Game On! Teen tech game to digitally enhance and enrich senior’s online learning landscape

Game On!

Teen tech tutors game to digitally enhance and enrich senior’s online learning landscape.

by Delwyn Elizabeth

Branch Public Library (BPL)’s senior patrons are inquiring about one-on-one computer tutoring sessions in record numbers. However, staff turnover and understaffing has curbed BPL’s ability to meet this need. It is timely to look for new solutions to addressing the digital divide, and growing smartphone divide, in this community. By exploring Game Based Learning as a way to conceptualize this problem, BPL will not only address a need in the community but sldo affordably create a template program that can be rolled out into other county branches. This invitation will first assess the need for a technology adoption program at BPL, then go on to discuss utilizing GBL with this age group and then, finally, propose a program to be trialed and evaluated for adoption by the branch.


The world population is aging. Research predicts that in 2045 “seniors will exceed the number of children and adolescents up to 15 years old”(Cota and Ishitani, 2015, p. 3).  Digital technology and the internet are increasingly central to cultural, political, economic and political life. They also offer particular benefits for seniors including communicating with family over distances, healthcare maintenance, home safety, and access to information (Palacio, Acosta, Cortez, & Morán, 2017, p. 103). However, some of our community’s senior citizens lack the skills and access needed to fully participate in this world (Ijsselsteijn, Nap, de Kort, & Poels, 2007, p. 1; Niehaves & Plattfaut, 2014, p. 708).

Those aged over 65 years are by no means a homogeneous group. One group, the older, less affluent, suffering from ill health or disability, is largely physically and psychologically disconnected from the digital. A second group, younger, more highly educated, and affluent, have more access to technology, and a positive view of the internet (Smith, 2014). Even those with technology are not taking full advantage of the capabilities their devices affords them. Kobayashi (2011, p. 83) found that in Japan in 2009 “70% of people aged 60-69 and 40% of people aged 70-79 used mobile phones;” however, the majority of these older users did not use a range of the smartphone’s technical capacities and applications, producing a intragroup divide among smartphone users (Eun-A Park & Sangwon Lee, 2015, p. 81). Moreover, Park (2015, p. 83) argues that one result of not using the full capacity of the device is that seniors have less confidence in finding information online.

Research shows that seniors are willing to embrace technology, especially touch screen technology, but that they need a user friendly interface and to understanding the benefits of adopting technology in order to be successful in the ‘human-computer interaction’ (Palacio et al., 2017, p. 103). Game Based Learning is an approach that the library can use to address the occurrence of the digital divide in our senior community. By implementing The Amazing Race (Library Edition) seniors will be introduced to technology, internet access and the benefits of going digital in an active, fun and situationally authentic way, less intimidating than one-to-one situations, isolated from their peer groups and under the spotlight (Romero & Ouellet, 2016, p. 2).


Although the gaming industry has done little to cater to seniors, gaming amongst seniors is on the rise. In 1999, 9% of persons aged 50 and above played digital games; in 2008 the proportion of players had increased to 26% (Cota & Ishitani, 2014, p. 3). Seniors make up 14% of the gaming population in Germany and 29% in the US. (Wiemeyer 2011, p 41). Gerling et al (2012, p. 238) suggests that seniors enjoy watching gaming as well as playing. Given this interest, using gaming to teach technology skills seems justifiable.

However, seniors have different motivations and barriers to gaming than do other segments of the gaming population (IJsselsteijn, Nap, de Kort & Poels, p. 2). Studies suggest that being able to see the benefits of gaming is a primary motivator for seniors (IJsselsteijn, Nap, de Kort & Poels, p. 2). Unlike younger gamers elderly are willing to take a ‘bitter pill’ approach to gaming – they are willing to play a game if they perceive it has having health benefits and is easy to use (Theng, Teo, & Truc, 2010, p. 152). The elderly also prefer games that are moderately challenging, use a range of clear visual symbols to communicate game play and rules and that the use of audial feedback is useful (Gerling, Schulte, Smeddinck, & Masuch, 2012, p. 236). The use of multimodal feedback is especially beneficial to this age-group, allowing multiple channels of communication to be used in order to overcome any deficiencies of faculties. Seniors are less attracted to games that involve violence, fantasy genres, and have a fear of failure and/or misadventure (Cota & Ishitani, 2014, p. 11; Kobayashi et al., 2011, p. 84).

