November 18, 2014

Joining a Team

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

In my first story on Profweb, I talked about a serious game that I was working on called Prêt à négocier.

Since that first article, I joined Affordance Studio, a serious game studio in Montreal, as a co-founder. If you haven’t heard of the term “serious game” before, they are games that have a goal other than pure entertainment. They are used in education, military, government and health care. They are starting to pop up all over the place. Here is a list of some of the more well-known serious games: Dragon Box, 3D Virtual Operating Room, and Government in Action.

Joining Affordance was a big step for me. There are many things that have to align between you and the other co-founders in order to make a startup work. So after many long discussions, a trial period and some more long discussions, Affordance and I decided to move forward and work together. In the end, we all believe that serious games are going to be a big part of education in the future so we have the same philosophy to start with, and it defines us as an enterprise.

New Games in Play

One of the games that we are working on is a prototype for a new psychometric test where, instead of answering repetitive multiple choice questions to get your personality profile, you are the hero in a choose-your-own-adventure story. The game is called Entrepreneur Saga (video in French). As the entrepreneur-hero of the story, you have to start a restaurant in 1940’s Montreal, select its location, hire your employees and get revenue all without falling into too many traps. Every decision you make along the way in the game narrative gives information to a powerful algorithm so that you can have your entrepreneur personality profile at the end. Keep checking out our website for more information on its beta launch.

We also are making Play Human Resources (video in English), a human resources management game where you have to attract, hire and retain a workforce in order to cost-effectively turn out digital application projects for a fictional company. The game is meant to be played with a human resources textbook, so that you have the chance to put the theory of the book into practice. That means that you actually write job descriptions, post them in the most effective marketing channels, put your candidates through interviews and even manage maternity / paternity leave and employee conflicts. What better way to learn HR than by hiring and managing your own team!

Ready to Negotiate!

As for the Ready to Negotiate / Prêt à négocier game, we have made some really amazing progress. We have a new introductory video. The basic game is the same: you learn to talk in a second language by negotiating out loud with a partner for apartment rentals, cell phones and even trips to the moon. But now, we’ve added a lot of new features to make the game cooler for students and teachers. For instance, we’ve added a lot of badges so that students are motivated to collaborate with students and make progress in the game. One badge, the Super Social badge, is awarded to players who can negotiate with at least five different partners. This way, students are encouraged to seek out new negotiation partners and not just talk with their best friend. Gamification works in language learning!

Here is our cool new introductory video

We’ve also put in an around the world meta-game where the more points you earn, the more places you travel to. For instance, for the French version of the game, you start in Montreal, and you move up to Dakar, Paris, Bruxelles all the way to Port-au-Prince. In each new level, you see the street views of a new city as the background screens and you can listen to the different accents of those cities in the listening games. With Ready to Negotiate, you can literally take a trip around the world.

We’ve tested the game with around 10 different teachers and around 150 students. The feedback is really great. Teachers love the reporting dashboard which allows them to keep track of student progress as well as to quickly see who is struggling. As for the students, they love the leaderboard and want to stay on top for as long as possible. At the end of each of our game demonstrations, we have to pry the computers out of the students’ hands. That’s a good sign!

We have a quick Prezi explanation and a great game to demo for any class. We’ve finished our financial projections and know that we need a small startup investment to build an amazing game for tablets. If there are any language schools, school districts, or online schools that want a fun, interactive and effective language learning game that gets students talking to each other, send them our way!

What is it like to be a teacher/entrepreneur?

In the end, I believe that teachers are in a great place to change how education works. As teachers, we see what happens in the classroom, we know what works and we have the vision for what education can be.

I think that the idea of being an entrepreneur is frequently distorted in the media. People watch The Social Network, see Mark Zuckerburg’s meteoric rise and believe that is how entrepreneurs magically appear. Although some entrepreneurs do make it big quick, there are an infinite number of paths to starting a company. I have already tried to start two other language learning companies over the past 4 years. I tried to make an online language learning school between Canadian teachers and Chinese factory workers. In my second company, I wanted to create a language learning MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game). Both of those ideas crashed and burned.

So if you’re not afraid of long hours and a lot of failure, try starting an educational company. And email me if you want a long, long list of things NOT to do!

About the author

Avery Rueb

Avery Rueb has been teaching at Vanier College for 13 years and is co-founder of Affordance Studio, which makes educational games for clients all over North America. He was named a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by la République française for his work promoting the French language in Canada and internationally. He has also published research articles on learning and gamification in international journals.

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Alex Enkerli
Alex Enkerli
18 November 2014 19h09

Really glad you got into badges. Despite thorny issues related to extrinsic motivation and/or arbitrary incentives, badges become part of a learner’s identity. As per Carla Casilli’s point on accretion, one badge may not do much on its own, but badges do add up to something.

Especially if there’s a full ecosystem to recognize their value!

As for negotiating your own roles…

Would be quite interested in that long list of “don’ts”. Partly because it might help warn some friends building startups (say, at District3 or Notman House). But also because learning experiences from teachers looking reflexively into their entrepreneurial work can help put things in perspective, for diverse learners.

Avery Rueb
Avery Rueb
19 November 2014 20h56

Hello Alex! Yes, we’re into badges and I’m ready for our next VTE discussion on the subject … tomorrow! As for entrepreneurial “don’ts”, I think that Notman House and District3 are great places to get information about startup best practices. I’m also a big advocate of the old shoe adage: Just do it. Even if that means making some mistakes along the way 🙂 Let’s connect and chat some more!