New Worlds, New Models?

The more I dive into the topic of gaming and education, specifically ideas focusing on education in virtual environments, I’m increasingly finding that there’s a disconnect between traditional instructional design models and game design models.  Yet, I find a contradiction here:  there’s an increasing number of folks out there claiming that games have tremendous educational potential. Is it possible to have a game that is highly effective for instruction and yet no systematic instructional design model was applied to its creation?

Consider this quote taken from Mark Prensky’s Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning:

“Whenever you add an instructional designer, they suck the fun out” -a game designer

Why is that?  Are instructional designers overly concerned with stringent application of very linear models?  Are we too obsessed with framing learning in terms of behavioral objectives?

I came across an archived webinar given by Dr. Lisa Dawley from Boise State University.  Dr. Dawley works with EdTech Island in Second Life.  She’s doing research related to virtual worlds and education.  In her webinar she states:

“When we take an educational instructional design model and try to apply it to gaming engines or gaming environments, we often come out with very boring products that kids don’t want to play or adults don’t want to use.  Why is that?  What causes that?”

And those are my questions too!  From my years in the classroom as a secondary science teacher and my subsequent interactions with students outside of school playing World of Warcraft or games over XBox Live, it is very clear to me the difference in students’ engagement in those two arenas.  Students do learn not only broad concepts while playing these games but also a great deal of factual information as well.  Why is it that I can have a student who can explain to me each step in a complex quest to raise my faction with Shatari Skyguard (a fictional organization in World of Warcraft), and yet can’t recall the steps of mitotic cell division? Engagement!

Dr. Dawley goes on to ask a very good question:

“Can you create the level of engagement you get in World of Warcraft or Everquest?”

Bingo!  I think that’s perhaps the question.  If we can begin to design games that generate that level of interactivity and engagement, then I think we can do some amazing things with games.  Though traditional models of instructional design have their place, let’s modify them or even create new ID models for the development of games and simulations!

There’s an interesting blurb about this debate on Jerz’s Literacy Weblog.