The time-travel history boys

Mabel Sieh

A school's award-winning computer game is helping students to thrive thanks to e-learning

Mabel Sieh |

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Eugene Lau Tsz-pan used to struggle with Chinese history. He says the subject was "so boring that I would fall asleep". But all that changed when his school developed an innovative time-travel computer game, Five Thousand Years of History of China: The Historical Figures.

Since playing it in classes, both his knowledge and his love of the subject have grown.

"The game really helps me to remember the sequence of history stories better," says Eugene, 14, a Form Two student at Pak Kau College, in Tin Shui Wai.

"I could never complete the history comprehension tasks before, but now I can. I feel like I've really achieved something."

Eugene and two classmates, Jeffery Chan Pak-ming and Iverson Ko Chun-hei, all thought that Chinese history lessons were filled with too many facts. But then they played the game, which sees them travel back in time to ancient China, and use their knowledge of history to solve problems affecting the future.

The game teaches students about 10 important historical figures, such as Confucius and Empress Dowager Cixi , and also encourages students to make decisions.

It took the school two years to develop the game after receiving government funding and help from commercial game developer, FifthWisdom Technology.

"In the game, you walk through different places and answer questions about a person from history," says Jeffery, a 13-year-old Form Two student. "For each correct answer, you get credits, like in a computer game,"

He says playing the game in the school's computer room is a much more interesting way to study than sitting in class listening to teachers.

The school started to develop e-learning in its classroom two years ago.

"At first, we introduced it in a 'seed' class in Form One, then expanded it to other classes," says Au Hoi-kin, a liberal studies teacher and head of e-learning development at the school.

"This year all lower forms up to Form Three use some sort of technology in 70 to 80per cent of their lessons."

Music and physical education are the only subjects at Pak Kau in which teachers have not used information technology in lessons.

Au, who has taught at the low-band school for eight years, has seen how technology has helped students.

(From left) Lau Tsz-pan, teacher Au Hoi-kin, Chan Pak-ming and Ko Chun-hei, and the history game. Photo: K. Y. Cheng/SCMP

"They aren't strong academically and lack initiative," he says. " But technology motivates them to learn."

Students starting Form One are divided into groups depending on which device - an iPad or a notebook computer, for example - they want to use over the first three years at the school.

With such a rich, digital-learning environment, some students are encouraged to get even more involved in IT.

In Form One, Iverson developed a game before last year's chief executive election was held.

Working in a team of four students, he researched the election regulations and voting process online, drew some ideas for different screens and suggested icons to represent each of the three candidates.

For example, bullets in the form of Henry Tang Ying-yen's wife are used to kill off opponents, while Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is a wolf. "There were lots of news reports that gave us inspiration," says Iverson, 14. "We got to design the game from start to finish. It was a really fun experience."

The game won a prestigious Digital Media Award, organised by Creative Power Education Association.

Some people doubt the benefits of e-learning when teachers only use computers to replace the traditional "talk and chalk" method. But Au believes the most important thing is that lessons are well-organised and use sound teaching methods. "Learning is the more important word in 'e-learning'. We use technology only as a tool."

The boys certainly want to keep using e-learning in lessons. "I really like using technology in the classroom," Jeffrey says. "I hope we use computers instead of textbooks in future."

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