Video games have a reputation for being frivolous time-wasters that prevent young adults from doing better in school or at work. Summer in Smallywood, a series of video games developed by Untold Entertainment and The Centre for Skills Development & Training, is helping to dispel this negative reputation by leading the way in game-based learning.
Summer in Smallywood is a free-to-play, online Flash game funded by the Government of Canada’s Office of Literacy and Essential Skills. It is designed to help young adults (ages 15 – 30) enhance their ability to succeed at work. Users play the game as employees of “Smallywood,” an amusement park home to the world’s tiniest rides. The retiring owner, Mr. Small E. Wood, is looking for a replacement who can master three Essential Skills.
The Government of Canada, along with other national and international agencies, identified nine Essential Skills as those required for work, learning and life. Essential Skills are used in every job and daily life, and are the foundation upon which all other skills are built.
“According to employers we surveyed, Oral Communication, Working with Others and Thinking Skills were the three Essential Skills young adults needed the most help with in the workplace,” said Kathy Mills, CAO for The Centre. “Instead of going with traditional training materials, like written guides or slideshows, we chose to go with fun and interactive web-based games that young adults can enjoy playing.”
Summer in Smallywood has been piloted with young adults at events since March 2010 and the feedback has been positive. “I can feel the education sinking in!” said Becca M. Another student, Dan M., remarked that “Summer in Smallywood is better than sitting in class for hours watching a PowerPoint presentation.”
Each module of Summer in Smallywood uses inherent learning properties of video games, which include a focus on problem solving, exploration and re-evaluating goals. The player is immersed in a game world where learning about Essential Skills is vital to progression in the story. The humorous story line, unique characters and intuitive gameplay are features of Summer in Smallywood that players have said are the best parts. The game and learning materials have been designed for use in a variety of youth-focused settings, including classrooms, employment and literacy programs, youth drop-in centres and companies employing young people.
Summer in Smallywood has received acclaim from educators and leaders across North America, including Ray McNulty, President of the International Center for Leadership in Education. Mr. McNulty is a world renowned expert in the field of education, and has worked with organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“I’ve been sharing Summer in Smallywood with audiences of educators because I believe it is this type of game-based learning we need to embrace,” said McNulty. “It engages students while teaching them essential skills—and it’s been proven to work in many settings. It’s just this type of innovation we need to consider as we focus on preparing our students for success in work and in life.”