Teachers Still More Effective at Educating Than ‘Assassin’s Creed’

“Assassin’s Creed Origins'” educational Discovery Tour mode was nearly as effective at educating grade and high school students about Ancient Egypt as a teacher, according to some preliminary research into the effectiveness of the add-on.

But there are quite a few catches.

The study was rather small, it tested knowledge on a very simple subject, and did so right after the students had either played the game or been instructed by a teacher.

Ultimately, those instructed by the game saw a 44% improvement of their knowledge and those lectured by a teacher saw a 51% improvement.

The most important takeaway from both Ubisoft’s creation of the free Discovery Tour add-on and the research was that the project is worth doing.

The information came out of a presentation Thursday night in New York City at the annual Games for Change Festival where Maxime Durand, the historian for Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” franchise, and University of Montreal professor Marc-André Éthier were among the presenters.

During their talk, the two outlined the creation of the Discovery Tour, its current state, and the desire to move it forward as an educational aid.

The Discovery Tour allows players of “Origins” to activate a mode that disables the game’s fighting systems and then explore a number of educational tours on a variety of historic topics in-game.

Durand said the first runthrough of those tours resulted in what would have been two-and-a-half hour sessions. That was thrown out and pared down to roughly five minutes. They were initially considering just 20 tours in the mode, but ended up with 75, he added.

Éthier, a former high school teacher who has been a professor of social sciences methodology at the university since 2004, has been working since 2015 on how teachers use textbooks and tools like films, books, graphic novels, and video games to teach history.

He did a study on the effectiveness of the game as a teacher after Ubisoft gave 300 students, aged 12 to 17, from nine schools a chance to try it out.

He said he took 40 students, split them into two groups and then had a test administered to check their knowledge on a specific tour topic.

He then had 20 of the students try the Discovery Tour and the other 20 students received a 12-minute lecture on the same topic from the teacher. Afterward, he tested the group again.

While the results showed that the teacher was still more effective as a tool for learning, it also generated a number of interesting questions, he said.

Questioned afterward, the students said that they find it to be easier to understand what parts of the information they were receiving was important when a teacher was present. Those that finished early, he found, went on to try other locations. The students also admitted they’d be unlikely to try Discovery Tour at home — instead they’d likely just play the regular game.

Éthier said in the future he would like to measure how effective the mode is in teaching more complex notions about things like society, politics, and agency and that he’d like to see if it could be used to measure the development of critical thinking. He also thinks it’s possible it could be more effective when used in conjunction with a teacher, rather than on its own.

While Ubisoft is currently developing a new Assassin’s Creed game, the Ancient Greece “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey,” they’ve declined to say whether it will include a Discovery mode too.

But Durand certainly made it sound like Ubisoft as a company isn’t done with the idea of education through Assassin’s Creed. He said the team would like to make the requirements to run the mode as a standalone, lower on a PC and that they have other work to do as well.

“This is the first time we did this,” he said. “It’s not perfect. But hopefully we’ll get more feedback.”

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