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The authors believe that the overlap between computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) and games design theories can now be tested and applied to high school teaching practice, due to the large uptake of Internet access in schools. Teachers and students at a high school in Perth, Western Australia, are being used in a pilot study as "proof of concept". This study will entail the development, testing and investigation of the use of a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) to facilitate collaborative learning in the English and Science domains. This paper describes the background, preliminary work and findings involved in the pilot study.
Adjacent education (Eustace, 2003) occurs as students learn and act on new knowledge in their local context. Whether on-campus or online, learning takes place adjacent to the learner, and removes the word 'distance' from use in education. In many ways the educational technology of instructional gaming ("edutainment") is another instance where learning is adjacent to the gamer.
Rieber (1996) proposed a hybrid learning environment in which the constructivist concept of a microworld was supported and with simulation and gaming characteristics. The authors take this proposal further in two ways by proposing:
Can a combination of computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) and games design theories work in secondary teaching practice with a MMORPG?The aims and significance for all participants is novel. At the end of the project:
The Research into Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE) research centre at Charles Sturt University has funded this instructional gaming project that seeks to develop, test and investigate the use of massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) based on the authors' existing work with virtual learning environments. The research team was formed within the Internet Special Project Group at Charles Sturt University after an approach by Leah Irving from TAFE WA to develop, test and investigate the use of a collaborative role play game (MMORPG) with the assistance of Dianne Hobbs and Mark Weber (Technology Coordinator) at the host site at Swan View Senior High School.
The researchers believe that the overlap between computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) and games design theories can now be tested and applied to high school teaching practice, due to the large uptake of Internet access in schools.
This paper reports on the progress of the 2-stage project using enCore open source virtual learning environment to develop and test the use of a MMORPG for promoting instructional gaming and collaborative learning in schools.
the reality of the internal world of ideas and fantasy, [is] in equal or perhaps superior status with the demonstrable reality of the external world (Kolb, 1984, p.54)Lepper and Malone (1987) identified seven theories for game design, divided into four kinds of intrinsic motivations that can be presented in any learning situation, even those involving one person. They are listed below and are based on previous theories conducted:
Learning in cooperative groups while utilizing the tools of technology needs to occur in all grade levels and subject areas. Schools need to increasingly utilize technology-supported cooperative learning (the instructional use of technology combined with the use of cooperative learning).The key theoretical domains exist in regard to those CSCL theories related to problem-based learning and project-based learning. A MMORPG by its nature, is both problem and project based in learning. Problem-based learning (PBL) is an effective technique for motivating students to learn about information and concepts needed to help solve a problem. While most of the theoretical framework is grounded in data, the initial theoretical perspectives come from a combination of computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) and games design theories.
The use of game genre like MMORPGs provide a "lived experience" for effective learning, where the process of creating and transmitting knowledge leads to knowledge construction, individual skills development and responsible communications, fundamental to game playing success. Savin-Baden (2000) separates problem-based learning from problem-solving learning, which mostly seeks an answer or a solution linked to curriculum content, by suggesting that the focus of problem-based learning is about:
organising the curricular content around problem scenarios rather than subjects or disciplines. Students are not expected to acquire a predetermined series of 'right answers'.In accord with Mason's (1991; 2002) desire for more research on the educational value of using ICT, Savin-Baden (2000) alludes to the lack of research which investigates the complex and challenging ways involved in applying a problem-based learning approach and its impact on teachers, students and their "lived experience". The conclusion is that problem-based learning nature of an MMORPG should have a core location in high school education curricula. This is where "lived experience" must examine not only an understanding of the self, but also the context and ways in which a student learns effectively across subject borders such as computing studies and English.
