Friday, December 31, 2010

Limitations of the data sets for CCK09 forums in this blog

I'm already halfway in completing the data processing of the LMS forum network of the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2009 (CCK09) course. I thought it wise to remind readers of the limitations of these data sets.

The CCK09 forum datasets presented in this blog only show a small part of the learning environment in CCK09. Other participants had opted to centralize their personal learning networks in other social networking sites like blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Second Life. I am not aware of the visualization/research on the learning network in those sites.

In addition there are limitations to the  machine process of data gathering the ties (links, lines, or network data) in this visualization. I used the Moodle Forum SNA Tool rather than the newer version called SNAPP because the latter is slower due to graphing code transfered over the net.  This application merely picks up tie data from "replies to" posts and not necessarily to actors. What I mean is that it fails to take into account replies to more than one person that is indicated in the body of the post. Clicking the "reply to" button in the Moodle forum, tags the post but there is no facitlity to explicitly state to whom you are replying to. If the Moodle forum would allow a dropdown list of posters (more than one of course) then a machine process may be able to pick up whom the poster intends to reply to.

Processing the body of the post will increase the complexity of data gathering. Even in current text analysis software that I've tested, human intervention in the form of scrubbing (editing the text for machine processing) is applied. There is a lot of variability in raw data. Posters usually use only the a part of the full name or even a nickname that is different from the username of the person they are talking to. I've also seen posters mistake the name of the one they're talking to, but the person being addressed simply ignored the mistake and replied appropriately. There is also the problem of language. People may use a different language, or they may not be as competent in the English language as native speakers.

Of course I could always fall back on human coding but I simply don't have the time, and I can't afford to hire people.  So when you use these data sets always take into consideration the probability of lost ties.

VNA open data file for CCK09 forum 6 released

Extract the .vna file and open with NetDraw (64.84 kb)

social network of moodle forum 5 of CCK09

Compare with CCK08 graphs here:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

VNA data file for CCK09 forum 5 released

The topic for this forum is Personal Learning Environments/Networks.

Extract the .vna file and open with NetDraw  (131,25 kb)

social network of Moodle forum 5 of CCK09

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

VNA open data file for CCK09 forum 4 released

The topic for forum four is Discussions on connective knowledge.

Extract the .vna file and open with NetDraw (63.18 kb)

social network of Moodle 4 forum of CCK09
Compare with CCK08 graphs here:

Monday, December 27, 2010

VNA open data file for CCK09 forum 2 released

Extract the .vna file and open with NetDraw (118.05 kb)

social network graph of CCK09 moodle forum 2

VNA open data file for CCK09 forum 1 released

Extract and open the .vna file with NetDraw (77.1 kb)

The directed graph of the social network of Moodle forum 1 of CCK09 below has tie strengts, reflexive ties, and labels turned off.

CCK09 forum 1 social network

Compare with the first forum of CCK08 below, that discussed the question: What is Connectivism?

CCK08 forum 1 social network

Sunday, December 26, 2010

CCK09 forum one graph

This is my test network graph for CCK09. It shows the first forum, with red nodes representing new participants and blue nodes are returning participants from CCK08.

Compare the above with Forum one graphs of CCK08 below.

I'll try to visualize the other forums later on.

Monday, November 22, 2010

MUD and MUSH integration wish

James Wagner Au appears to have differentiated MUD and MUSH as follows: mud is primarily about battles and exploration while mush is about collaborative building and socialization. This is currently the same difference between MMORPG and collaborative virtual worlds.

I wish these were integrated in a way that I can use the same appearance of my avatar; and my inventory in one world and another. Probably this would require a viewer that could translate the avatar and inventory files (scripts, meshes, animation etc.) from one game to another.

I wonder if the Ryzom-core's client and WorldForge's ember can be integrated this way? Ryzom is an mmorpg while WorldForge is moving toward's virtual worlds. And they are both free software (gpl).

This way educators can have the best of both worlds. A strong narrative-systems sim world MMO and a collaborative-social virtual world.


Au, J.W.(2008). The making of Second Life. Notes from the new world. Harper Collins.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Defining Game

Roel Cantada

The following post in an excerpt from my masters project proposal Exploratory Approaches to the Design and Development of a Game for a Distance Education Course in Philippine History (2010).

Katrin Becker asked a profound question about the definition of the term game: Is a game still a game when it is not being played, and can anything become a game if we play with it? (Becker, 2008) My answer to the first question is yes, but only in the sense that the playing of it could be imagined or abstracted as a general human activity. People do not have to actually play it right now, right here; as long as it is conceived of as an activity of people (players) who identify such activity as a game in their culture, then it is a game. My answer to the second question is no. The thing being played with is an artefact, a toy, not a game. In this sense a video game in the form of a CD-ROM on a store shelf is not a game but a game artefact or toy. If we rephrase the question into, “Can any human activity that we play around with be considered a game?”, then my answer is yes. We can actually turn the most mundane activity into a game. For example, luto-lutuan (play cooking) is a role playing game.

