Collaborative, intergenerational, play-based learning about history

At THATCamp Canberra, I hosted a session on designing a dedicated digitally-enhanced physical space for collaborative, intergenerational, play-based learning about history (yes, it was ambitious!). I am finally getting down to documenting it.

How I thought it might work

In the lead-up to the camp, I had put a lot of thought into the issues, but I had consciously resisted planning the session in any detail. I genuinely wanted to facilitate rather than lead. I did consider splitting people into small groups for part of the time, but decided against it because the numbers seemed not to warrant it. (Didn’t realise at that point that people would continue to wander in throughout the session so by the end, it was quite a large group.) Ultimately, for better or worse (!) I resisted imposing any real structure on the session and instead surrendered to hosting an engaging discussion of possibilities in terms of both form and content, and inscribing  it with as much clarity as I could on a whiteboard.

What actually happened

You can probably guess that we didn’t go so far as to devise a single, clear plan for a game-space. But we had a great chat, which I will try to represent here. What follows is a transcription / translation / slight elaboration of the whiteboard notes.

Do what can’t be done elsewhere

  • in museum space, draw on the authentic, interesting objects
  • invite peer collaboration (note that teenagers in particular prefer to relate to known others rather than strangers)
  • encourage social interaction with strangers in a safe place

Pedagogy / structure / approach

  • use real-world physics (in digital designs) for improving literacy about how the world works
  • draw on imagination
  • welcome failure
  • involve the bodies of participants, not just the minds, index fingers, eyes
  • provide a loop structure: Context –> Challenge –> Feedback –> (Joy made this point after the sesh)

Elements of the experience

  • include a preparatory / warmup / contextualising activity
  • establish rules for local interaction but leave space for emergent collective behaviour
  • if the activity is individual, then build in a moment of sharing at the end
  • enable people to make / build / create something
  • build in different levels – a progression of experience, with rewards for completing each stage
  • provide a takeaway – go home and log in for… / or a physical memento


  • solo or collaborative
  • multi-layered approach (so it works for short, shallow or prolongued, in-depth engagement)
  • engaging for young children (7 and up), teenagers, parents and grandparents


  • wifi
  • motion-sensors
  • ‘glass wall’ for being visible from the outside / online
  • RFID
  • etc


  • an interactive augmented-reality RPG (role-play game) with historical characters, props; visitors inhabit a character, choose clothes; re-enact a historical scene of their choice (time, place, indoor, outdoor);
  • integrate user-generated media
  • ‘customisable avatar – discovery’ – I can’t recall what this means!
  • interactive video
  • mission-based games versus play-based games – there was a leaning toward the latter as less reductive / prescriptive
  • a whole room full of buttons and levers and motion-sensors that you could explore in a completely freeform way, either alone or in collaboration – this idea was imagined in a (beautifully sun-drenched) post-session chat with Mitchell and Geoff

Models / inspirations

While we spoke, Michael drove a web-connected laptop so we could look at possible models or inspirations for this space:

What now?

It was absolutely fantastic hearing ideas from everyone at the session and afterward. I’ve probably left things out and got things wrong here. I know I haven’t captured all the nuances of the conversation. Corrections and additions are of course most welcome. Leave a comment and I will incorporate it into the post.

Over time I will revisit these ideas. For now, I am letting them simmer in my subconscious.

2 thoughts on “Collaborative, intergenerational, play-based learning about history

  1. Pingback: Happy camping | Making manifest

  2. Thanks for putting these notes online. It was a great discussion, and one I hope to revisit with you again soon . . . well when these school holidays are over anyway!

    The importance of the “take-away” has really been driven home to me this week. In our stop motion workshops we have been encouraging the participants (ages 8-12 years) to take away their wire/clay models that they create, and we send them a link to their movie which they can use to watch, download, share etc. It moves their sense of participation into the world outside our Museum walls, and into their daily lives.

    I like the sound of the room full of buttons and levers. Would love to hear more.


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