28 August 2020

First-year bachelor’s students rescue kidnapped professor

150 unsuspecting students took part in an alternate reality game last Monday. Within 30 hours of starting their introduction to the bachelor’s programme at the Department of Data Science and Knowledge Engineering, they collectively defused a bomb and emerged as heroes.

MASA introduction

Through a series of online puzzles disguised as group assignments – a hallmark of the project-centred learning method of the programme – students uncovered a wild plot. 15 groups of around 10 students raced through their puzzles, collaborating within and outside of their group through Zoom, Google Docs, Whatsapp and UM’s custom-built social media platform.

Say what now?

One group uncovered that a professor had been kidnapped in the morning; another revealed that he was being held hostage in his office. And yes, confirmed yet another group, there was a bomb involved. It would probably go off at 1 PM the next day: the live countdown on Youtube had already been discovered earlier.

Meanwhile, other groups started to piece together the alternate reality game's rich backstory. A disgruntled figure had tried to trick his employer – a certain space agency – into funding his data science education by proposing to become a spy/student at Maastricht University. He instead received orders to infiltrate the faculty introduction and scare the university into submission... through a kidnapping.

An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive networked narrative that uses the real world as a platform and employs transmedia storytelling to deliver a story that may be altered by players' ideas or actions.
Wikipedia
Online collaboration

Release the hostage!

On the second day of the faculty introduction, around 80 students were invited to attend on campus – at 1.5m distance in the new COVID-proofed lecture halls – whereas 90 students participated online. The online group controlled a camera via Zoom, which they directed towards the kidnapped professor’s office to indeed discover a bomb. The offline group meanwhile obtained the necessary information to defuse it, successfully freeing the professor via a Zoom-controlled wire-cutting sequence.

Defeating MASA

Return of MASA

Return of MASA

On Thursday, new master’s students were also confronted with MASA’s bad guys when a crime scene was discovered on campus. Students attending on site collaborated with online students via Zoom, to reveal that the kidnapper had returned to stage his own death and attempted to pin the blame on DKE. 

Like earlier that week, he failed. Both the bachelor’s and master’s students saw through his attempts in no time. If anything, the new DKE students’ ability to self-organize and effortlessly switch between online and offline communication bodes well for the start of the new academic year!