Let me discuss the meaning of game and related concepts in the Tagalog language to make my operational definition of game clear. The Tagalog word for game is larô, a noun that is synonymous with libangan or gawain bilang pag-aaliw (amusement, pastime or leisure activity); and paligsahan (competition) (Diksiyunaryo ng Wikang Filipino, 1989; Almario, 2001; the English translation is mine.). It could also mean a combination of the two -- i.e. a leisurely competition. This definition seems to resonate with Siitonen's distinction between casual playing and competitive playing (2007). Both meanings are in the English definition of the word game. But the word larô does not carry the meaning “animal hunted for food or sport” or “the game equipment needed to play a game” (Zheng, 2005). The last will fall under the word laruán, which means “anumang bagay na ginagamit sa paglalaro... (Almario, 2001). In English this refers to anything used to play a game. In this way the Tagalog larô is more discriminating than the word game. It is also more consistent as the Tagalog word for play is maglarô. So when I talk about a game, I am thinking about larô.

However, I think the dimension of leisure activity in the term ‘laro’ needs to be narrowed down. Walking in a park can be considered a leisure activity or pastime but it is not a game. A leisure activity that is a game would require something (laruán) or someone (larô) to play with. The toy could be something that is culturally reserved as a toy or something turned into a toy (pinaglaruan). What I mean by being culturally reserved is that a thing has no other function in society except to be played with like commercial dolls or action figures. In addition, games seem to be activities with specific rules. These rules may be written, unwritten, fixed, negotiated, or even emergent. Rules are negotiated and they are emergent when the rules change as the game is being played.

Two games for children will give us an example of games as leisure activity and games as competition. Bahay-bahayan (playing house) is a non-competitive game. Players usually use toys like cooking utensils and a doll representing a baby. It may also be played (and preferably) with others. No one wins in bahay-bahayan. One can think of it as a children’s simulation of family life. The simulation will depend on what family the child is aware of. If the child's model is an extended family, then the game could include a role for grandparents. The rules for playing house are unwritten, negotiated and emergent. In this way we can also look at bahay-bahayan as storytelling. The players create imaginary events about a fictional family. A series of kunwari (pretend) statements about the roles are negotiated as rules while the performances of the roles are done at the same time. For example, when someone says “Kunwari may sakit si baby (Let's pretend the baby is sick.)” and the other player responds “Kunwari ako ay doktor (Let's pretend I'm a doctor.)”, this means that the other player accepts the proposition of the first player, accedes to this rule by playing a role, and moves the story forward accordingly. The other players could have also said “Hindi...kunwari ... (No, let's pretend instead...)”, followed by an alternative proposition, which could be considered a new and contrary rule of role playing. It appears to me that in this type of game, fantasy is a stronger motivator than game mechanics.

A common example of a competitive game among children is Jack-and-Poy (rocks-papers-scissors). The rule is that rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock. No artefact is used. There are no real rocks, papers, or scissors. A fist represents a rock, two fingers extended for scissors, and an open hand for paper. Usually players will make a fist and move the fist up and down to rhyme “Jack and Poy, halehalehoy, sinong matalo mukhang unggoy” (Jack and Poy, halehalehoy, whoever loses looks like a monkey.) At the last syllable the hand is revealed. When the hands are the same, then it is a draw. In this game there is a win. There could even be scores, like best out of three, etc. Let me emphasize the fact that this is a game we play with others rather than with objects. Here the game mechanics dominate, as the rocks, paper and scissors could be replaced by lighting, rain, sun or something else.

In the educational game literature there is a debate as to whether games and simulations should be classified together or apart. Becker believes that games are simulations (Becker & Parker, 2009), to which I agree. I define a game as a leisure activity that may or may not involve competition, and is played with a toy or/and with others. Playing a video game involves the use of a digital toy. I would like to emphasize the video game as activity, not the artefact or equipment needed to play this activity. The term digital toy will include digital games (artefact), simulations, and virtual worlds (contrary to Klopfer, et. al., 2009) in computer, console, or mobile phones. Embedded in this definition is the interaction between an agent or player and the environment, in terms of learning between the learner and the learning environment which is covered by affordance theory.


Almario, V.S. (Ed.). (2001). UP diksiyonaryong Filipino. Philippines: Sentro ng Wikang Filipino; Anvil.

Becker, K. (2008, January). The invention of good games: Understanding learning design in commercial video games. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Retrieved May 19, 2010, from

Becker, K. & Parker, J.R. (2009). A Simulation Primer. In Gibson, D., & Baek, Y., Digital simulations for improving education: Learning through artificial teaching environments (pp.1-24).  Hershey & New York: Information Science Reference.

Diksiyunaryo ng wikang Filipino. (1989). Linangan ng Wika sa Pilipinas.

