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.


10 Educational Things I Learned From Playing MMORPG’s

Harbingers of LightI’m close to wrapping up, Prensky’s “Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning,” and to support what he’s saying about the educational value of gaming, I thought I’d list the positive, educational effects of my MMO playing also noting those that have been financially lucrative (with a $). To provide a bit of background, I’ve been involved with video games since I was six or seven years of age, first with an Atari 2600 and a Commodore 64 to the present. In the mid-20s, I was also involved with different types of games, one of which was casino games that helped me develop more for gaming strategies. At 32, if I am, in fact, a digital native, I’m an early adopter, and quite geeky compared to my classmates growing up. It was during my second year of science teaching that a student, knowing I was into gaming, said, “Hey, Mr. G-, you need to try Everquest.” The eye-candy on the box was appealing and the fantasy genre had always appealed to me, so I thought, “Why not?” Thus, it begins…

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1. Home Networking – It wasn’t long after I began playing Everquest, that my wife wanted to try it. Very quickly we realized sharing an account was not an option. The solution? Buy another computer, network them, and share a dial-up connection. This was during the Windows 98 era, and it wasn’t as easy to set up a network as it is today. The interest in networking actually inspired me to take a networking course at the local community college the following semester. DOS-based Novell, anyone? ($)

Of course, as a classroom teacher, you certainly hope you’ve got some people management skills, however, managing individuals from a variety of age groups, cultures, and parts of the world is something different. It wasn’t long after I started playing Everquest that I decided I wanted to try my hand a guild leadership. Thus, the Harbingers of Ire (now, Harbingers of Light), was born. Through the experience, still ongoing, I’ve learned:

2. Conflict Resolution – Put individuals from mixed backgrounds in an initially anonymous environment, and you’ve got a recipe for drama. I’ve seen it come and go, and maintaining the integrity of the guild as a standalone entity has, at times, been challenging.

3. Project Management – As a guild leader, who is also a full-time employee of a school system and in his last year of graduate school, you sometimes have to learn to delegate responsibilities to your leadership team. For example, we are currently planning a migration from World of Warcraft to Warhammer Online once the game goes live. To assist with this undertaking it was necessary to play to members’ strengths: one person is our news person, gathering game-related news and posting it through the guild’s blog, another is our community relations coordinator, promoting the guild and advertising us for future recruits, and the list goes on.

4. Split-Second Decision Making/Strategy – Sometimes in the midst of fast-paced action, you have to make decisions that can determine the success or failure of a large-scale undertaking. While our guild was active in Dark Age of Camelot, we occasionally emerged as a leading force among guilds in the defense of our “realm” against raiding players from other realms. Relying on reports from scouts in the field, it was often necessary to make decisions to split your forces, take refuge in a nearby keep, or launch a counter-assault into enemy territory.

5. “Advanced Web Design” – I picked up HTML skills prior to my involvement in MMORPG’s. It wasn’t long after the founding of our guild that it became apparent that a simple HTML-based site would not suffice. Our guild needed a way to communicate outside of the game world, thus, I began to explore the concepts of domain ownership, PHP-based site design, content management systems, and even a touch of MySQL. Now, do I know these languages? Not really. However, there were times when I had to edit both PHP and MySQL scripts by trial-and-error to get a site to look and function the way I wanted. Parallel to that, the necessity of voice communications forced me to explore Voice over IP communication programs, vps hosting and administration. ($)

There have been a number of other positive learning experiences that have been a direct result of my interest in MMORPG’s:

6. A Love of Reading – Motivated by my desire to better experience the role play nature of many of the MMO’s I’ve played, I have become much more tolerant of reading novels. I say this because, prior, I didn’t do a great deal of reading for pleasure. Dark Age of Camelot even inspired me to explore Irish folklore and mythology.

