Imitation Game in a competence-based school


Imitation Game supports the recognition of sociocultural structures in a competence-based school

The pedagogical applications of the imitation game fit well into a competence-based school. Since the autumn 2016, the Finnish National Core Curriculum for basic education associates the general knowledge with skills and preparedness for future, i.e. competences. According to OECD’s DeSeCo (2005), competences are attitudes, knowledge and skills needed for the management of individual tasks and problem solving, including the ability to utilize these in a creative and context-based manner, often in interaction with others. The idea of competences is widely spread in the basic and vocational education, but it is also a part of the lifelong learning.

In the basic education, imitation game is well suited for supporting the recognition of sociocultural structures and the social processes required for group cohesion. Various game setups also help to recognize the multiple viewpoints of any theme, and guide the students to picture themselves in someone else’s shoes.

Game pedagogical methods can be developed for learning of both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. These skills may include interactional abilities and conflict solving, media literacy, formation of personal life goals and the responsibility of the social and ecological environment. The game pedagogical applications raise emotions and produce new experiences for participants, in addition to strengthening the substance knowledge. These practical experiences can be transferred into other learning events as well.

Pedagogical development with trials

The planning and trials proceed in developmental cycles, so that each pilot produces experimental knowledge, feedback and cooperative evaluations, on which to base the further development. The prerequisites for game pedagogical developmental process include multiple game sessions, empirical testing of models and active reflection and assessment from both designers and participants. In the process, we pilot various game setups, which will form data for new types of setups and pedagogical materials for asynchronic participation via open networks.

For real time usage, we will develop a gamified application, in which the students play in groups, each of the classical imitation game roles being played by a group of 2-3 students. Cooperation will require verbalizing the whole process: each team will plan the questions, answers and reactions together, which strengthens metacognitive skills. After the game, the students and teachers will discuss the setup through together. This process adds the benefits of group learning: verbalizing your own thoughts and solving problems in cooperation with others, in addition to the deepened social knowledge within the theme of the game.

Besides a real-time game and online applications, our project estimates the possibility of developing the imitation game into a board game, card game or a table role-playing game, which would strengthen these competences. Moreover, we will develop a tool for pedagogical continuing education to help with the assessment of educational needs; for example, how well the teachers can understand  the everyday life of immigrant students, or what kinds of additional skills would be useful in recognizing different talents and supporting various learner types.

Implemented by Otavan Opisto

Tiina Airaksinen, developmental manager, tiina.airaksinen(a)

Heikki Koponen, game pedagog, heikki.koponen(a)


Imitation Game as a tool for learning


Imitation Game is a social scientific research method, which studies interactional expertise: how individuals with different viewpoints and backgrounds are able to understand each other. The method is called the Imitation Game, because it’s based on imitating between social groups. It aims for supporting learning about your own as well as the other’s social position, and it can be applied for facilitating interactions between different groups of people. Moreover, the pedagogical applications of Imitation Game support reflectivity and individual identity construction, and the increasing knowledge and understanding acts as a way to decrease confrontations. These confrontations of the current society concern various minorities, such as immigrants or sexual minorities.

We live in a global world, which requires sociocultural tools for producing new information and meanings in interactions with one another. These basic tools include languages (native language, foreign languages, symbolic languages), information processes (information, knowledge, understanding) and different technical tools, such as computers and applications of artificial intelligence. All of these have wide and long-lasting influences in human interactions and abilities.

The goal of the pedagogical applications is to increase interactional expertise, and they are suitable for supporting other widely useful skills as well: getting to know different communities deepens the cultural understanding, teaches about the variety of languages, and strengthens metacognitive abilities. Interactional expertise requires an ability to link the phenomena and meanings of the target culture in a correct way. Interactional competence – the ability to ask relevant questions and to identify the respondents – is also important for performing the role of the judge in the Imitation Game. The respondents, moreover, need the this ability to answer according to their role in the game.

Imitation Game can be applied to pedagogical purposes in all educational degrees, including non-formal learning such as open discussions in the third sector. In our project, these pedagogical applications are modeled with various participant groups and themes. We pilot the pedagogical usage of the Imitation Game with adult students via internet, basic education groups of various ages, teachers and supervisors, and multicultural groups, to give a few examples.


The goals of this sub project include

• to pilot a variety of applications, which will form a base for further development
• to assess the possibilities and learning results with various participant groups
• developing a practical tool to support the teachers
• to assess the possibility of developing the Imitation Game to a pedagogical board, card or a role playing game

The sub project is implemented by Otava Folk High School

Tiina Airaksinen, development manager, tiina.airaksinen(a)
Heikki Koponen, game pedagog, heikki.koponen(a)

(Translated from the original Finnish post)

The students acquired knowledge on diabetes by imitating

An imitation game on type one diabetes was implemented as a part of the pedagogical development of the Imitation Game method in the Know your neighbour -project.