Klopfer, E., Osterweil, S., & Salen, K.  (2009). Moving learning games forward. Obstacles, opportunities & openness.  The Education Arcade, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved January 22, 2010, from

Siitonen, M. (2007). Social interaction in online multiplayer communities. Doctoral dissertation, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Retrieved May 10, 2010, from; Available at

Zheng, H. (2005). WordNet dictionary for StarDict version 2.4.2 [Software]. Available at

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lessons from Adventure Quest Worlds

I don't really have first hand experience on MMOGs. My knowledge of it as a learning environment comes from reading the dissertations of Constance Steinkuehler (2005) and Marko Siitonen (2007). And reading "The Noob" online comics by Gianna Masetti.

Recently my 7 year old nephew taught me how to play an online MMOG called Adventure Quest Worlds (AQW). He wanted me to help him with bosses so he could unlock other areas to explore.

AQW is a 2D Flash MMOG. My initial impression of it is that it's a child's game because of the anime like graphics. I realized later on as I played the game that it did have some of the characteristics of MMORPGs and probably have learning potential.

Going back to our game play. I started with a healer character and simply followed my nephew around, taking instructions from him on what to click here and there. He certainly knew his way around. I also served as an oral reader for the big words in the quest's text.

Economy of Clicks

What I liked about AQW is its simplicity. It's easy to train characters, you go out and do your thing. There is no need to train in chopping wood, or doing crafts ... It's interface is pretty basic, an hp and xp bar. And a set of icons for special moves or powers. But more importantly is that there is what I call an economy of clicks in the interface. A few  clicks of the mouse and you're character moves here and there. The distances of findable items in a room is very small. This efficiency of interaction is the same with LMS course pages, wherein the findable items are on a compressed list of text.

In 3D Virtual Worlds finding items require more clicks or involvement on the part of the player. You have to press your arrow keys for so long just to go from here to there. Virtual Worlds inherit the geographical characteristics of the real world. Very few items in RL is just a click away, except for the tv, boom box ....wait...where did I put that remote again?

Game Play

I noticed some differences in how I and my nephew play. He was basically an explorer and role player. He was currently into knights theme and he was role playing as a knight. I turned out to be a collector. While my nephew was interested in getting the right look on his character regardless of enhancements or item levels, I wanted better weapons and armor. He wanted form, I wanted functionality. He was interested in aesthetics, I was interested in increasing my hp,xp, and reputation level. In my case it means having to finish quest or grinding in bosses rooms to secure a prized drop. Which usually means killing the mob 20 times or so. We ended up playing in different areas of the MMOG and only occasionally summoning each other for help.

Another difference is that the child doesn't know strategy. He can't manage his mana, e.g. healing only when his hp reaches 75% to conserve mana. He doesn't know how to optimize the sequence of his special moves so that he will continue to strike while the other powers are charging. He would not withdraw from the boss room and rest outside while I keep the boss occupied. He would just stand his ground, hack...hack...until his character or the boss is defeated. There are bosses with pets (not always looking like an animal) that are needed to be defeated first before the boss will lose some of its hp. The pets regenerate so there is a need to assign some players to simply defeating the pets and not attacking the boss. Some players would have to take damage from the boss during this stage as well. But the child and including a lot of the players just attack the boss, ending in defeat for the entire crew. These weaknesses have the potential of being teacheable moments.

Teacheable Moments

Strategic thinking is one possible learning experience from AQW. I gradually gravitated towards PVP when my character is rank 10, level 25. It's interesting to observe and learn from the other players in the chat allowed areas (where the big kids probably are; my nephew was left in the canned-chat areas). They taught me how to sequence attacks (hit the restorers first). One group taught me how to steal a win when the opponents are ahead i.e. attack the other team when they're in the captains room and their hp is weakest. Of course this only works when the point difference is small. Another player taught me how to hide behind the captain or bosses to prevent the opponent from double clicking my character. Unfortunately I learned this only through observation as the setup of the PVP room doesn't allow for strategic conference. After spawning in the room you are already allowed to rush out and kill mobs. I don't know if holding the combatants in the safe zone for let's say a minute before allowing them to come out will encourage discussions on strategy. It's really difficult to chat and brawl at the same time. Most of the chats are single words, yes, nooo, kk, brb and the occasional wtf?

Winning in the PVP area is more of luck though. Since players are not allowed to select teams, the win will depend on when you're assigned to a more experienced team. Imho that's about 50%.

Socialization is not a big draw for AQW. The groups are temporary and you're not allowed to form clans or guilds (at least for free players, I don't know about member players).

Finally, I think AQW can be used to teach micro-economics :-). Players work to acquire gold, rank, reputation; and unlock items. The gold has value because it can be exchanged with digital items offered by the game, such as armor, helmet, potions etc. The rank raises hp and ability to enhace some digital items. Reputation unlock shops. The game makes some item more precious by making it cost more, or scarce (because you can't buy it, it has to be dropped by a powerful monster). AQW does not seem to allow exchange, selling, or giving inventory items to each other. But still this could be a hook (prior knowledge) that economics teachers can use.

