Learning from the Games Designers

The designers of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games face a significant educational challenge. They need to efficiently and subtly teach new players how to use their game. This involves teaching players about the environment and the interface whist keeping them motivated and drawing them into the challenges of the game itself. This is situated learning in which the games designer is the ‘master’ and the player is the ‘apprentice’.

This educational challenge is similar to the one faced by those intending to teach in Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVE’s) such as Second Life. There are a significant amount of basic skills that need to be mastered before students can successfully engage in meaningful collaborative activity. The traditional ‘orientation’ process in Second Life is didactic and generic, teaching skills in an abstract technical manner. This has come about because unlike an MMO, Second Life has no shared goal, its possible uses are many and varied. However, a teacher who wishes to use Second Life should have a defined set of goals or learning outcomes they wish to achieve. They should be able to define task orientated activities which are relevant to the students motivations, for example, Art and Design students can be asked to compete to build the tallest monolith as a focus for learning building skills in Second Life rather than being given general instructions on how to create, scale and texture objects. In teaching terms this seems like an obvious approach but often when faced with a complex new platform teaching practitioners will often fall back on a basic instructivst style which may not align well with the approach generally taken at HE level for that discipline.

This is where we can learn from the MMO designers who are careful not to fall into this trap as it is likely to make a players initial engagement in a game seem like a chore. For subscription based MMOS such as World of Warcraft this would mean a high drop out rate and a massive loss of revenue, something that the HE sector can emphathise with.

The JISC funded Habitat project intends to learn from the game designers by capturing the processes in World of Warcraft in its initial stages and mapping the styles and types of task to the learning outcomes they fulfil. The data will be captured using pre and post activity questionnaires and video screen capture synchronised with video of the player at the computer. This data will then be used in the process of designing appropriate orientation sessions for pilots in Second Life with students from two disciplines: Art and Design & Philosophy. The Habitat project recognises that some of the most sophisticated collaborative learning spaces online at the moment are MMOs and that the design of these games can be a relevant model for the pedagogical structures that we put in place for the educational use of MUVEs such as Second Life.

Keep watching http://www.openhabitat.org to see how we get on.

The Beauty of Ad hoc Project Meetings

On Tuesday evening the Habitat project had one of its most dynamic project meetings. It was ad hoc and spontaneous but what was said was very useful. It reminded me of those happy students days when I’d find myself in the pub with all my friends talking about ‘interesting things’ almost by accident. These days I need to plan 3 weeks ahead to get in to the pub with people I actually like who all have families and jobs (what can you do?).

Anyway, 5 of us happened to be in Second Life (yes, I left this fact late in the post deliberately) at the same time and a discussion took off. In fact it took off so well that I’m still having trouble (with my project managers’ hat on) working out what it all meant. In this way it is very like those student pub sessions 🙂

The Habitat team is based in  Leeds, Canada, London, Oxford, Essex and Brussels so we have more chance to get together online than face-to-face. The Second Life platform was great for us because we shared some visual designs during our discussion which were projected onto blocks that we could all stand around and muse over. Plus, we did all feel ‘together’ which is important for any team. When I logged out I personally felt like I had spent time with a bunch of people rather than a stream of text.

So, what of those in the team who didn’t happen to be in Second Life? Well I suppose I can mail round the transcript of our discussion. Also, how do I get the best value from this’ happening’ for the Habitat team and for JISC? Plus, let’s not forget the question: ‘What is the relevance for our users/students?”.