Computing student wins J.P. Morgan’s Code for Good

Students at JP Morgans Code for Good
Melat, in the centre, with team mates from other London universities

BSc Computer Science student, Melat Gebreselassie, is on the winning team for J.P. Morgan’s annual hackathon, Code for Good.

JP Morgan’s annual Code for Good programme gives participants the chance to use their coding skills to build creative solutions for problems faced by not-for-profit organisations.

Melat’s team worked with Project Access, who run an international mentorship programme to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds navigate applying for university. The team had to address the issue that the huge amount of data available online about university applications can be overwhelming.

“The challenge was to find a solution for students age 16-18 all around the world who have very little knowledge in how they should apply, where they should apply etc. in one place online in an accessible simple way” Melat said.

Melat and her team decided the best approach was to create a chatbot implanted into Facebook messenger, which would be accessible to young people who are used to texting and messaging through social media. They used Google’s machine learning brain, DialogFlow, to power the chatbot. This means that the more chatbot is used the better the algorithm becomes.

Melat’s BSc Computer Science degree was important as she used knowledge of node.js to build the chatbot, a coding language she is currently learning in her Data and the Web module taught by Dr. Elaheh Homayounvala.

Her team completed the challenge in just 16 hours, and after presenting to an audience of 400 people and 5 judges, were announced the winners of the competition.

Congratulations to Melat and the team!

Games Library Night

Games Library Night at Goldsmiths, University of London

For the second year in a row, at Goldsmiths we have celebrated the connection between our library and the world of games. The social space in the library is an incredible setting for showcasing games and have a friendly meetup and talk sessions with people from the game industry.

Plus, we had popcorn, cupcakes and tea for getting cosy and relaxed as the reading week is fading out and the winter is kicking in.

Across the evening we showcased many student games, some of which are making their own way to publishing and hitting the market. We played and talked together, giving and receiving feedback.

After a brief opening by Eve Jamieson and Alan Zucconi we’ve welcomed on stage our speakers.

Jupiter Hadley has introduced the audience to her job as a journalist and a reviewer, pointing out what are the elements that stand out in independent and game jam games.

Allan Cudicio, the second speaker of the evening, talked about how to research precolonial Africa for games. His talk was very well received, especially given how strong the discussion about decolonising the library currently is.

Anisa Sanusi closed the event talking about her mentorship programme for underrepresented genders in the game industry. We think this discussion is extremely relevant and important in an industry that is changing a lot and which is not always welcoming people in the best way.

We recorded all of the talks, which you can see in this playlist:

We’ve literally filled the space up to the brim and the Games Library Night has been a success for Goldsmiths. The feedback has been great, and the event was also featured on Timeout London.

Alan Zucconi, Federico Fasce, Eve Jamieson and Pete McKenzie

Goldsmiths undergraduate projects presented at CHI Play

Image of Barcelona with the words 'CHI Play 2019' overlaid

Dr Sarah Wiseman, programme leader for BSc Games Programming, reports on two student projects which were presented at the Chi Play conference in Barcelona this October.

In their last year at Goldsmiths, our undergraduate students design and deliver their final year project, which runs through the course of two terms. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to learn new skills and explore in depth the areas of computing that are of particular interest to them.

Often these project result in games or software being produced, but sometimes the students are able to conduct research in conjunction with that development.

In our graduating class of 2019, two such students produced work that was of such high quality that it was recognised at an international academic conference. As a result, the work of Kevin Lewis (BSc Creative Computing) and Rees Morris (BSc Games Programming) was presented at CHI Play conference in Barcelona last week.

Kevin’s work looked at how technology can affect the way that social deduction games are played.

Kevin Lewis shows his thumbs

If you’ve ever played the games Werewolf or Mafia, you’ll know that social deduction games involve you needing to determine who amongst your fellow players are lying, and who you can trust.

In Kevin’s game, an app provided players with facts about how the players were playing – who had lied, who was being more trustworthy – and explored whether players trusted the app or their own instincts more. Instincts won.

Rees’s work focused on Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs).