What I've learned from this experience is that I've confirmed some of what Steinkuehler is saying about MMOG as a learning environment. I also feel that adults (parents in particular) should play with their children and use that opportunity as learning moments. It's also a good way to connect and use the game as a conversation piece of sorts.


Masetti, G. The Noob. Available at

Siitonen, M. (2007). Social interaction in online multiplayer communities. Doctoral dissertation, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Available at; Also at

Steinkuehler, C.A. (2005). Cognition and learning in massively multiplayer online games: A critical approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Available at

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Interactions with the Community


Roel Cantada

Learner-Community Interactions

We could think of the community as a group of players, a group of students, or a school. Whereas the interactions between learner-learner are interactions between individuals, we are dealing here with an individual interacting with a group. That group has norms and values. Much had been said about the norms and values held by groups of players in the previous post (Steinkuehler, 2005; Siitonen, 2007) but there is still the matter of how these norms affect the use of games in teaching and learning.

Gamers' communities are seen as social networks (Steinkuehler, 2005; Siitonen, 2007) wherein reciprocal forms of teaching and learning occur in all directions throughout the social network (Steinkuehler). I think that the issue is not only how the individual as an agent will create ties with an existing network but also how the network (with pre-existing structure and rules of linking) will constrain or promote ties.

The ideal community is a community of practice. This community is not only a group of people sharing similar interests but a group that is actively participating to advance the knowledge and expertise about a topic. There is evidence that a community of gamers can socialize novice players but the culture of gamers appears to contrasts with school culture. School experience in the Philippines are organized into 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours subjects. Around six subjects a day. Each subject is usually taught by a single teacher. In my opinion such an organization of student experience is a hindrance to the openness, persistence, and length of time needed to play games and develop gamer culture that fosters collaborative learning. The idea that games need to be adapted to the school culture appears to limit how games can be used in teaching. On the other hand changing the school culture to afford the use of games e.g. providing flexible time and allowing open enrolment (class scale is not limited by teacher/student ratio) may be difficult to achieve in traditional face-to-face education. There may be hope for distance education where these barriers are being broken down but I think the traditional model of credit-hour class is still strong. Clearly there is a need for advocacy on the acceptance of games among stakeholders in education in the Philippines. This post will not deal with these socio-cultural and policy issues and leaves it to future researchers to study.

Teacher-Teacher Interactions

Teacher acceptance of the use of games in their classroom may be influenced by other teachers. In the case of the non-digital game in Hanghøj study one of the teachers who was reluctant to participate eventually did after hearing the experience (2008) of his colleagues in using the game. But this may also work in reverse; teachers who had failed in their use of games in the classroom may influence others not to adopt video games for teaching.

In Italy it has been reported that teachers had organized themselves into a community of practice in the use of video games in the classroom. The COP's formation had been briefly described this way:

First, a group of teachers who design educational games is set up, and brings in other people with more technical expertise; then a larger community of teachers tests these games in their own classrooms to identify their strengths and weaknesses and recommend or suggest improvements; and finally the improved games are made available online for a large group of teachers to use them in their everyday teaching. (Wastiau, Kearney, & Van den Berghe, 2009)

I believe that organizing such a community in the Philippines will not only improve pedagogy with educational games, but may also be used to produce games that are affordable and accessible to students. Opensource games projects may provide models of software production for such a COP. Hopefully other researchers will be able to explore this topic further.

Community-Game Content Interactions

The community being referred to in this section is the society in general. It appears that video games gets bad press in the media which reinforces the negative attitude of teachers and parents about video games. Of course this is not without reason as described in the post that mentioned video game overuse. This is especially acute when parents experience their children going to internet cafes and spending their allowances there instead of going to school. I wonder how parents would react when they are told that the video games will now be brought to school?

A concern among adults about video game content is the presence of sex, violence and bad language in commercial video games. The United States of America, Canada and Europe had responded to this by setting up rating systems similar to that used in film and television. The Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rating system use age categories and content categories. The age categories are 3, 7, 12, 16, and 18. While the content information includes violence, bad language, fear, sex, drugs, discrimination, gambling, and online (Felicia, 2009).

In the U.S.A. and Canada the self-regulatory agency Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides age and content ratings (ESRB-FAQ, n.d.a.). The age rating symbols include early childhood, everyone, everyone 10+, teen, mature, adults only, and rating pending. The content descriptors are more detailed than PEGI's and includes alcohol reference, blood, violence, comic mischief, crude humor, drug reference, language with moderate profanity, sexual content, simulated gambling, etc. (ESRB, n.d.b.).

Although providing tags or metadata on the affordable learning actions of video games will not substitute for the teacher play testing the game it may still be useful in game selection especially if there are many games on a particular topic. Teachers may create an online database of educational games and tag them for pedagogy, topic covered, length of game play, etc. The games may also be linked to researches on those particular games that will guide teachers on its effectiveness and problems that need to be resolved with out-of-game extensions. Exploring this possibility is outside the scope of  my project.

