There’s help at hand

There’s help at hand
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First Published: Fri, Nov 21 2008. 10 59 PM IST

Mobile lessons: Maniar’s research at the University of Portsmouth led to a game which the professor hopes will now be licensed by other universities.
Mobile lessons: Maniar’s research at the University of Portsmouth led to a game which the professor hopes will now be licensed by other universities.
Updated: Fri, Nov 21 2008. 10 59 PM IST
The first of many sub-games in Prof. Nipan Maniar’s mobile game, C-Shock, involves prancing around a basketball court trying to avoid red balls while collecting green ones. Surely, you say, that sort of computer game was trendy when disco music was cool and a mullet was something to be proud of.
Mobile lessons: Maniar’s research at the University of Portsmouth led to a game which the professor hopes will now be licensed by other universities.
But there is more to the little sequence than just 1980s style dodging and grabbing. Each red ball stands for a social evil—binge drinking and junk food—while the green ones are good habits—daily water intake and fresh fruits and vegetables. What Maniar, of the University of Portsmouth, UK, is trying to do with C-Shock is to give foreign students in the UK a fun and user-friendly way of getting to know the social norms and potential problem areas of British culture.
Much of Maniar’s inspiration for the game came from his own experiences as a foreign student. The Indian professor recounts his transition in some detail: “I came to England on 13 September 2000, and it was the first time I left my family and country. For me, it was a different world, where I had no one to guide me or talk to.”
When he spoke to us on phone from his office at the university, the professor was candid about the culture shock. The initial periods, he said, were particularly tough. “First job I did here was that of a cleaner and I still remember that morning when I walked into the building, the supervisors greeted me by saying ‘my love, my darling, my sweetheart’,” he recounted. For the graduate in math and statistics from Gujarat University, this was nothing short of scandalous. And the peck on the cheek that followed didn’t help much either.
Shocks followed upon shock. When the professor first met the staff member who had recruited him from India, he immediately touched his feet—not exactly everyday social behaviour in Portsmouth.
Maniar narrates incident after incident to make one simple point—that he still finds it difficult to drive home to critics the practicality of his game-based training approach. “It takes time to settle into a new culture. Many students think that they already know everything there is to know about a foreign culture. Students from big cities like Mumbai, for instance, might think that just because they have seen so many foreign television programmes they know exactly how the culture is here. This is completely wrong!”
Three years into his stay at Portsmouth, and after completing his masters in multimedia information systems, Maniar was weighing options for his doctoral thesis when he decided to work in the field of mobile learning. “That’s when the idea of something along the lines of C-Shock occurred to me,” explains the professor. By then, mobile phones had become ubiquitous among the student population and Maniar saw an opportunity to tap into that channel as a learning tool.
So, in between churning out research papers on topics such as “The Effect of Screen Size on Video-Based M-Learning”, he found time to work on his pet project. Finally, in May 2007, the university announced that Maniar was working on a mobile game to combat culture shock. The international media lapped it up.
“The response was great,” recalls Maniar. “Everyone talked about the idea but they focused on just some of the game elements like drinking, kissing and women’s attire.” For the professor, this was frustrating—his game had a much larger scope.
After further development and welcome funding from the Higher Education Innovation Fund of the British government, “C-Shock: Travel to UK” was launched along with an online flash demo in September.
“The game now contains a number of culture shock elements introduced to the player through 12 games and five quizzes,” says Maniar.
The online demo of the game is both amusing to play, and revealing of the scope of Maniar’s concept.
The game begins, aptly enough, at an airport. Hit the space bar and it transitions into the intro screen where a plane takes off and, as it proceeds to the UK, you are informed of the rules of the game. The ultimate aim is to empty your “culture shock meter” from a menacing “red” to a culturally acclimatized “green”.
We then land on a mock-up of the University of Portsmouth campus and the protagonist, a cheery silhouette, starts walking down a street noticing things commonplace in British culture: a postbox, a bus stop, a double-decker and, of course, a couple kissing in public. That last one is accompanied with a pop-up box to inform you that kissing in public, even among individuals of the same gender, is kosher in the UK. But there are other lessons, too, on topics such as public transport, part-time employment, seasonal clothing and police services.
The first sub-game occurs when you walk into the University of Portsmouth sports centre and prance around those red and green basketballs. The idea of that sub-game is to tell you to lay off too much alcohol, fats and sugar and opt, instead, for water, fruits and vegetables.
Your next stop could be the office block—the itinerary around campus is entirely up to you—and here you learn about fire escapes and the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988. But you do this by running away from a mammoth raging fire through an office leaping over office chairs. But en route you must also douse flames with an extinguisher, set off fire alarms and avoid getting toasted yourself.
For a simple, easily learnt game, C-Shock packs in a lot of content. “My aim is to make the educational process less painful and more entertaining. Don’t be surprised if I come up with a degree, which can be awarded via the gaming platform!” Maniar says.
He now hopes to market the game to universities all over the world.
Licensing rights for C-Shock are available for purchase and Maniar says that the game can be modified for any setting in any language. Universities could easily make fresh foreign students and their parents give it a shot on their mobile phones before they enrol for classes. The professor is hopeful: “It may not be a complete solution to culture shock. But it is a relatively simple way of making those early few days more comfortable for everyone.”
The online demo version of C-shock can be accessed at www.c-shock.com
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First Published: Fri, Nov 21 2008. 10 59 PM IST