Rees was unable to attend the conference, so his supervisor Dr Sarah Wiseman took his place

MOBAs are incredibly popular, and the eSports scene around them is worth a massive amount of money. MOBAs are interesting from a games perspective as often players will dedicate time to online one game in the genre because of the amount of time required to become expert and acquire the in-game items.

As part of Rees’s final project, not only did he create a MOBA, but he also conducted a comprehensive survey of MOBA players to find out why they chose the particular MOBA they were interested in. Surprisingly, players didn’t often cite the game play itself, but more commonly chose the game based upon social connections, wanting to play with their friends.

Well done to Kevin and Rees!

The papers can be found here:

Games Library Night

To celebrate International Games Week, Goldsmiths Computing and Goldsmiths Library present a night with special guest speakers from across the games industry.

The event is free and open to the public, all are welcome. Participants will have an opportunity to play exciting new games created by Goldsmiths alumni and current students.

  • When: Friday 8 November 2019, 5pm – 9pm. Talks start at 6pm
  • Where: Goldsmiths Library
  • FREE. Register on Eventbrite

Speakers

Jupiter Hadley: Game Jams and Games You’ve Never Heard of….

Jupiter Hadley

This talk will explore Game Jams and highlight a collection of amazing game jam games that you have probably never heard of before.

Jupiter Hadley is a games journalist and YouTuber, primarily of indie games. Jupiter is also the Games Wizard at Armor Games.

Allan Cudicio: Make Pre-Colonial Africa Great Again – in Your Game

Allan Cudicio

This talk will tell you why you should start thinking about including precolonial Africa in your game (or other media) and will provide actionable first steps on how to research and implement it.

Allan Cudicio is Founder & Creative Director at Twin Drums, a new independent games studio focused on bringing together the fantasy genre and African folklore. Berlin based, Allan has worked for, among others, Candy Crush’s maker King and story driven mobile game developer Wooga.

Anisa Sanusi: Mentorship for the Underrepresented

Anisa Sanusi

Anisa discusses the story behind Limit Break Mentorship, a program created specifically to connect senior women in games to new or mid-level developers who are considered to be underrepresented in the industry.

She delves into how help can be sought after at any level of ones career, and the importance of giving back to a community – whoever you are.

Anisa Sanusi is a video games UI/UX Designer and Founder of Limit Break, a mentorship program for developers of underrepresented genders in the games industry. Throughout the years Anisa has cultivated a devotion to ethical UX design, speaking at the first UX Summit held at GDC in San Francisco and also served as a Juror for the BAFTA Games Awards for multiple years.

Anisa is an advocate for diversity and inclusivity in the industry, and this year she was listed as one of the Top 100 Influential Women in the UK Games Industry.

Tea & Testing ☕️🎮

On Monday 14 October, games students from across the department came together for our very first ‘Tea & Testing’ session.

Created by games lecturer Alan Zucconi, the event is an opportunity for students in different years and on different courses to test out their games, and explore the games that are being made by their fellow students. What’s more, there’s tea and biscuits, an important part of the testing process.

As a bonus addition to the first session, a guest visitor was invited.
Award-winning game developer Alan Hazelden came along to get some feedback on a new game he is developing. The room was buzzing and many different weird and wonderful games were played, and plenty of chatting and mingling alongside.

The event highlighted that alcohol isn’t a necessary ingredient for testing sessions. Alan Zucconi said “Most social events that give students an opportunity to playtest their games tend to revolve around pubs, which are rarely accessible and not always promoters of an inclusive environment.

“The people who don’t feel comfortable in those environments are the ones we need to hear the most. The idea to switch to tea instead is to provide students with a safer and more inclusive space.”

If you’re interested in attending the next session – either because you have a game you would like to playtest, or because you want to play some games – the next sessions are….

  • Goldsmiths library, 3pm-6pm Friday 8 November
  • Room 219, Whitehead Building, 5pm-7pm Monday 25 November

Assessment for gamers

Dr Simon Katan, Director of Undergraduate Studies, recently published this Medium post on the gamification of learning. We reprint it here.