Teacher-Community Interactions

To overcome the apprehension of the school community in the use of games in teaching and learning it is recommended to inform and even involve parents and the community in the evaluation of the implemented video games. The community should be regularly briefed about how the games are being used, the objectives, the outcomes and the evaluation (Wastiau, Kearney, & Van den Berghe, 2009).

Game researchers in the United States of America and Europe seem to be more concerned with educators interacting with the commercial/prorietary games developer community. Projects had been set up to encourage commercial game developers to invest in the development of educational games and to dialogue with researchers and educations stakeholders. It is said that commercial game companies avoid educational games because of the collapse of the first wave of the popularity of educational games in the market in 1990's (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005). I am not aware of a similar effort with  opensource games developers.

Community-Community Interactions

I believe that a COP of teachers and learners advocating video games for learning and teaching will give the educational community a voice in the development of educational games. It will allow the educational community to dialogue (and be taken seriously) with game developer communities, parents, and the media about the realities of video game use for teaching and learning. Again this interaction and that preceding it are beyond the scope of my project. I can only hope that future researchers and practitioners will explore this topic further.


Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S. (2005). Beyond edutainment. Exploring the educational potential of computer games. Doctoral dissertation, IT-University of Copenhagen.  Retrieved March 8, 2010, from

Entertainment Software Rating Board. (n.d.b). Game ratings & descriptor guide. Retrieved July 7, 2010, from

Felicia, P. (2009). Digital games in schools: A handbook for teachers. Belgium: European Schoolnet. Retrieved July 1, 2010, from

Hanghøj, T. (2008). Playful knowledge: An explorative study of educational gaming. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Southern Denmark. Retrieved March 13, 2010, from

Siitonen, M. (2007). Social interaction in online multiplayer communities. Doctoral dissertation, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Retrieved May 10, 2010, from; Available at

Steinkuehler, C.A. (2005). Cognition and learning in massively multiplayer online games: A critical approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from

Wastiau, P., Kearney, C., & Van den Berghe, W. (2009, May).  How are digital games used in schools? Complete results of the study. Belgium: European Schoolnet, EUN Partnership AISBL. Retrieved July 1, 2010, from

Monday, October 18, 2010

On Game Content-Subject Matter Content Interactions


Roel Cantada

The following discussion focuses on history as subject matter content.

The content-content interaction of distance education proposed by Garrison and Anderson referred to computer programs interacting with one another to create a synthesized adaptive learning content (Anderson, 2003, pp. 139-140; 2008, pp. 59-60). An example would be the use of a blog list in another blog. The programs involved are a RSS (Rich Site Summary) harvester and a feeder. I think of them as small client and server scripts. The blog where the RSS feeds are collected are able to pull or receive new information from feeder blogs whenever there is a new post. The feeder blogs push or send RSS scripts to the destination blogs. The destination blogs or harvester gets updated automatically.

This subsection will discuss automated interactions between programs in a video game but I would like to go beyond that and discuss the relationship between the substantive content of the video game and curricula. I think the design of the computer programs that will interact in an educational video game will be based primarily on this relationship.

Substantive content interaction

One of the content options on the video game side of this interaction is either to learn by playing games or to learn by making games. Yasmin Kafai labelled these approaches instructionist and constructionist respectively. Kafai questions what she calls the hidden premise of instructional games, “that we need games to sweeten the learning of difficult ideas (2001).” Educational games had been criticized as what I would call sugar-coated ampalaya (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005, p. 38). But I don't think the desire to make learning fun is hidden or bad. Playing games for fun is compatible or complementary with making games for learning; there is no need to pit one against the other. Another point is that students will appropriate the games for their own goals and create metagames not intended by the designers (Squire, 2004). So playing complex games does not preclude making games.

Learning by making games may be integrated my project in the same way that role playing or diorama making is assigned in face-to-face history classrooms. Such projects are particularly suitable to MUVEs where learners may create and modify digital objects in a virtual world. Perhaps here, playing and producing may require learning only the game software without going into computer programming or learning software for manipulating the game platform. But creating a game in a virtual world without any knowledge of programming would mean that there will be very little automation. The players would have to supplement the game rules and events with manually constructed rules and direct action, just as in non-digital games in real life.

Another issue with game content that is relevant to this project is whether to emphasize story telling or game mechanics. The narrative approach would usually result in a more constrained game play such that the player is forced to follow the path of the story. In strategy games there is no narrative to follow but what is emphasized are the rules of interaction. Like in chess it's a matter of winning by capturing the enemies' king. In strategy games like chess the king is a token and not a character. Chess players do not give unique names to king, they are simply tokens with specific allowable moves. In this case one square at a time, in all directions. In MMOGs and MUVEs a player is given a unique identity but the path of the game is open ended. In MMOGs a player may want to level up and do quests but there is no predetermined story. Of course the player may not want to do quests and simply explore or socialize. In MUVEs the players is pretty much left to do what he/she wants to do.