7. Computer Hardware/Troubleshooting – When it comes to learning computer hardware and troubleshooting, there’s nothing more motivational than sitting down at your PC, expecting to log into your favorite MMO only to find that something’s not working. Eventually, I became comfortable enough with hardware upgrades and repairs that I decided to build my own system. I’ve since built seven PCs from scratch. ($)

8. Graphic Editing – The necessity of a website also brought about the necessity of quality graphics. ($)

9. Video Editing/Machinima – Sometimes boredom with a game can have positive benefits. During times when my game play was dragging I was occasionally hit with a creative streak. So, I figured out how to hook my camcorder to my PC and began recording game play. Before long, I wanted to tell more complex stories, so I explored storyboarding to plan movies like “Home.”

10. Instructional Design – There came a time when my love of technology, borne mostly from my love of gaming, and my love of education came together. A couple of years ago, I entered my Master’s program at UNC Wilmington to pursue a Master’s in Instructional Technology. For me, gaming, especially MMO’s, have given me creative insights into the instructional design process. I’ve even had the opportunity to create educational games like Coral Reef Crisis which uses the same game engine used to produce Counterstrike Source.

I’m sure I could think of many other details, but I’d like to hear from you. What have MMO’s taught you?

Response To Warlick’s “What’s Your Story?” Post

It’s always amazing to me how things work out.  “Don’t Bother Me Mom – I’m Learning” by Mark Prensky just arrived from Amazon yesterday and I was immediately enthralled.  Of course, he’s “preaching to the choir” with me as a reader, but it’s so awesome to see that someone has organized and verbalized many of the things I’ve known for the past nine years of teaching.

What’s particularly interesting is that David Warlick posted in 2 Cents Worth today an article about a forum that he’ll be moderating in Texas.  David asks three questions of his readers that parallel the topics of discussion at this forum.  Prensky’s description of the gap between digital natives and digital immigrants certainly addresses why these discussions are taking place.

Here are my responses to David’s questions:

1. “What does the future hold for education?”

By this, I assume the implication is “public education.” At least that’s the stance I’ll take in my response. I believe there’s a huge disconnect between the way our students operate and the way our schools operate. It could simply be the digital divide betweens the immigrants and the natives. The dissemination of new technologies (especially those that are collaborative in nature) and their rate of adoption has progressed so rapidly that our industrial-age schools have been left in the dust. Change is a process, often a painful one, but often necessary. Our instruction, even my own while I was in the classroom, is often very linear and packaged. Admittedly, once I had a formula that could produce 100% proficiency on standardized state testing, I was very reluctant to deviate from it. It was student performance on those high-stakes tests that put my head on the chopping block. I’m not sure this system can sustain this disparity. The future holds inevitable change.

2. “What do schools and districts need to do to prepare for the future?”

We need to stop and ask ourselves: can we let go? I’m sure there’s no easy answer to that. Again, this change is likely to be a painful one because it threatens some of the foundational ways that schools operate. However, if we are to prepare, first I think we need to start planning for change yesterday. We must be very forward-thinking and willing to take some risks. Of course, the concepts of “risk” and “public education” are, in my view, diametrically opposed to each other. That’s why we may see the rise of non-government funded education in the future. Currently, there’s too much bureaucracy, red-tape, and fear of litigation, to be cutting-edge in public education. However, to put aside some pessimism, discussions like these, by the leaders of school districts are a positive step.

3. “What will this future require of communities?”

Our public schools, in some regards, are simply a sub-set of the surrounding community. The digital divide between generations extends beyond the campus. The community as a whole will also be required to make some fundamental changes in the way they perceive education. For example, a local business that hires graduates from a particular local school may have to stop relying solely on GPA and the results of standardized tests and rather look to a particular set of skills that a potential employee brings to the table. What if graduation requirements shifted from students having to show proficiency on a state exam in Biology or Geometry to students producing a portfolio of products that demonstrated not only their skill set but also their personal learning interests? Free-market education, anyone?

-Lucas Gillispie

Authentic Learning? Try an MMORPG.

