Title:City Treasure: Mobile Games for Learning Cultural Heritage
Authors:Luca Botturi, Alessandro Inversini, Alessandra Maria
Publication:MW2009: Museums and the Web 2009

This paper presents the design, development and evaluation of eTreasure, an application which exploits mobile technologies for the development of engaging outdoor learning experiences in the cultural heritage domain for primary and secondary school classes.

eTreasure has been developed and tested in Lugano, a small city in the South of Switzerland. The city blends Italian culture and Swiss hospitality, and enjoys a rich cultural heritage, from Renaissance frescoes to modern architecture by Mario Botta. Lugano is a common destination of primary and secondary school trips from all over the region; we asked ourselves how such school trip could be made engaging and memorable for children, rather than simply some hours out of the classroom?

Capitalizing on the results of an eTourism project, and in collaboration with the city school district, we developed a SMS-based treasure hunt for school classes from grades 8-12. The challenge was using mobile technologies for blending curriculum-relevant content into an engaging activity fostering observation, learning and retention in a powerful informal learning experience. The learning goals were: (a) fostering the observation of details in cultural heritage and stimulating meaningful learning; (b) enhancing team-work attitudes and skills; and (c) making the learning of history, geography and fine arts fun and worth remembering in connection with cultural heritage locations.

The development of the game was the result of a team activity with primary and secondary school teachers, content experts, game designers and technologists. The playing and learning experience blends technology-supported and non-technological activities in preparation, on-site and follow-up activities. From a technological point of view, the system exploits both mobile and web technologies for a seamless experience. Small groups of children follow the hints they receive via SMS, identify hotspots on their map, and run for it. It can be a church, a monument, a square, which they will have to explore in detail in order to answer questions and earn points.

During May and June 2008, four primary school classes for a total of over 100 children, played the treasure hunt with great success. The evaluation followed a method based on direct observation, data collection through surveys involving students, teacher and families, and interviews with teachers. While the learning results met the expectations, the engagement of children was more than expected, making the school trip a memorable adventure and a topic for discussion at home. The fun of the experience came from the competition that develops among the groups of 4-6 students and, of course, form the use of mobile technologies, which have deep penetration in that age group and are usually forbidden at school. Fun turned into motivation to play the game and observe and learn in order to win