In relation to history teaching players may create stories in these environments that may be useful to exploring counterfactual history. But history teaching is first and foremost about telling what happened as narrated by historians using historical evidences. In other words there would be a need for the teacher to constrain the path of game play towards a predetermined narrative (predetermined by historical texts). In order to do this the video game must allow for chaining of events i.e. any player moves in a time slice will have an effect on subsequent moves in the next time slice. History content is chronologically sequenced. Strategy games do have this temporal sequencing but the emphasis is on rules or laws of the game. Chess is not about what individual pawns did or did not do, but about the patterns of game play as constrained by the rules of the game. The strategy game genre appears to me more suited to social sciences where laws and generalizations are emphasized rather than unique events. It may be suitable for teaching some types of history as espoused by Fernand Braudel. He classified history into three types based on time. The first is the history of events which is journalistic in nature, dealing with day to day or year to year events. The second is the history of conjunctures, which are conditions that cycle around every decade or so like the economy. And finally the longue durée--conditions that persist for hundreds if not thousands of years like religion and culture. The last changes very slowly (Braudel, 1982). Strategy games may be useful for teaching the history of conjunctures’ and longue durée but they would be very weak in teaching the history of events.

I think the most promising video game genre for teaching the history of events is the adventure game. Adventure games integrate game mechanics and story. The player is asked to perform actions that move the story forward. In turn a predetermined story limits the freedom of the player in the game in favour of completing the game (Fernandez Vara, 2009).

Of course  history is not just about facts. Both Egenfeldt-Nielsen (2005) and Squire (2004) discussed the need to look at the game as a simulation of a historical model. Not only should students learn to play a game, or to accept games as learning tools or as a learning environment, but they must also change their view of history in order to get the most out of games. A systemic view is necessary to appreciate games as historical simulation. That is, changes in one aspect of society will result (usually emergent or unexpected) in other aspects of society. The premise of a simulation is that initial conditions will have an effect on the system. In history, the learner should consider that decisions by people in the past will have an effect on the present. And that these decisions were not destined to occur. Historical agents had options just like game players. And their choices led to consequences just like players in a video game.

In relation, a systemic view of history allows for counterfactual history (Squire, 2004). Counterfactual history is an alternative history that may be used to experiment on histories that challenge traditional power structures and overturn historical outcomes. Counterfactual history had been dismissed by some historians as trivial entertainment (Carr as cited in Ferguson, 1997). But the study of counterfactual history is a great way to drive home the point that historical figures did not know their future, just like us today. They considered options just like we do about the school we are going to study in, our career choices, our political choices. Sometimes there are records of these choices like plans A and B of military generals. This allows us to look at alternative histories that were actually considered by the contemporary characters of that time (Ferguson, 1997). This also allows us to eliminate fantastic and mythical explanation of what happened by considering if an antecedent event did not occur would the consequent event occur? The more important lesson   for students is that if history is not destiny then we can change our own future history.

Aside from history, it is also recommended to teach students to think about the epistemological and historiographical issues of historical works. Peter Lee listed the following concepts as important to the study of history: time, change, empathy, cause, evidence, accounts (2005). He called them second order concepts (the historical facts are first order concepts). It is taught in face to face teaching by looking at historical sources (that may appear to be contradictory), and asking the sources questions that these sources were not meant to answer. The comparison and contrasts of these sources in terms of the second order concepts will reveal varying assumptions about history—by historians and by the students themselves. In learning theory terms this is teaching metacognition.

The challenge for the teacher is to correct misconceptions about the past like the belief in the “deficit past” i.e., that people in the past could not do what we can and were not as clever as us today (Ashby, Lee, & Shemilt, 2005). And then to guide them towards ever more sophisticated assumptions about how we know about the past. A progression of assumptions could range from viewing this knowledge about the past as “an information problem” to a “problem about working things out using evidence” (Ashby, Lee, & Shemilt, 2005, p. 123).

How can we use games to teach these second-order skills? Squire suggests that the adoption and defence by students of different interpretations of game events may be connected to different positions on history. And the exploration of games with contrasting underlying assumptions may be an effective way to introduce students to historiographical issues (2004).

Let me now turn to the question of how we can integrate learning content with a game. Habgood (2007) suggested ways to intrinsically integrate content with video games in the previous post. Riding on the flow experience without interrupting it seems to mean that the learning content must be needed to win the game. It has been observed that students will ignore information (including the manual) that is not needed in their immediate game play. But this only applies in a game genre with a win situation. In games that encourage exploration like MUVEs, collateral learning (Becker, 2008) seems acceptable. In addition it there will be a need to interrupt game play for reflection. Finding the balance between sustaining motivation and reflection would be a challenge. Gamers do not like (an understatement) being interrupted.

In terms of role-playing games it appears to me from reading the literature that there may be some tension between playing some other role and still needing to keep the role of a student. There might be value in the student keeping the role of a student in the game rather than trying to be something else. This way there would be consistency between real life and the game. What I mean is that instead of playing Andres Bonifacio in a history game, his/her avatar could still be a student playing Andres Bonifacio. The value of such a design needs to be studied further.