Typical Quest NPC in WOWSo, last night I was enjoying a guest lecture in my Computer Based Instruction course delivered by Dr. Abdou Ndoye. Dr. Ddoye is Director of Assessment in the Watson School of Education at UNCW. His style of teaching through analogy made the concepts he was sharing with the class easy to understand.

One of ideas addressed was the difference between simple and authentic or complex assessment. Why is it, in our public schools, do we consider it a valid measure of learning to give students in a carpentry class a state-administered, multiple-choice exam to measure what they’ve learned? All to often, we fail to measure the higher-order thinking and simply test for rote memorization. Who would you prefer to hire to build your house: the student who can make an “A” on a multiple-choice carpentry exam or the one who can properly cut and nail together two-by-fours to frame a home?

My intent here isn’t to rant about the ills of excessive testing, rather to suggest that maybe we consider looking to MMORPG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplay Games) for a model of how to not only place learners in a situation where they must deal with ill-structured problems, but where they might take any number of paths to achieve learning. For example, a player in a game such as World of Warcraft might be given a complex quest by an NPC (non-player character). The NPC might ask them to journey to a nearby dungeon, collect a rare item guarded by some nasty beast, and take it across the seas and up a mountain to some other NPC. That’s fairly complex and somewhat ill-structured, right?

Is there any one, correct way to achieve that mission? No. The player might band together with a group of players to defeat the beast guarding the treasure, they may raise the funds to purchase the item from another player who has the item, or they may try to sneak past the guardian beast to steal the item without engaging in combat. Again, here’s where an MMORPG could serve as a model for more complex, computer-based instruction.

What if we created an instructional environment that functioned the same way? We ask a player/learner to start with “A” and achieve “B” all while in an ever-changing, socially rich, virtual environment. There might be many paths to achieving the goal. We, as the game’s designers, could provide the just-in-time information that the learner might use as a resource, much like a well-designed MMORPG provides player support through in-game guides and maps.

Students might choose to work collaboratively to achieve the goal. Of course, we’d provide the necessary in-game tools to facilitate that: text chat and/or voice chat. We would establish game mechanics that played on the individual’s learning styles and the multiple intelligences. Thus, a well-rounded group of player/learners might achieve more as they rely on each other’s strengths.

Would there be transfer of learning to real world situations? I can’t say for certain, but surely it’s as least as good as a multiple-choice test.


Sailing Into Uncharted Waters: Second Life for K12 Staff Development

Newton Apogee, my avatar in Second LifeSo, our district recently purchased an island in Second Life.  No, as of this writing, it’s not “live” yet, however, I expect that it will be in the next few weeks.  I really feel like this is a grand experiment.  How many of our teachers would be willing to invest time in the virtual world?  I imagine some will “buy-in” and others will be more resistant, and that’s OK.  I really think Second Life, which some have dubbed Web 3.0, is a more human interaction with the Web.  It’s not “flat” like many websites.  It has a more human feel to it than simply clicking through links on a static web page.

I suppose the real question is, “Is this all bells and whistles, or can it truly be an effective extension of our current staff development program?”

That’s what makes experimentation fun, right?


Game Designers: What Do They Know That Educators Don’t?

During my reading of two articles: “Open Learning Environments” by Hannafin, Land, and Oliver, and “Designing Instruction for Constructivist Learning” by Richard E. Mayer, it occurred to me that a select few computer game designers such as Sid Meier are potentially some of the most effective instructors out there, and perhaps without even meaning to be.

I recall a time during my undergraduate studies, while taking Western Civilization, that I first realized the inherent educational value in some games that I played. Sid Meier, a well-known designer of games for the PC format developed a series called Civilization. At the time I was taking Western Civilization, the sequal to the game, Civilization II, had been released. To give a bit of background, in these games, you begin as one of the world’s great leaders: Julius Ceasar, Gandhi, Genghis Khan, Abraham Lincoln, etc., and you start around 4,000 B.C., having emerged as the leader of a very primitive culture. As you progress through history, your civilization develops new technologies, expands its borders, and ultimately achieves a military, cultural, or even space-race victory, advancing into the information age and beyond. Along the way, certain advancements affect how your civilization grows, what technologies it obtains, and how it interacts with other cultures.

