Suzan-HarknessThis is a guest blog post by Suzan Harkness, former vice president for academic affairs at Stephens College and an associate professor of political science at the University of the District of Columbia. Blackboard is committed to helping colleges solve their most pressing challenges, including engagement and retention, therefore we invited Suzan to write a blog post for us about her unique research in the area of instructional technology and teaching and learning. 

As campuses and faculty embrace students at the opening of a new semester, one thing for certain is that many will be engaged with the hottest mobile game right now: Pokémon GO. How might colleges and universities use this game and its sensational popularity to build brand, create a campus buzz, and encourage student engagement?

Just as other technology and applications have risen to popularity in the past and been repurposed on campus (Second Life, podcasting, RSS feeds, SIM City, etc), there is a natural fit with young people. Pokémon GO presents colleges and university leaders with rich opportunity to engage students, bring people to campus, and build upon the success of a cultural phenomenon. An earlier piece published in the Chronicle mentioned that campuses are already seeing the impact of Pokémon GO. Students are drawn to play the game and to campus locations and other public venues where they may catch Pokémon.

What is Pokémon Go

All across the world, Pokémon GO is a gaming app that brings augmented reality and location technology into the mainstream, and brings with it numerous marketing, collaboration, engagement, and branding opportunities.

Since the release of the game on July 6, Pokémon GO has been downloaded millions of times and played by people of all ages. In conversations with gamers, the overriding sentiment is that the game is engaging; it is bringing people together, it is creating community, and it is getting people outdoors exploring their surroundings.

Gamers playing Pokémon GO are easy to spot. They are intensely looking at their smartphones, swiping up or across their phone screen as they try to catch Pokémon or spinning for goodies at a Poké Stop. If they are tapping the phone screen repeatedly while getting excited, they are most likely battling it out in a Poké Gym for control of that location. Such widespread gaming might pique the interest of campus leaders and drive conversations around how many Poké Stops and Poké Gyms are on any individual campus and what opportunities and concerns might be raised with respect to students or gamers on campus.

Here are some ways we have seen colleges and universities begin to embrace Pokémon Go on campus to engage and delight their communities:

#1. Use Pokémon GO to introduce incoming freshman and transfer students to campus navigation via a campus tour.

Colleges and Universities are natural hotspots for Poké Stops and Poké Gyms due to their historical landmarks. A Poké Stop is a location where gamers fuel-up by spinning a disk on their smartphone in the game application and are rewarded with Poké balls, potions, eggs, lure modules and other useful items to play the game. A Poké Stop also provides an insightful, small educational opportunity to learn about the location.

This is a great way for students to explore, navigate, and get to know the campus. Schools can build community engagement by using the game and Poké Stops on campus to design a scavenger hunt, like at Spokane Falls Community College– the students can learn where the library is and where historical campus markers are as an affordance to playing.

#2. Use Pokémon GO to get students and staff engaged during registration or student events.

Pokémon Go themed events can draw a large crowd for registration, or other community events like for recruitment at sororities, fraternities, clubs or volunteer orientations. For example, Triton College is offering Pokémon themed campus registration events to engage with new students during the registration process. Their public relations director says that their event, the Pokémon Go Great Campus Capture, is allowing students to get “everything they need to register for the fall semester. They’re able to take a tour of campus and meet with a counselor.”

#3. Use Pokémon GO to encourage students and staff to get healthy.

The game could be a great way for staff and faculty to engage in break-walks and meet-ups around campus as part of a health and wellness program. Gamers visit Poké Stop locations to fill their game bag with goodies, set lure modules at the Poké Stop to draw Pokémon to the location to be captured, and wander around hunting for Pokémon that appear in the wild. By promoting the game and Poké Stop locations, the university is encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle with a little gaming on the side chasing Pokémon.

Santa Fe College does a great job of this by publicizing the locations of the Poké Stops and Poké Gyms while promoting their pedestrian-friendly campus. One staff member at UC Davis shares how “Pokémon GO has given us a huge push to get out and walk,” which she does frequently with coworkers at breaks each day. She also says that “It has been great to interact with staff and has helped boost morale.”

#4. Use Pokémon GO to bring familiar and fresh faces to campus to engage with the environment.

Pokémon Go has the potential to bring in prospective students to campus, as well as alumni. New students could get to know the area by visiting Poké Stops at the dining hall, learn campus history on a tour, and plant a Bell Sprout in their minds eye of future possibilities. Or you could plan an alumni event around Pokémon Go, to see what’s old, what’s new, or learn about something they possibly didn’t know. At Northern Kentucky University, the University Police estimated over 1,000 people came to NKU for the first publicized Pokémon event. It drew in crowds of students, teachers, alumni, parents, and community members alike.

#5. Use Pokémon GO to expose auxiliary programs by using the game as a draw.

By placing Poké lure modules in strategic locations that have a Poké Stop, you can encourage people to visit a certain location as they play the game. For example, you could get people to visit the dining hall or coffee shop at certain times of the day by placing lure modules at Poké Stops. As gamers play, they will no doubt buy a snack or drink. The potential and opportunity to build upon this technology and use it to expose brand and to market institutions, as well as repurpose it in higher education, is ripe for capturing.

The current possibilities are numerous, and if Niantic builds out the full potential of the game, the future possibilities are even more exciting. The future may hold opportunities to purchase Poké Stops and brand them, to purchase Poké Gyms and brand them, to have a rare Pokémon spawn site on location, to host a Poké trading location or Poké hospital and so much more. Do not mistake the enormous draw of this game and the potential it holds. In this instance, it’s better to join them than to fight them.

Whitepaper: how technology is transforming teaching and learning

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