Joyful Reading became an experience for life

Teenagers from four different countries have made a computer game for literacy training – and it works. Nevertheless, the most important outcomes were the multicultural meeting and the new friends made.

A computer game and friends for life. Those are the two things mentioned first when participants in project Joyful Reading are asked about their personal takeaways from their participating. Inga Žemaitienė of the Lithuanian Siauliai Jovaras Progymnazium was the project manager and brains behind the project.

“Generally, both pupils and teachers learned how to design and build a computer game from scratch, but the personal relations mattered the most,” says Inga Žemaitienė.

Namely, project Joyful Reading is about the product – a pedagogical computer game – and the multicultural meeting, but it is also about language proficiency and IT skills.

A large task

Virtually none of the participants in the project had any prior experience with programming or the making of computer games, and Inga Žemaitienė admits that both her and the majority of the participants were astonished.

“Now, everybody understands that even very simple games need lots of work – with the idea, building the history, the characters, the music, and making the controlling possible,” she says.

In spite of that, everyone welcomed the new challenges, and everyone worked really hard:

“Our collaboration gave a result we couldn’t even expect. In the beginning, we had rather different visions for the project’s result,” says Inga Žemaitienė.

The participants had one joint task. With teenagers in mind, they had to develop a computer game for literacy training. The game had to be intuitive, grounded in present possibilities within IT, and make reading more exciting, and every participant was to be active in the process and learn a lot themselves.

“Pupils and teachers learned that even hard and boring things as reading books can be really interesting and attractive when you combine it with the things that teenagers really enjoy as IT,” says Inga Žemaitienė.

Product or process?

For two years, Inga Žemaitienė worked closely with pupils and teachers from Sweden, Estonia, and Latvia. The four educational institutions that participated in Joyful Reading are funded by Nordplus, Junior. They involved classes from multiple schools in the project even though only 12 pupils from each country had the opportunity to travel to visit each other. It possibly sounds like an impossible task to carry through and to motivate the pupils under those circumstances. But it wasn’t – far from it. Elisabeth Olsson from Vålbergskolan in the municipality of Karlstad in Sweden is, in fact, still a little surprised.

“Everything went well – and smoothly – and I still don’t understand how everything turned out so fantastic,” she says.

It could easily have gone the other way.

“The Baltic states were eager to make a good pedagogical game, which could be used afterwards, while, in Sweden, we focused on the elements of learning and the good process,” she says.

She is sure that the multicultural meeting and the friends made have a long-term effect and an influence on transnational relations.

“Prior, the Baltic states were close to non-existent in young Swedes’ minds, and now they’ve made friends for life. That effect is going to spread like ripples on the water,” she says. 

Elisabeth Olsson mentions only one thing which could improve the project.

“I wished we could send whole classes off,” Elisabeth Olsson says.

An experience for life

The Swedish Vålbergskolan has pupils from all social classes.

“To them, the trips to the Baltic states is one for life. It has an enormous significance to every single pupil, and it was hard to pick those who were able to go,” she says.

On a personal level, Elisabeth Olsson experienced that the Swedish pupils benefited from meeting other young people, who grew up in a culture with completely different issues than their own.

“They saw how dedicated the other young people were in regard to learning, and how hard they worked on the joint project,” she says.

Multicultural meeting x 4

Every participant visited each other’s home region. The Estonian pupils’ English teacher, Aire Rillo, was responsible for preparing the contact between the pupils.

“The main thing was almost that they stayed in a private home. Here, the focus was on friendships and experiences and not on lessons on culture and English. They learned a lot – all by themselves,” Aire Rillo says.

She received just as important a lesson in the classrooms.

“I saw the pupils’ lacking social skills, and how difficult it was at times for them to communicate what they wanted,” she says.

She observed that the pupils had difficulties reading each other’s body language and cooperating in a natural way on a project, where neither management, product, or process were defined beforehand.

“As a teacher, I will certainly pay more attention to this in the future,” says Aire Rillo.

Despite the difficulties, the project satisfactorily crossed the finish line. Both in terms of learning, culture, IT, English proficiency, cooperation across nations – and especially the product, a pedagogical game that makes learning more exciting.

A game that works

One thing is to develop the history and the characters for a computer game. Another thing is the coding which makes the characters, landscapes, histories and game elements seem alive. NGO-institution Association Rural Internet Access Points (NGDO) is an expert in the field of IT in Lithuania, and they were an integral part of the entire process.

“Teachers and pupils were involved in the whole process of the development of the game. We, of course, made some corrections, but participants did the main vision of characters and the game,” says Laura Grineviciute, Project Manager at NGDO.

Aire Rillo, Elisabeth Olsson, and Inga Žemaitienė all emphasises that NGDO’s resources were indispensable, and that they added a strong professionalism to the project because of the production of a concrete product.

“Having a concrete result is very important to the pupils. They were very proud when they saw the result,” said Inga Žemaitienė.

Aire Rillo recognises that as well. She too experienced that the reception of the product meant a lot to the pupils.

“In Estonia, we received positive feedback overall, made the papers and were on TV. We were well received by the media, and that gave all of us lots of energy,” she says.