A Pokémon Go Primer for Private Schools
Vol. 15 No. 7
If you’ve noticed more people than usual roaming your neighborhood, noses glued to their phone screens, then you’ve already encountered this summer’s biggest gaming hit: Pokémon Go. Popular with adult gamers and school-aged children alike, the game presents both opportunities and concerns for school administrators. So this month, we’ll talk about what Pokémon Go actually is, potential dangers for your students—and possible ways to leverage the game’s popularity to benefit your school.
Pokémon Go: The Basics
To summarize: Pokémon Go is an “augmented reality,” free-to-play mobile app game released in honor of the Pokémon franchise’s 20th anniversary, allowing players to catch “pocket monsters”—Pokémon—on a Google Maps-esque interface.
Players log into their Google-based account, using the phone’s GPS system to access a map of the local area and display Pokémon that are in the immediate area. From there, players must walk around to locate and capture these Pokémon. As of August 2016, 151 Pokémon are available for collection.
While the basic Pokémon Go experience revolves around catching Pokémon, the game has other features that encourage movement and exploration in the area. Players can visit local area landmarks that serve as “PokéStops” on the game map to obtain new supplies, use their already-captured creatures to battle for control of “Pokémon Gyms,” and walk around to hatch “eggs” that will potentially add rare Pokémon to their growing collections.
Here are some other details that will be important when evaluating the impact Pokémon Go may have on your school this fall.
- Players—or “trainers,” as they’re known in Pokémon parlance—are divided into three self-selected teams: Team Mystic (Blue), Team Valor (Red), and Team Instinct (Yellow).
- Players are encouraged to catch all 151 currently available Pokémon to become “Pokémon Masters,” but fierce rivalries can spring up to capture local area Pokémon Gyms for their respective teams.
- The game does not reliably work when the system senses movement at speeds higher than around 10 MPH. (This feature helps prevent accidents caused by distracted drivers.)
- Pokémon Eggs obtained at PokéStops can only be hatched after the app senses you have walked—below 10 MPH—for two, five, or 10 kilometers.
- Pokémon Go does not currently allow direct contact between players in-game.
- Most people play the game solely on a personal data bandwidth from their phone carrier, as moving between WiFi internet access and data can cause the app to freeze and become unresponsive.
- Pokémon appear for each individual player’s game. Therefore, someone could not go out and catch all the Pokémon in a given area, preventing others from catching them.
Possible Ramifications of Pokémon Go at Your School
While Pokémon Go is designed to be a personal game, it’s easy to imagine how the game could negatively impact your school environment. And yes, while most teachers won’t quit their jobs to become full Pokémon Go players like this woman in the United Kingdom, this game may interfere with your school day, possibly distracting students—and teachers!—from their regular classes.
To curb interference from gameplay, schools can implement (and enforce) a no-personal-device rule during the school day. This rule is especially effective for Pokémon Go, considering that the game is designed specifically for phones—not necessarily tablets or laptops.
Blocking the game on your school’s firewall will be less successful; many players access the app via their personal data connections without relying on local WiFi. However, you can request for any PokéStops or Gyms on your campus be taken down via the Niantic/Pokémon Go website, and possibly request the company to put a geolocation ban over your school grounds, as social app YikYak did for schools when asked.
Such requests for an app-ban over your campus’s location would also help prevent strangers wanting to enter school grounds in pursuit of Pokémon. (Again, you can’t ask your head of IT to catch all the Pokémon on campus to prevent others from playing. That won’t get rid of the Pokémon that appear in-game for other players.)
There are also concerns over student data and privacy, considering that game producer Niantic requests permission to access just about every piece of information connected to the Google account used during a player’s initial setup. Niantic has since updated its terms of service to clarify which pieces of data are used for gameplay, but the questions surrounding information security and the legality of data collection on under-age-thirteen players remain.
Finally, players have a tendency to be notoriously unaware of their surroundings while playing the game. We doubt you’ll have students falling off cliffs as some players in California did. But, the possibility of players wandering into streets or stumbling on curbs is greatly increased with their attention on their phones.
The Possibilities of Pokémon Go
Cautionary tales aside, Pokémon Go offers some intriguing possibilities for your school for both current and prospective students. We’ll talk more about the game’s potential impact on visiting students in the September issue of The Source for Advancement. For now, there are some exceptionally clever integrations of the game to encourage real-life interactions and benefits.
- An anonymous zookeeper at the Birmingham Zoo in Alabama used Pokémon Go’s creature description format to create new information cards for the zoo exhibits to encourage visitors to learn more about the featured creatures.
- One teacher uses the game to encourage students to explore the on-campus woods surrounding the school playground, finding plant and animal specimens to identify during class. Others are considering using the app to encourage fitness at their schools as players walk around the neighborhood during gameplay.
- Since PokéStops and Gyms are often set at local landmarks and historic sites, Pokémon Go has been responsible for increased visits to neighborhood areas of interest like the aforementioned zoos, libraries, and even otherwise ignored local memorials to fallen veterans.
- One School Head emailed her entire school community, offering to take any interested older students on Pokémon search during the school day as a way to “get out and enjoy the sunshine.”
Pokémon Go’s popularity could fizzle out by autumn, certainly, but we think it’s best to be prepared before hordes of Pokémon trainers descend on your school grounds. Good luck catching them all!
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 13 No. 10 Classroom Apps, Technology, and Privacy Concerns
The Source for Private School News Vol. 13 No. 1 Hoarders: Retaining and Disposing of Subjective Data
The Source for Business and Operations Vol. 13 No. 1 The Yik Yak Debacle: Private Schools Respond to Cyberbullying
The Source for Private School News Vol. 15 No. 2 Blended Learning in Private Schools: An Interview with Mark Engstrom
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 35 No. 3 The 21st Century School: Curriculum and Technology
I&P Vol. 40 No. 16 The Student-Centered Department