Gerling et al (2012, p. 239) reports that in-game operations are better understood if they are presented as real life situations that seniors would encounter on a daily basis.  The rules of the game need to be easily understood and rewards and punishments of the game should be based on the users individual skills, rather than a competition with others (Gerling et al., 2012, p. 240). This is the difficult balance gaming with seniors presents: reducing the cognitive load of the game to encourage easy uptake and making it challenging enough to be enjoyably engaging (Gerling et al., 2012, p. 241) Thus, the interface needs to be simplistic and the usability and accessibility are vital to attracting and retaining seniors interest (Cota & Ishitani, 2014, p. 11). Having control over some structural elements of the game, such as skill levels, audial and visual elements, allow seniors to progress at their own pace and comfort levels through games, leveling and advancing as they see the need (Westwood & Griffiths, 2010, p. 581).

When introduced to and have access to gaming consoles seniors recognize the low cost advantages of gaming for physical, psychological and cognitive well-being (Cota & Ishitani, 2014, pp. 10–11).  Socializing, meeting new friends and competing against buddies while playing beneficial games is an attractive characteristic of gaming though not all seniors want to be bothered by arranging scheduling with other players (Westwood & Griffiths, 2010, p. 582).  Use of the Nintendo wii in nursing homes enables enjoyable alternative “physical rehab, depression symptoms reduction and cognitive development” (Palacio et al., 2017, p. 103). The free and natural range of physical motion that the Wii allows multi-player use and encourages a range of social interaction and game engagement (Theng et al., 2010, p. 153).

Seniors nonetheless are deterred from gaming by a variety of barriers. They are concerned about their physical safety while gaming, having access to the equipment to game, playing alone, injury and a lack of rewards (Wiemeyer & Kliem, 2012, p. 42). They face visual, auditory, physical, and cognitive restrictions (Palacio et al., 2017, p. 104) and often are limited by chronic illness such as heart disease, arthritis (Gerling et al., 2012, p. 235) and Alzheimer’s Disease (Theng et al., 2010, p. 153). As a result of these conditions, Palacio (2017, p. 112) argues:

“older people take longer to perform activities and to read instructions and textual information, they make more mistakes, they forget the point of the activity they are performing, they are more often confused by and do not understand technical language, they are reluctant or refuse to do something they think will cause system failure and they get more upset and often blame themselves if something goes wrong.”

Rather than waiting for technological breakthroughs to remove these barriers, I propose that we enrich and enhance the learning environment by encouraging teenagers to join The Amazing Race (Library Edition) program as tutors. Our teens can help us problem-solve difficulties as they arise. Rather than see only problems, we can collaborate to find solutions and do it while laughing, while competing, and while treating seniors with compassion and dignity. The hare and tortoise become teammates in this situation rather than running separate races.


Often heralded as internet savvy digital natives (Holliday & Li, 2004, p. 357), teens are comfortable with technology in a way that seniors are not, and they gain satisfaction from intergenerational contact and authentic opportunities for leadership and community service (Loos, 2014, p. 46; Sandi Kawecka Nenga, 2010; Shellenbarger, 2011). Therefore, they are the natural tutors in a needs based problem such as this.

Libraries are in a unique position to bridge the digital divide by programming for these two, underserved, age-groups simultaneously and game based learning is an ideal platform to locate this interaction.

At BPL, volunteering is the new programming for teens, and it is a win/win for the community. The teens assist with programs that require additional staffing and the teens require volunteer hours to fulfill school and class requirements. In return for their labor they are also learning 21st Century skills: the learning skills of critical and creative thinking, collaboration and communication; information, media, and technology literacy skills; and the life skills of flexibility, initiative, social skills and productivity at the same time (National Education Association, 2010).