The judge of the game, a type one diabetic, posed five questions or cases for the participants. Two of the participants were type one diabetics, and they attended individually. The imitators were students aged approximately 15 to 17, and they participated in groups of 3 or 4. Both of the student groups were studying a human biology course, and the game was a part of their course. The idea of the game was to examine how an exact subject on the human biology course can be transformed into a learning experience through empathising.

The game was carried out by using an asynchronous mailman method. In this method the judge first came up with five questions, cases or scenarios which were emailed to the participants. The type one diabetics both answered as themselves. The students received the questions in class. They read articles and forums on the internet in order to come up with reliable answers.

After the game the students commented on the answering process: “It was part easy, part difficult. The answers easily became too analytic and long”, “It was difficult: without one´s own experience or perceptions the form of the text was too much like a study book”, “Answering was difficult because I don´t know any diabetic very well so I didn´t exactly know how to answer. It was easy to find information on the internet”.

The anonymous answers were gathered in a sheet which was opened to the judge. There were 15 participants altogether, which makes a total of 75 answers. The judge was instructed to evaluate each answer according to how likely they think someone with type one diabetes would answer in such a way. Every answer was commented, and thus judged whether it was written by a diabetic or an imitator, and also given a point from one to five to describe how certain the judge felt about their evaluation. After going through all the answers the judge gave their final judgement and comments on each participant.

The judge took into consideration the knowledge and experience reflected in the responses as well as the terminology and language used. The judge describes the evaluation process: “Participating was interesting. The questioning itself was thought-provoking, because you understood how much tactile knowledge you have on something, in this case a condition. I tried to come up with questions on situations diabetics often encounter, but whose complexity doesn´t easily open up to a person who doesn´t have this condition. The questions were actually very revealing and the diabetics were quite easy to differentiate from the imitators. Even though many of the students gave it a good effort. Quite possibly it was namely the effort that gave them away: either there was too much of it, or too little. The diabetics themselves talk about the condition less scientifically than the imitators”.

The conclusion of this imitation game was that the judge recognised both the diabetics, and none of the imitators succeeded in fooling the judge and whilst were recognised as imitators.

After the judgement all the participants received the judges comments and also all the responses of other participants. The students went through the material in class and commented: “Participating was interesting. I got a lot of new information on diabetes and also information on how to act in everyday situations”, “The imitating deepened the learning process. In our group we shared our knowledge and points of view, this way we learned about finding the truth and could edit our response to be as genuine as possible”.

The diabetics evaluated the usefulness of participating: “This was fun! I really had to give thought to the formulation of the response because I wanted to summarize and be brief”. Also the pedagogical aspect was acknowledged, “The students really had to get to know the subject deeply. I assume that those who put effort into the game really learnt from the experience.” Both the diabetics thought the answering was easy based on one´s own experience.  

How would you answer the judges question:

“You are going backpacking to Thailand for a month. Your diabetes is treated with multiple daily injection. What kind of challenges will you face with the preservation and adequacy of the medicine? How will you solve these challenges?”

How would you judge these responses: who is a diabetic and who is imitating?

  1. The temperature in Thailand is often over 30 degrees centigrade and the insulin starts to lose its effect. Over 50 degrees centigrade will destroy insulin immediately. Insulin is usually kept in a fridge. While backpacking that is not always possible so I would bring a small cool box, of course with coolers. This way the insulin stays cool while walking. On the trip it would be easiest to use prefilled pens but if I had lots of them, the preservation would be a challenge. On the other hand, you might be able to get insulin easily in pharmacies in Thailand so you wouldn´t need to carry lots of them from home.
  1. Travelling is the lamest thing. Insulin and the libre-sensors must not freeze nor can they be kept in over 20 degrees centigrade for a long time. None of these can be placed in the aircraft hold but should be taken to the cabin. You would have had to think about the acquiring of the instuments and medicine about six months prior to the trip since you can´t get them for more than three months at a time – so this amount will be enough for a two month journey, if you have had a possibility to get them at least a month prior to the trip. In Thailand you have to keep the medicine in a fridge or in some kind of cooler all the time. There are those designed especially for medicine. Even the cool bags need cold water from time to time in order to work so you really want to use all the cold you can find when backpacking.
  1. I will arrange the injection in some kind of a medicine box and remember to take enough insulin and clean needles with me.

