Sheltons Organic Turkey

if I empty out all the unimportant stuff here, maybe there'll be more room in my head for important things

name: shelton brett
location: western u.s.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

confirmation on the importance for simulation "alignment"

Yeah, that's a horrible title, but whatever.

So, this isn't really going to mean a whole lot to people out there who might be reading this (although, since I don't think too many people are reading, I think if you bear with me, it'll be okay), but I got all excited today because I was reviewing a piece by Andy Gibbons about how a critical check during "waves" of simulation design should be looking for alignment.

Specifically, the Instructional Alignment of the simulation to the learning objective is a check-point to make sure the design is on the right track. "Does the simulation environment and model structure match the performance and knowledge goals of instruction? Will solving problems in the environment provide the right types and amounts of practice and the needed instructional feature support?" (Gibbons & Fairweather 1998 Chapt 22 Computer-based Instruction: Design and Development).

Well, by golly, this has been my approach all along for the design of instructional games (yes, simulations and games are different, apologies to Rob Foshay who told me games are just simulations with fuzzier focus on outcomes and are therefore necessarily less effective learning tools--huh I say--the approach to simulation design and game design have been as different as a tennis ball and a piece of fruit, so there's more than just adding game-like elements to make it better-and-worse at the same time, but I digress, actually I have a lot to say on this). Back to my point.

I have been pounding on my students that when the goals of the instructional activity are closely aligned with those of the game activity, that you can have an effective mix of learning and gameplay. The result? An activity that looks and feels engaging (dare I use the term "high flow"?) while instructional too. Of course, this is easier said than done. And hardly ever put into practice.

The game studies that make it into my field still look at commercial games (NOT designed for instruction) used in classrooms to teach [whatever--"problem solving" or "resource management" or "social skills" insert a side-show learning effort example] it all really doesn't work in terms of directed instructional objectives. There's just anecdotal influences of social learning or more enthusiasm in the activity (duh, it's a game folks, do we have to revisit why games continue to engage people? They're fun. It's ad naseum already!) The side of the spectrum stands the games designed to teach something, that don't turn out to be all that fun. Why might that be? Because they're so focused on traditional instructional design "strategies" that they disengage the learner from the game activity. I use "strategy" in quotes here because I'm not at all convinced that many of the activities that are associated with ID are necessary, interruptive assessments being one of them, but others that are important like reflective exercises or application of principles, again I'm going tangent here.

... And then there's the few instructional games in the middle that use gameplay elements in a learning activity that aren't aligned with learning objectives at all, they're just game-like elements attached to another unrelated activity in order to make the activity more engaging. (Actually, I'm not sure if those are "in the middle of the spectrum" or not, I haven't drawn that up yet.) For example, putting students in a 1st person shooter maze and asking them to race to the finish line through correctly modeled organic chemistry pictures on the doors (see Bradley's work at Drexler). Or moving through a MUD collecting points/coins so that I can get to enhance my character, even though I'm there to study why all the people in the town are dying out (see River project at MIT). So, I'm not saying that getting a cookie for doing a good job can't be effective for learning some things, but not so much the complex activity that involves transfer of learning to new situations, contexts, cultures, yadda yadda yadda. It's for practice. It's giving motivational rewards for being good. I really think that can only take the learner so far, and not into complex learning arenas. Eventually, the motivation will only take the learner t h i s far, but not the whole way.

The alternative? Alignment, my friends. Align those goals with the goals of the game and work to integrate those other pesky instructional elements that help support the learner, provide reflection on activity, follows some sort of assessment strategy, all within the confines of the game's objectives. Impossible, you say? Perhaps, but we're giving it a run by making our Interactive Fiction piece to experience a classic text. What new ways might people interact with early 20th century American poetry? Let's find out!...