When I was 14 I took my French GCSE. My French teacher, Madame Percival, had studied the exam and mark scheme intricately. She taught us just the right grammatical constructions to achieve the highest marks. ‘Au bord de la mer’ was worth a particularly high number of marks, so we were all to use this phrase as much as possible.

In my exam I stitched together these little memorised passages to score maximum points — ‘Hier soir, je suis allé à la crêperie et j’ai choisi une crêpe au jambon mais c’était trop salé, j’ai décidé d’acheter un verre d’eau … oh yeah … au bord de la mer.’

I got an A. I can’t speak French. I’m not proud.

Such behaviour is called ‘gaming the system’ and it is the scourge of university lecturers everywhere. In Introductionary Programming it takes numerous forms ranging from the pragmatic to the malevolent. Some examples are selectively attempting assignments to achieve a minimum pass, reverse engineering projects around grading criteria, abstaining from programming roles in group work, exam cramming, manipulating teaching assistants to write their code, superficially adapting copied code, and sharing exercise solutions on Whats App groups.

The problem of course with these behaviours is that they result in poorer learning. Whilst we can adapt our assignments to close loopholes and can reprimand and inform those we catch in the act of gaming, a significant portion of students persist. Achieving a minimum pass at introductory programming with scant knowledge of how to program a computer, such students find themselves facing increasingly insurmountable challenges as their course attempts to scaffold on faulty foundational knowledge.

I’m in no doubt that this scenario is a major contributor to Computer Science’s status as the worst performing subject with regards to undergraduate non-continuation in the UK.

This isn’t the fault of our students. It’s not surprising that they game the system in this way. Our students are gamers. Outside of education, they have been brought up on a rich diet of commercial video games informed by forty years of industry experience in optimising for maximal engagement.

This cultural fact is immutable, but we needn’t view it negatively. Jane McGonigal says that “… when we’re in game worlds, I believe that many of us become the best version of ourselves — the most likely to help at a moment’s notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long at it takes, to get up after failure and try again.”

Viewed through the eyes of our students, university degrees look just like games; they have rules, challenges and goals, points, levels and competition. The problem is that they’re bad games. Just imagine if computer games functioned like exams. Super Mario Bros with no feedback, no stats, no lives, and no replays probably wouldn’t be so much fun.

It is with all this in mind that in 2016 I first began work on developing gamified assessment for teaching programming rudiments. Over three years, in collaboration with my colleague Edward Anstead, we have developed Sleuth, a series of film-noir gamified code puzzles. Students access Sleuth via a web-app themed as a detective agency ‘Sleuth & Co’ in with them playing the character of a fledgling detective. They are guided by ‘the Chief’ who gives them feedback on individual puzzle attempts as well as their general progress in the game. You can give it a go here .

Our design uses procedural content generation to provide students with as many opportunities to practice their coding rudiments as possible, and uses simple game dynamics to encourage them to do so. A key feature is instantaneous feedback. Students can upload a puzzle attempt at any time for immediate grading and feedback from the Chief. Students get five goes at solving a particular puzzle before the Chief suspends them from the case and prescribes some cool down time.

However, such suspensions have no penalties attached — we want our students to try and fail as many times as they need to achieve mastery. On their return from the cool down period , students are presented with a procedurally generated variation of the puzzle which they can attempt afresh. As students progressively solve puzzles, so they see their score increase in real time. In negating any opportunity for over-estimation of their performance such mechanics put students firmly in control of their final grade.

Sleuth case 302: Bank heist

The environment we have created has undoubtedly fulfilled its primary aims of motivating and facilitating practice. In the initial on-campus run students made a total of 42534 code submissions — an average of 138 per student over a ten week period. Despite perceiving the task’s level as between fair and difficult, the class’ achievement was high with an average grade of 90.67%. We’ve now had over 2500 students play Sleuth both on campus and online with Coursera, and we’ve had similar responses across the different scenarios.

However, Sleuth has also engendered some unexpected and somewhat dysfunctional behaviours. Sleuth has a partially open level design which allows students to progress in a non-linear fashion. In designing this we imagined students setting aside levels which they found difficult, and returning once they had built confidence on other levels.