Until recently teens at BPL have only assisted with programming for children much younger than themselves. However, this programming cycle they participated in the “Teen Tech Tutor Program: What The Tech?” where they acted as tech tutors for seniors. Although practical and a natural fit, these sessions can be awkward. As the seniors in the program reveal their fears and lack of digital literacy the teens are not sure how to assist and where to start (Dvorak, 2017). The program is enthusiastically attended and community building but it is not meeting the information needs of the seniors coming to it. Gaming will not only assist in breaking the ice, it will provide structure to frame and evaluate learning outcomes for seniors that is often difficult in the library setting (Boyle, Collins, Kinsey, Noonan, & Pocock, 2016, p. 34). It may even assist our millennial thinkers to learn to ask for information seeking assistance from librarians and to explore information sources other than the first result of a Google search. (Holliday & Li, 2004, pp. 357, 359–60)

D. THE GAME: The Amazing Race (Library Edition)

With the season finale of the twenty-ninth season of the Amazing Race 2017 about to be aired in the United States, BPL is invited to join the fans and host its own Amazing Race. Drawing on the game universe of the iconic TV show, the game will feature challenges, rules, route markers, clues, and a final Pit Stop for each leg. Route information, road bumps, and detours will be focused on technology and information skills at escalating levels over the three weeks of game play. Teams will use Google Maps to find distances between locations; world clock to discover time zones; Facetime to communicate instructions to their partners; a digital camera and video to record information; and Skype to message and send data. Teaming seniors with teens will provide intergenerational mentorship and playfulness as they tackle learning outcomes appropriate for their age group. As the game progresses, teams can earn points by completing additional tasks based on skills they learn which are essential to completing more difficult legs. Library staff will act as game marshals, mentors, and adjudicators, reinforcing the approachable service offered by the library.

The Amazing Race (Library Edition) will utilize technologies and information sources that offer seniors practice using online skills they require to navigate everyday digital tools. A teen tutor will guide them through the necessary risk-taking behavior involved in learning a new technology and way of thinking. Recognizing that most gamers use an exploratory trial and error strategy to learn games (St-Pierre, 2011, p. 85), seniors’ risk-adverse player personalities will be off-set by the intergenerational nature of the game design. This game design promotes the active engagement in skills now necessary to life long learning while making it a playful experience (Romero & Ouellet, 2016, pp. 3–6). (See appendix for game rules, design, game mechanics and player information).

The game will use ten preloaded iPads. The touch screen technology and user interface of this hardware makes it well-suited to seniors, as well as providing a transferable skill set for other smart devices (Kobayashi et al., 2011, p. 96). It is also hardware that is affordable for both the library and patrons. Game play will expose seniors to a series of ‘challenges’ which will necessitate them traversing the library and completing a range of tasks using common features and software found on smart devices, as well as participating in a physical game using the Wii. By giving library staff the in-game role of rewarding players with their next clue, players are encouraged to make use of human resources also available to answer questions regarding their information needs in real life. As O’Brien (2011, p. 11) argues, there is added value to the learning experience of the game “when students need to use knowledge authentically” and bring their in-game personality back to their outside lives (Adams, 2009, p. 678).

The game will be played over three consecutive weeks in order that skills can be learned, practiced, repeated and built upon as the game continues. Through repeating challenges within the game multiple times, seniors are able to develop skills and level up while also collecting experience points and adding to their leader board scores. Game-based learning of digital information skills and literacy will encourage seniors to continue ‘playing’ in the library as we offer new ‘seasons’ of The Amazing Race (Library Edition). The active nature of the game play promotes IT use, physical activity, social interaction, and information literacy and advocacy, all key to elderly participant satisfaction (Khoo, Merritt, Cheok, Lian, & Yeo, 2007, p. 241).

Seniors will be able to checkout an iPad on close reserve, meet with their teen tutor or practice solo on non-game days. Experience points will be awarded for these skill development sessions and added to the player’s total score. Autonomy to level up and accumulate skills outside of gameplay affords the player more control over their game experience (Romero & Ouellet, 2016, p. 2; Westwood & Griffiths, 2010, p. p 581). Points will also be awarded for completing additional ‘Road Block’ challenges during out-of-game hours. These points may be cashed in for either an individual tutor hour with a librarian at one of the library’s public access computers or on a personal device, or the experience points can be added to their entries into the Grand Prize Draw. ‘Grand Prize Winners’ will be awarded a “Skip Card” and a “Get out of Jail Free Card” as well as a gift card donated by the local game store. The “Skip Card” will entitle the player of the card to skip to the top of the library holds queue. The “Get out of Jail Free Card” entitles the holder of the card fee forgiveness for overdue fines up to $30. These cards may be played only once at any point in the calendar year after being issued. In a playful way, these prizes reflect services elderly patrons often ask about, but are not offered, and would therefore be highly valued rewards and encourage participation.