Mason's work (1991) set the framework for investigation into the quality of student learning that takes place in ICT environments, through examination of the participant behaviours which reveal other educational goals in the chosen areas like of problem-based learning, critical thinking and broad awareness of issues. Educational research has also shown that learners can have surface or deep learning strategies. Biggs (1987) suggested a close association of deep learning strategies with active interactive participation and social interaction in an "affective" environment. Critical thinking can be defined simply as thinking that involves analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
Participant interaction in designing, building and using the MMORPG provides specific cognitive advantages to student learning with ICT. Alternatively typical gaming communities or guilds display a similar pattern of to and fro, cooperative problem solving behaviour, according to a study of online gaming communities named Project Massive, Seay et al (2004) discovered some interesting patterns through interview and survey of 1836 informants, from the ages of 12 to 68. Table 1 below summarises some of those findings that are of interest to this study.
|Average time per week with preferred game||15-21 hours|
|Percentage of gamers involved playing > 40 per week||12%|
|Percentage of gamers who communicate "outside"|
the game with other gamers
(28% have none)
|Most frequently used method of out of game|
|Main activities for out|
of game communication
|coordination and scheduling||57%|
|support and advice||55%|
Educational value is defined as the change and positive experiences in learners involving seamless movement to and fro between moments of surface and deep learning, cooperation with others; contributions to the dialogue and feelings of self-worth. This sense of educational value of instructional gaming has motivated the research in this project. According to Rieber (2001):
Play offers a means for understanding motivation and learning in a holistic way. Serious play is not easy to achieve, but the reward is an intense and satisfying experience for both students and teachers.
The MMORPG scenario had teachers Dianne Hobbs, Mark Weber and their students re-construct the castle and characters of the time. This meant students accessed information on the historical events, planned and designed how to find access to the drawbridge, cellar or dungeon. Each student had a specific role to play based on the medieval society. Students needed to access information on a particular medieval castle to construct their own model using the encore MOO environment. Extension activities in the castle involved finding the treasure or to create some robots and contribute to the future direction of the narrative.
The plan also had Leah and the two high school teachers co-construct secret rooms and give students hints or instructions on how to find it and gain more treasure, power, etc, according to games design theory. Meanwhile the CSU research team provided theoretical, technical, developmental and analytical support to the project.
Our MMORPG is based on an encore Xpress-enhanced MOO (Multi-User domain Object-Oriented). MOOs have their origins in multi-player text adventure games (Bartle 1990). A MOO is a collection of objects. Locations (where avatars may gather), avatars (online representations of participants) and things (balls, boxes, shoes or anything else) are objects. Objects have attributes including actions they take in response to commands or messages. Some objects, called containers, can hold other objects. Locations, boxes and pockets are examples of containers. Objects are classified into a hierarchy with general characteristics inherited from higher level objects and special characteristics distinguishing objects lower down the hierarchy.
People connect using a network client to a MOO network server. Once correctly connected, people control their avatar and other objects by typing commands. An encore Xpress-enhanced MOO shows information about the current location, including contained objects and avatar icons, in one web browser frame, and dialogue in another frame. A third frame can be used to view other web pages. Many actions can be performed using a mouse.
Each person's avatar has a class or level. At the bottom are temporary avatars called guests who can only move around and chat to other avatars. A player has a more permanent identity but can still only move and chat. A builder can create new objects (except avatars) and give them attributes such as a description. A programmer can create new behaviours or actions (verbs) that can be applied to objects. Verbs are written in the MOO programming language. Wizards can create and control other avatars and change attributes such as location, password or quota. They can gag, disconnect or even re-cycle avatars. The Arch Wizard at the top has ultimate power and responsibility.
It takes about ten minutes to learn to be a guest: to read location descriptions, move to other locations and chat to other participants. Most people who can type take to it very easily. Budding writers like to be builders and people who like logic, syntax and semantics can learn to be programmers. Good leadership skills are required for wizards. It takes a very special person to learn to be a good Arch Wizard.
Rochester Castle MMORPG is hosted on the Internet Special Projects Group server at Charles Sturt University at http://ispg.csu.edu.au:7690/. The system is run using enCore Xpress 4.0.1 (enCore Open Source Project at http://lingua.utdallas.edu/encore/) under the FreeBSD operating system as used by busy sites like yahoo.com. The welcome screen is shown below in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Rochester Castle welcome screen at http://ispg.csu.edu.au:7690/ by Leah Irving.