Having played the game for some time, I found that many of the concepts taught in a college-level Western Civilization course were already known to me, and as thought about why, I realized that much of what I’d learned was through a very masterfully-designed computer game: Civilization.

So, how is it, that a computer game, often viewed as a simple amusement can be so educational? Whether intentional or not, Sid Meier succeeded in creating not only a highly entertaining game but a highly educational game as well. I think the educational value stems from some of the very things outlined in this week’s readings on Open Learning Environments (OLEs) and Constructivist Learning.

In a sense, the player in the Civilization series is in an Open Learning Environment. During the course of play, the player (or learner?) is faced with a number of problems. These problems stem from goals specified in game to those that evolve specific to the player’s actions as the game progresses through history. The complexity of the game lends itself to infinite number of outcomes both at a large-scale and small-scale level. For example, a player may realize that one of his cities is in revolt with numerous unhappy citizens. This is a problem because due to a war with China, this city is needed for military production. The player then must determine what is causing the unrest within this city. Is because of lack of entertainment? Is it due to the cultural influence of a neighboring civilization? Could it be the result of poor sanitation? The possibilities are numerous. At this point the player can begin to experiment (”play with” variables) if the cause of the problem isn’t clear.

The game goes on to provide resources to the player to help them learn about revolting cities. A “Civilopedia” is available to the player in order to research game mechanics, various civilization advances, and even actual historical events in order to help them solve the problems that arise during game play.

Tools are provided to the player in the form of advisors. If the program senses that your civilzation’s scientific advancement is slowing, your science advisor may request a meeting with you and suggest steps to avoid a declining science program. However, your military advisor may disagree and suggest that switching funding from military to science will cause a defense problem. In a sense, these built-in advisors also provide some level of scaffolding by giving hints, suggesting a series of steps to take to solve a problem, or even by reminding you that your intent was to conquer China.

Sid Meier’s design also includes elements described in Richard Mayer’s work on “Designing Constructivist Learning.” What lessons can we take from “good” game designers that can be applied to instruction? In this case I think there are some parallels. A well-designed game would offer multimedia (text, audio and images) in a way that the player can process and make sense of while not detracting from game play. Similarly, instruction should be designed the same way. According to Mayer, textbook-based learning and direct instruction can be designed in such a way as to facilitate constructivist learning. This achieved by highlighting important text with varied fonts, bullets, etc. and by placing images and text together in such as way as to not only help the learner build bridges between the two but also to avoid an information overload. The Civilization series is designed in this way. Printed information on the screen comes in small chunks and is often closely associated with a visual.

Effective game designers like Sid Meier must have some understanding as to how we learn and process information. Has he taken courses on Instructional Design? I don’t know. However, I think we as Instructional Designers can take some clues from effective game designs and see how they relate to learning and instructional theories and then apply those same designs to our own instruction.


Multiple Intelligences and Stat-Allocation in a Fantasy RPG… A Very Strange Analogy

Me and my analogies… Well, as I read Howard E. Gardner’s paper, “Multiple Approaches to Understandings” from Reigeluth’s Instructional Design: Theories and Models, I was struck by yet another strange analogy as I tried to make sense of the ideas. Now, let me warn you, if you have no experience playing a fantasy roleplay game (RPG) such as Dungeons and Dragons or an online RPG such as World of Warcraft, you may find this analogy a bit hard to follow, however, making this connection helped me grasp Gardner’s concept of Multiple Intelligences.