Software interaction

I would now like to turn to the technical integration of subject matter content with video game content. This is where the interactions of intelligent programs come in. The most common approach is not to interact with an external program but to use pop-ups. Pop-ups are dialogue boxes with the text of the learning content that pops-up during the game to teach the student something. Imagine you are playing a Katipunero in the 19th century. You are fighting Spaniards. It’s a shooter and your busy blasting the enemy, then a pop-up appears telling you about the battle of San Juan. The game is interrupted, and the usual response of students is to ignore the text, close the dialogue box, and blast away. And if there are too many pop-ups you get a very angry player, not at the digital enemy but the lame game. It's not a recommended design (Egenfeldt-Nielsen).

An approach may be to put the text in digital letters of dead soldiers (see Grossman, 2003, p. 11). If real historical letters are used then the students can use them as primary source materials. This approach is cheaper (in terms of computer power and internet bandwidth) than making Non-Player Characters (NPC), Mobile Objects (Computer characters that gives experience points when killed), or Bots (Artificial Intelligent characters) that provide interactive content. But if the processing power is available then it would be interesting to see Jose Rizal being interviewed by students while being led to his execution at Bagumbayan. The technical requirements of doing this in an MMOG is beyond the capability of my project but it may be possible to demonstrate it in a MUVE. The approach will require external software independent of the game, with a database of sentences that the digital character is to say if queried by players. One can see that those sentences may be text from historical documents thus there would be an interaction between the Bot software and the game software (Rock, 2010).

Another possible interaction is between an LMS like Moodle and a MUVE like Open Simulator. The MUVE can create digital objects that represent activities in the LMS. The interaction of players in the MUVE is tracked by the LMS. Tracking of student activity is one of the strengths of a LMS that is absent in games. This integration is now available in the software called SLOODLE. SLOODLE will allow the 3D clients for Open Simulator to view Moodle in a 3D virtual world,  replacing text-based webpages. It will also allow teachers to use Moodle as a back-end database for virtual world courses (Livingstone, 2009).

Video games can also be embedded in an LMS as a SCORM package of Java or Flash games. The e-Adventure platform developed in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid can produce such games (Torrente, Lavín-Mera, Moreno-Ger, & Fernández-Manjón, 2009). In adventure games the factual and counterfactual histories can be turning points in the games that may be explored as if in a branching interactive story.

Finally, I feel we should not restrict ourselves to a single game genre. Perhaps there is a way to chain two or more games together to deliver the appropriate content to learners.


Anderson, T. (2003). Modes of interaction in distance education: recent developments and research questions. In M.G. Moore, & W.G. Anderson (Eds.). Handbook of distance education (pp. 129-144).  New Jersey:  Lawrence Erlbaum.

Anderson, T. (2008). The theory and practice of online learning, (2nd. ed).  AU.

Ashby, R., Lee, P.J., & Shemilt, D. (2005). Putting principles into practice: Teaching and planning. In M.S. Donovan, & J.D. Bransford (Eds.),  How students learn.  History, mathematics, and science in the classroom.  A Targeted Report for Teachers, Center for Studies on Behavior and Development, National Research Council (pp. 79-178).  Washington, D.C.:  The National Academies.  Retrieved August 11, 2009, from

Braudel, F. (1982). On history. (S. Matthews, Trans.). University of Chicago. (Original work published 1969).

Becker, K. (2009). Games studies theses. Serious Game Pathfinder. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from

Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S. (2005). Beyond edutainment. Exploring the educational potential of computer games. Doctoral dissertation, IT-University of Copenhagen.  Retrieved March 8, 2010, from

Ferguson, N. (Ed.). (1997). Virtual history: Alternatives and counterfactuals. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Fernandez Vara, C. (2009). The tribulations of adventure games: Integrating story into simulation through performance. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from

Grossman, A. (Ed.). (2003). Postmortems from Game developers. San Francisco, CA: CMP.

Habgood, M.P.J. (2007, July). The effective integration of digital games and learning content. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Nottingham, UK. Retrieved June 6, 2010, from

Lee, P.J. (2005). Putting principles into practice: Understanding history. In M.S. Donovan, & J.D. Bransford (Eds.),  How students learn.  History, mathematics, and science in the classroom.  A Targeted Report for Teachers, Center for Studies on Behavior and Development, National Research Council (pp. 31-77).  Washington, D.C.:  The National Academies.  Retrieved August 11, 2009, from

Livingstone, D. (2009). November. Online learning in virtual environments with SLOODLE, final project report. July 5, 2010, from

Kafai, Y.B. (2001, October 27). The educational potential of electronic games: From games-to-teach to games-to-learn. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from

Rock. (2010, January 21). Radegast and the A.L.I.C.E. bot. Retrieved April 23, 2010, from