Figure 2: Rochester Castle layout and navigation map as seen from the grassy area.
Another class taught by Mark Weber was the attacking force. They research the engines of war for medieval times and needed to organise themselves into teams, then attack the castle. They then laid siege to the castle.
1: if (is_member(player.name, this.valid_workers)) 2: player:tell("Ye open the drawbridge door to enter the Castle."); 3: player.location:announce(player.name, " enters the Castle"); 4: player:tell("Ye see the big grassy area surrounding the castle keep."); 5: move(player, #170); 6: else 7: player:tell("Ye are not allowed to enter the Castle, be gone with ye!"); 8: move(player, #173); 9: endif
Code for 'climb' verb of the 'stair' object:
1: player:tell("Ye start to climb up the stairs, as ye climb ye look out the window that is located half way up and ye see the forces of King John working on building siege engines. After a few minutes ride ye arrive in gallery 2"); 2: player.location:announce(player.name, " takes the stairs"); 3: move(player, #542); 4: player.location:announce(player.name, " arrives in the gallery");
Code for 'descend' verb of the 'stair' object:
1: player:tell("Ye start to climb down the stairs, as ye climb ye look out the window that is located half way up and ye see the forces of King John working on building siege engines. After a few minutes walking ye arrive in the castle keep."); 2: player.location:announce(player.name, " climbs down the stairs!"); 3: move(player, #697); 4: player.location:announce(player.name, " arrives in the keep!");
The game required the foundations of the castle to be breached, by the players laying siege to the castle, by burning pig fat in tunnels dug down the foundations. To simulate this situation, a 'foundation' object (based on a 'generic_thing' object) was created containing a 'crumble' verb. This object was located in a room object called 'tunnel' linked to the 'Countryside'. This verb moved the player using it inside the castle walls.
Code for 'crumble' verb of the 'foundation' object is below:
1: player:tell("Ye see that the pig fat fire has burnt the foundations and it starts to crumble, ye then are able to enter the castle"); 2: player.location:announce(player.name, " moves through the hole in the foundation"); 3: move(player, #640); 4: player.location:announce(player.name, " arrives in the east tower");
|Lowest participation||0.1 (5.7 min)|
|Average no. hours||5.62|
Figure 3: Rank order of the time spent (hours) gaming by all students at Rochester castle.
The student player called "Charles the Squire" had almost double the average playing time of the next 5 highest in the list of top 25 gamers by time spent at Rochester Castle. The gradient of the curve gets significantly steeper after the player called "Simon the Steward". An ethnographic study of the Rochester Castle game community (Eustace, 1998) will make an interesting follow up analysis.
|Charles the Squire||20.55|
|Reginald the Squire||12.60|
|Simon the Steward||8.27|
|Oliver the Don||7.66|
|Ralph the Squire||7.17|
|Bryan the Squire||6.88|
|Valentine the Cotter||6.83|
|William the Squire||6.07|
|Walter de Hugh||5.48|
|Geoffrey the Bailiff||4.50|
|Type of participant||Names||Hours||Sessions|
The average time spent by teachers supporting the game (about 9 hours) is about double the average time spent by students and seems to be typical of the normal lesson preparation time. This interim analysis suggests that instructional gaming with Rochester Castle and similar interactive MMORPGs is about the same workload as conventional teaching where each hour in the classroom is matched by an hour of preparation beforehand, as well as time spent mastering the ICT, games design and research skills needed.
The authors are hopeful that further analysis of data will confirm the educational value of instructional gaming with an EnCore Xpress MMORPG. Further analysis will examine:
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Please cite as: Eustace, K., Fellows, G., Bytheway, A., Lee, M. & Irving, L. (2004). The application of massively multiplayer online role playing games to collaborative learning and teaching practice in schools. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 263). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/eustace-poster.html
© 204 Ken Eustace, Mark Lee, Geoff Fellows, Allan Bytheway and Leah Irving
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