disciplinary boundaries. No matter what the topic, students are consistently asked to frame a great question and answer it in a thought-provoking way.  Throughout the term, students are encouraged to “hack” the syllabus; that is, rework it to pursue a new direction, linger on an interesting topic, or otherwise steer the evolution of the course.

For the student-driven final project, creative design and approaches that build on and extend the course themes are prized. Sophiya’s “hack” embodied those elements by building upon the core ideas and practices of the course, and applying and extending them in the context of her own project. Through experimentation, creative expression, and thoughtful determination, she internalized those ideas and made them her own.

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