Contrary to our expectations, students make little strategic use of this design. The majority progress doggedly in sequence often at the cost of many failed attempts at the harder levels as they fixate on individual problems. The resultant frustration finds its expression through increasingly angry VLE forum posts as deadlines loom.

This obsessive behaviour also carries over into attitudes about grades. Much to our surprise, despite a pass threshold of 40% and a first class threshold of 70%, around a third of students expect, indeed demand, a grade of 100%. I have found myself dealing with student demands for deadline extensions to increase their grade from 85% to 100% and late night angry emails from students with a grade of 97% who can’t solve the final puzzle.

This is borne out in the final grade distribution which, as opposed to being normally distributed or bimodal, peaks sharply at 40%, 70%, and 100%. We could characterise the students at these peaks as being respectively pass-orientated, grade-orientated, and game-oriented.

All of this raises quite a few dilemmas for Edward and me in where to go next with Sleuth. Our encounters with obsessive behavioural patterns might tempt us to iterate on our game design to engineer them away, but in doing so do we risk robbing students of an opportunity to develop autonomy ? How as pedagogues can we be sure that the behaviours we are engineering are more desirable than others ?

Similarly the strangeness of our grade distributions could lead us to raise the difficulty of some puzzles or the use of other available metrics to improve grade differentiation, but what pedagogical or behavioural improvement would such a change serve ?

For me, such questions expose the contradictions at the heart of current approaches to assessment in higher education. Game mechanics are a powerful tool for motivating shifts in student behaviour, but be warned, such power has disruptive potential.

Hacksmiths: Ethics in modern AI

Goldsmiths’ student-run tech society, Hacksmiths are running a day of talks about the ways in which ethics are considered and ignored in modern applications of Artificial Intelligence.

When: 11am-2pm, Saturday 12 October 2019
Where: St James Hatcham Building, Goldsmiths. Map
Tickets: Free on eventbrite

Technology is ingrained in most of our lives. So why is it that only a small fraction of us understand how our everyday choices are being steered by others, and the systems they create?

Whether it’s who Facebook is telling you to vote for, or what Amazon is telling you to buy, democracy and freedom are being tested. Academic experts give us their insight on why we should be embedding ethics into Artificial Intelligence in 2019.

11.30am: Professor Stuart Russell
Stuart’s research on the history and future of Artificial Intelligence and its relation to humanity includes machine learning, probabilistic reasoning, knowledge representation, real-time decision making, multitarget tracking, computer vision, inverse reinforcement learning, and the movement to ban the manufacture and use of autonomous weapons.

Prof Stuart Russell

Stuart was born in Portsmouth, England. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree with first-class honours in Physics from the University of Oxford where he was an undergraduate student at Wadham College in 1982, and his PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University in 1986.

12.30pm: Dr Dan McQuillan on Post-austerity AI
This talk will not focus on the long term future of AI but on the political and social damage that will flow from the AI we already have. It will describe the way its concrete operations of optimisation and prediction lead to thoughtlessness, epistemic injustice and segregation, and how that resonates with the wider politics of austerity and the rise of the far right. The talk will propose a route to an alternative AI based on feminist technology studies and forms of direct democracy such as people’s councils. It will call for an approach to AI in the here and now that puts matters of care at its core, and that recomposes the very idea of AI as computation in the service of togetherness.

Dr Dan McQuillan

Dan is a Lecturer in Creative and Social Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London. After a PhD in Experimental Particle Physics, he worked with people with learning disabilities and mental health problems, and was Digital Director for Amnesty International.

12.50pm: Dr Kate Devlin
Kate is Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural Artificial Intelligence at King’s College London, where she researches how society reacts to technological change.

Dr Kate Devlin

Her book, Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots (Bloomsbury, 2018) has received wide acclaim.

She campaigns for gender equality in tech, and has recently been elected as a Director of the Open Rights Group. She tweets far too often as @drkatedevlin.

1.10pm: Q&A
1.50pm: Stuart’s book signing for Human Compatible: AI and the Problem of Control