All the questions, responses and judgements with comments in the sheet in Finnish

The blogpost on the experiment is published on the Diabetesseura T1D blog on 15.6.2018,


Tiina Airaksinen, development manager, tiina.airaksinen(a)

Heikki Koponen, game pedagog, heikki.koponen(a)

Year 2017 – New beginnings, challenges and joy of succeeding

The passing year has been remarkable for Know Your Neighbour -project. We started our work at the beginning of this year, and much has happened as the months passed. The year 2017 has brought new acquaintances, joyful cooperation, technical challenges and a lot of learning by doing. Our research team organized several imitation game experiments with Finnish Somalis and student groups, Otavan Opisto developed innovative imitation game applications in the field of pedagogy, and our media team proceeded successfully its’s own, exciting subproject. Moreover, we formed and strengthened wider cooperation during our kick-off seminar and Cardiff visit. The resources gained this past year will surely provide fruitful results and a solid base to build the upcoming work on.

It is now time to face towards new challenges. We would like to warmly thank you all for following and supporting us in our work during the year. After a brief vacation, our work will continue next year with even more enthusiasm.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Know Your Neighbour -team

Know Your Neighbour project’s blog is open: 100 crusaders killed in Manchester

Know Your Neighbour blog is open! First post is written by our project leader, professor of sociology Ilkka Arminen:

“As a sociologist for a long time already, I have been interested in how differently different people or parties can interpret things or events. This is why, on occasion, I follow the debate on terrorism. After all, it is a phenomenon based on contradictory interpretations. Despite my hobby, I was startled in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack on 22 May 2017 when ISIS announced, on their website, that 100 crusaders had been killed or wounded in Manchester.

Once I had recovered from the shock, it occurred to me that, of course, you could call a pop concert for teenagers a crusade. Now, I wouldn’t normally think of a pop concert as a crusade but, apparently, it is possible to see one as a crusade of Western culture and way of life.

Do You Know Your Neighbour? is a project through which we aim to find out whether people really understand their neighbours; whether they have an idea of the kind of social world in which their neighbours live. We do not analyse extreme conflicts like terrorism, but nowadays, even a place like Finland, is the meeting point of sharply divided social worlds.

Lately, the square outside the railway station of Helsinki has reminded me of the term “camp publicity” that historians used to refer to. Even at the risk of Nazi connotations, I seem to recall that historians used to describe the divided political landscape of the 1930s with the term “camp publicity”. The tent camps for and against the deportation of immigrants, pitched for months on end, are the contemporary image of camp publicity.

In Finland, our research is connected to the opinions divided by immigration. The exact subject of our research is still seeking its final form. In Estonia, we are exploring the relationship between Estonians and Estonian Russians.

As our work and research tool, we use the “Imitation Game”. Originally a party game dating back centuries, the game involves a judge-player whose job is to judge, based on written answers, which of two players is genuine and which is a fake, e.g., which one is a woman and which one is pretending to be one.

The Imitation Game was made famous by Alan Turing, who developed it into an AI application. Turing asked whether a human judge, based on a five-minute query, could tell a machine apart from a human player. If the human judge could not tell the artificial intelligence apart from the human, the AI could be deemed a success. In the midst of all the current AI rage, it is almost indecent to point out that of all the AI applications thus far, none has passed the Turing test. Although we are certainly getting pretty close.

After Turing, sociologists and others started to develop the Imitation Game into a research tool to examine mutual understanding between groups of people. At the moment, the game is played using computers. What’s more, the Masquerade application is available to everyone and offers a great way to try out the game.

The idea of the game is very simple. The judge-player’s role is to ask questions to determine which one of two players is a member of the social group they claim to be a member of and which one is a pretender. The game setting can be freely modified. For instance, the players can be individuals or groups. In some cases, the game can also be played face-to-face.

One oft-repeated criticism is that the Imitation Game can reinforce prejudices and binary dichotomy, which are based on stereotypes. In on our experience, however, this is not the case. Answers based on stereotypes are typically interpreted as the pretender’s answers. And so, the players normally end up seeing the diversity of the members of a group of humans instead of the stereotypes. For this part, we believe that the Imitation Game could be used to improve the conditions for interaction between social groups.

Indeed, the goal of our project, in addition to the actual research, is to develop other applications for the Imitation Game. Under the guidance of the Otava Folk High School, we are developing a pedagogic application based on the Imitation Game, with the idea of trying to teach the players to learn more about each other’s social worlds. This pedagogic application could be utilised also in developing multi-professional cooperation within organisations. We are also seeking to build an Imitation Game-based programme format for wider distribution.

At this juncture, we don’t yet know for sure what we can achieve and where we’ll end up. It is our belief, though, that understanding the social world of others is the foundation of all mutual understanding and cooperation.”

Ilkka Arminen

(Text was originally published in Kone Foundation’s Boldness blog 14.6.2017