The gamification of an already existing but labour intensive senior technology program will not only benefit seniors and teen patrons but also be more fiscally sustainable for the branch. Game based learning applied to the current learning needs of BPL’s senior patrons will encourage patronage, access, intergenerational community dialogue and fun.


The Game: The Amazing Race (Library edition)

Structural Game Rules:

  • Teams of 2-3 players. Each team can have no more than 1 teen. Teens and seniors will be randomly assigned to teams for the purpose of the game.
  • Only 10 teams can compete in each series.
  • Teams must commit to, and complete, 3 legs of the game in order to be eligible for the grand prize draw. The series will run over the 3 consecutive weeks during the summer. Each leg will be completed beginning at 3:30pm, Thursday. The final leg will conclude with a grand prize draw.
  • each team will have access to a smartphone and an iPad that will be provided by the library for the purpose of this game. Players may not use their own devices during the game in order to protect privacy and security of the players and their personal information.
  • Teams may meet in the library, outside of the game, to practice skills required by the game. Devices will be available from the Reference Collection, and abiding by the rules of this Collection, by the players for the duration of the Series.

Game moves:

  • Teams will move through a 3 challenges in order to complete a leg of the race. Upon reaching the Pit Stop for the leg each team will receive their position on the race (1st, 2nd, 3rd)
  • The goal of the game is to complete all the tasks of the leg before any other team.
  • ‘Detours’ must be completed by all members of the team. The team must choose between two tasks.
  • ‘Roadblocks’ must be completed by only one member of the team. After a hint from the clue, the team must choose which Senior member of the team will complete the Roadblock. Only after the team member has been nominated will the team be able to read the task.
  • Once the team has completed 2 Detours and a Roadblock, they will be able to proceed to the Pit Stop.

Point Accumulation and Grand Prize Awarding:

  • Points will be awarded based on the team’s placing at the end of each leg. The first team to arrive will be awarded 10 points, the second 9, and so on.
  • Experience points (XP) will be awarded for out-of-game skill development in a variety of settings. These include: checking out an iPad; meeting with their teen teammate; Senior Solo Play – completing additional Roadblocks.
  • At the end of the third leg, each point accumulated by the team will represent a ticket in the Grand Prize Lottery Draw.
  • The Grand Prize will be awarded to the team drawn. The Skip card, game store voucher, and Get Out Of Jail Free card will be given to the winning team to allocate among Senior members.
  • Teens will be entered into a seperate lottery, drawn at the same time. Tickets will be awarded for out-of-game hours spent working with their Senior teammates, and for the completion of voluntary Speedbump tasks after completing their session.

Learning Objectives:

Exposure to technology and its benefits by Seniors

  • Awareness of general smartphones and I-pad capacities (phone, calendar, messaging, camera and photo albums, sharing photos, world clock and alarms, weather information, GPS functions, etc)
  • Ability to use skype and FaceTime to communicate
  • Use of wii games for physical activity and enjoyment
  • Ability to access and utilise library resources using smart technology
  • Ability to access internet for information

21st Learning Skills by Teens

  • Communication of inherent millennial knowledge to another generation
  • Team work and collaboration
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Willingness to seek assistance from Library Information Staff
  • Ability to access range of information from multiple sources

Teen Motivations:

  • Volunteer hours for school honors societies and college applications
  • Opportunity to win Grand Prize Draw $50 gift card from local gaming store

Seniors Motivations:

  • Access benefits of technology
  • Access to resources
  • Social event and learning opportunity
  • Intergenerational contact
  • Free event
  • Opportunity to win Grand Prize Draw $50 gift card from local gaming store and two library gift cards offering special privileges not available to other patrons.

Environment Dynamics:

  • Library is a space that both groups have access to and feel comfortable in.
  • Teen Space in the library is isolated from spaces seniors spend their time in and so the two groups do not overlap.
  • Free wi-fi allows for authentic access simulation for seniors and teens
  • Bank of ten iPads & 10 iPhones in Close Reserve Reference Collection
  • Library staff available for assisting with informational and directional questions
The Amazing Race (Library Edition)
Detours and Roadblocks
Detours and Roadblocks
Route Info


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Part 3: Invitation

Part 3: Invitation

Inviting organisations, systems or workplaces to meet, respond & adopt the challenge of game-based learning.

In this section:

Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) developed by the
School of Information StudiesCharles Sturt University, 2017.
Charles Sturt University