"Providing structured learning activities for the use of the Internet as opposed to just passive, aimless browsing is one of the great challenges facing educators at the moment," says teacher Euan Bradley. That's why Bradley created MacDougall MacDougall, an imaginary Scottish time traveler and "misadventurer" who is at the heart of this multidisciplinary Web- and e-mail-based project. Bradley never imagined how much students, known as "MacTrackers," would come to love MacDougall as they follow him across the world and through time. Included: With a new session about to begin, your students too can track the elusive MacDougall! Information provided.
"MacDougall MacDougall in Time demonstrates that it is possible to engage students in a productive and interesting use of Internet technology as well as bring students from around the world together," Euan Bradley tells Education World. "I would like to think that MacDougall MacDougall in Time provides an effective model for the use of Internet technologies. It is also a good example of how learning can be both multidisciplinary and a lot of fun."
When member schools of the Dandenong Ranges Open Learning Network were seeking an online collaborative project that would encourage students to develop e-mail skills, they looked to Bradley -- their project officer -- for ideas. That's when MacDougall MacDougall in Time was born.
Bradley's love of adventure games, such as Carmen Sandiego, inspired MacDougall. Bradley liked the idea of challenging students to chase a character and follow a series of clues in a given time frame. The challenge was not to make the "game" too "ponderous" for students to play, says Bradley. Humor would be an essential ingredient to maintain their interest.
"I had had a long friendship with Malcolm Anderson, not just an ex-Scot but also an actor and drama teacher, and he was a natural choice when it came to providing the comic element," recalls Bradley. "I had visited Scotland some years ago and had always been intrigued by the accent, and I knew the kids would respond to the quaintness of the colloquialisms."
Teacher Malcolm Anderson of Upwey High School, in the hills to the east of Melbourne, joined the project at Bradley's request. "Euan Bradley was keen to set up an interactive program that would allow primary and secondary students to work together," says Anderson. "I was most taken with this concept. My main role was to work with Euan on the scripting and perform the plot. He was the brains; I was simply the actor. It is exciting to see how students all over the world have embraced the project."
Australian and international students in grades six to eight, approximately 12 to 14 years of age, may join the project. Participants track down the elusive MacDougall MacDougall, who is hiding somewhere in time. Each week, two new locations are revealed; to find them, students must complete a series of exercises and answer a key question from MacDougall. He responds by e-mail with the Web address of the next location and activities. The project is completely Web-based, and participation is facilitated entirely by e-mail.
Students may work in pairs with students from their home schools or choose to work with a child from another school. They are identified as "MacTracker 1" and "MacTracker 2." Each destination has specific tasks for both trackers. Partners may assist each other, but they must submit their answers independently. Points are awarded to teams for completing the tasks consistently and accurately. The teams with the most points at the end of the five-week session win prizes.
Barbara Rose, learning technologies coordinator at Upwey South Primary School, has been involved with MacDougall MacDougall in Time since its inception. She participated in the initial planning session during which the concept for the project was developed.
"The children were all given their own school e-mail accounts and continually checked for more clues or messages from their partners," Rose explains to Education World. "Their confidence grew noticeably as they realized that they could do so many different tasks on the computer with little or no assistance.
"The students developed their computer skills further while having a great time and learning to access and interpret information on the Internet. I was surprised at the enthusiasm of some of the quieter girls who most capably participated in the project," Rose adds.
Student Duncan M. participated in the online project at Rose's direction. "MacDougall MacDougall in Time is an Internet project where you have to work out clues and find MacDougall," Duncan tells Education World. "He's a Scottish guy going through time.
"I learned all about old Scotland, Japan, the United States, and more," Duncan adds. "The project is really interesting and helps build skills."
"MacDougall is a Scottish guy with an accent. You have to try to catch him," explains Katie D., another student. "You get an e-mail with clues and Web addresses. You have tasks to complete. I learned lots of things about other countries, things that I never knew before. This project helps children learn more about how to use computers."
Lincoln M. especially enjoyed learning about the Boxer Rebellion and King Tutankhamen by tracking MacDougall online. "Other kids should know that this project is time consuming, addictive, and competitive, but in the end, it all comes down to having a great time and a lot of fun," he says.
Many students adore MacDougall, and now there are plans for more travels and an international "brother" adventurer!
"What has surprised me most about the project is how affectionately the students have responded to the persona of MacDougall," says Bradley. "Many have e-mailed to say they are his devoted fans; others have replied to e-mails using Scottish colloquialisms themselves and telling him about things going on at their school and the exciting things that have happened to them during the week. It was also surprising to find so many students prepared to continue e-mailing and working on weekends."
Bradley has been thrilled with the response to the project. Eighty students registered to play in the October/November 2000 session, and another 60 students recently completed the adventure during a February/March 2001 session. The project is running again in May 2001, and students and teachers can register on the site.
Further MacDougall adventures are under construction; the creators hope to build a series of online projects to engage students. The concept is also spawning offshoots, with plans for a French character to head a new series in the latter half of this year.
Article by Cara Bafile
Copyright © 2001 Education World