In most RPGs, you begin play by creating a character. The rules of the game require that your character have certain statistics that will affect how they interact with the virtual world. Each step you take you need to find the missing ar 15 accessories to ensure that you have a boost in your game. For example, in Dungeons and Dragons, I might choose to create a character who will play the role of a fighter. In D&D, fighters are known for their skill at wearing the toughest armor, wielding the largest of weapons, and for their ability to take physical damage in a fight. During the character creation process, I must allocate a number of points into my fighter’s base statistics. In D&D, there are six abilities (stats) that you can put points into that will affect what your character can do and how they are able to react to various situations presented them in the virtual world. The six abilities are: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. Now, since I’m creating a fighter, I would likely (though am not bound to) place my points into both strength and constitution. The points in strength would affect how hard I hit with my weapon and the points in constitution will affect the total amount of damage my fighter can take in battle. Intelligence wouldn’t have much affect on the fighter class, as it doesn’t take a great deal of brains to swing a sword at a charging troll. A bit of dexterity wouldn’t hurt, as it would make me slightly more skillful with my weapon or allow me to use a bow. Wisdom, according to the rules, won’t have any affect on my fighter, and charisma… well, who needs to be well-liked when you’re toting a massive broad sword?

So, now you’ve had a bit of introduction to the various characteristics that play into a typical RPG character’s attributes, so let’s talk Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Gardner theorizes that there are roughly eight different “intelligences” or information processing systems. Each of us, as you can find by taking a simple assessment, have varying levels of each of the eight intelligences. Gardner’s eight intelligences are: linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, naturalist intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence. An individual with a high degree of spatial intelligence might be adept at navigation or wood-carving, whereas an individual with high linguistic intelligence might be a great speaker or writer. A certain individual may have high spatial and logical-mathematical intelligence but a low musical intelligence. Another may have a high interpersonal and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Still others, like myself, may be a sort of jack-of-all-trades type, approaching learning in any category with some level of comfort but not particularly excelling in any one area.

So, the analogy here lies in the similarities in an RPG character’s abilities or statistics and our own multiple intelligences. To take the analogy to the next level, an RPG character who is a fighter might experience a situation where they are required to fight a band of marauding goblins. The fighter’s approach to this situation would be to whip out his sword, charge into battle, and start swinging, achieving victory through brute strength. A character who is a wizard will approach the same encounter quite differently. The wizard would assess the field, and using his keen intellect, begin casting damaging spells at the goblin force while trying very hard to avoid physical contact with the invading force.

In a similar fashion, we as learners with varying intelligences will approach learning differently. When presented with a new concept to be learned, a logical-mathematical person may try to understand the material in a step-by-step approach, whereas a person with a great deal of spatial intelligence might try to visualize the concept in a three-dimensional way.

The final part of this analogy occurred to me mid-way through my writing and has implications in the arena of social constructivism I suppose. Roleplay games aren’t typically designed to be played alone. In fact, they’re social games. The fighter or wizard, mentioned above, wouldn’t likely survive the goblin onslaught if it were a large force, but together, using their combined skills, they would achieve a victory. That’s why most RPGs are designed for a group of players to work cooperatively to achieve some goal greater than any could achieve on their own. To give a brief scenario, the fighter might engage the first two goblins to charge the group, effectively keeping them away from the wizard. Not being engaged in melee combat would then allow the wizard to cast her powerful damage spells at the next wave of goblins charging their position. Meanwhile a third party member, a bard, perhaps, might engage in a song that mesmerizes a fifth and sixth goblin while the wizard and warrior deal with those they’re fighting. This group dynamic, with each party member bringing their unique set of skills to the fight allows them to achieve the desired goal.

Collaborative grouping during instruction, I would imagine, could have a similar benefit. Each member of the group would bring their own, unique approach to the learning at hand and collaboratively, the group could achieve a level of learning not capable with individual learners.

Well, as Gardner mentioned in his article, analogy can be a good or bad thing. I hope I’m avoiding any misconceptions with this analogy. If it’s a good analogy, it’s helped me conceptualize the idea of multiple intelligences. The next step, of course, is to answer the question, “How do I design instruction that appeals to a variety of intelligences?”


About time…

Well, I’m not really sure why it’s taken me this long to create this sort of blog. Gaming and Education are two of my passions, and the point at which they meet is particularly exciting to me. So, why has it taken me so long to put a site like this together? Who knows? Here it is…