Squire, K.D. (2004).  Replaying history: Learning world history through playing Civilization III. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Indiana University.  Retrieved January 22, from

Torrente, J., Lavín-Mera, P., Moreno-Ger, P., & Fernández-Manjón, B. (2009). Coordinating Heterogeneous Game-based Learning Approaches In Online Learning Environments. Re-published in Transactions on Edutainment II, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 5660, pp 1-18. Retrieved February 2, 2010, from

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On Learner-Game Content-Learner (Peer) Interactions


Roel Cantada

Just like the preceding forms of interactions,  peer interactions among learners in distance education are mediated by communication technology. Nevertheless, I would like to discuss the finding s of two studies that observed learner-learner interactions in a face-to-face classroom before moving on to those that were mediated by online games. One is by Kurt Squire and the other by Thorkild Hanghøj.

In Squire's study, affinity groups emerged from the game play (2004). Even though they were playing single-player games, students inside a computer laboratory would interact with one another, even leaving their computer games (during long pauses in the game) and observing the others. They examined each other’s games, advised one another, and shared solutions to certain problems. These affinity groups were the ones that created metagames among themselves. In one class of students “taken as shared meanings arose ... as students played their games and asked one another for advice, examined the consequences of decisions, and predicted how events from one game might relate to the unfolding of others (Squire, 2004).” None of these activities were designed in the game; they developed naturally among the learners. But as was previously presented in Squire's curricular outline for using the game Civilization III, the emergence of affinity groups took time or they grew out from existing friendships.

In Hanghøj's (2008) non-digital debate game we get to see how students interact with one another in a game about interaction. Unlike in Squire's case, the interaction here is designed in the game rather than outside the game. We also see the interactions directly without the mediation of technology unlike the next examples. Hanghøj found out that the students needed three competencies to successfully play the debate game. These are social, communicative, and scenario competencies (Hanghøj, 2008). These competencies were in the context of playing the role of a professional politician. I found most insightful is the varied ways by which the students played out their communicative competency. Hanghøj classified it as parodic, personalised, professionalised and/or reproductive. This finding may be useful in teaching history especially when students are asked to role play historical characters online.

What strike me about the design of these games is that we can afford learner-learner interaction in a game by incorporating it in the rules as a learning goal or task; or by making the game too complex or too difficult for an individual to successfully complete. Simply allowing students to group themselves but giving them a task that can be accomplished individually will neither encourage peer interaction nor greater learning gain for group learning (Boland, 2009). In fact in the latter case the demands of group interaction may just be an added burden. The learning goal and task should demand group work to be accomplished. In Hanghøj case a student can't debate with himself/herself, and in Squire's case the game was so complex that sharing solutions increase the likelihood of successful game play.  This theme will manifest itself again when we look at MMOGs like Lineage in Constance Steinkuehler's study and Anarchy Online in Marko Siitonen's research.

There are times when we may wish to replicate these results in distance education. But can students in distance education walk around and observe each other's game play like in face-to-face classrooms?  My answer is a qualified yes. Certain genres of games allow us to observe each other's game play via avatars. In MMOGs and MUVEs, avatars are digital representation of the learner. Depending on the extent by which an avatar can be customized it can represent ones gender, ethnicity, and clothing style (Dickey, 1999). It can even represent a user as a fantasy character in the virtual world.

An avatar differentiates the collaborative experience of learners in a text based forum or chat, from a graphical virtual world because the learners presence in the world is communicated to other players simply by placing the avatar in the virtual world (Taylor, 2002).  In a forum or chat one has to act consciously by posting messages so that others will know that you are present in the forum. In the virtual world it's the reverse, people may actually think you are present in the virtual world and ignoring them if you do not type afk (away from keyboard) in the in-game chat box.  According to Kong Siu Lung, “co-presence is the sense of being there in other places and being together with other people (Biocca et. al., as cited in Kong, 2008). It is the fundamental prerequisite of collaborative learning and it is claimed to be one of the crucial social components of computer-mediated communication (Spears & Lea, as cited in Kong, 2008).” And that “ is an essential design of multiplayer computer games which facilitates social behavior online (Vogiazou & Eisenstadt, as cited in Kong, 2008, p.8).”

Current MMOGs and MUVEs also allow avatars to move, display gestures, and even show facial expressions. The translation of real life non-verbal behaviour to the virtual environment, usually through an avatar is called embodiment (Dickey, 1999). Rune Klevjer claims that the “... relationship between the player and the avatar is a prosthetic relationship; through a process of learning and habituation, the avatar becomes an extension of the player’s own body (2006). He further said, “The avatar is the embodied manifestation of the player’ engagement with the gameworld; it is the player incarnated (Klevjer, 2006).” In 3d virtual worlds avatars not only serve as a visual representation of the user but also as a camera (Dickey, 1999; Klevjer, 2006). MMOGs and MUVEs usually allow a first person and third person camera view. In the first person view, the camera is in the avatar and the player sees what the avatar sees but cannot see the avatar. In the third person view the camera is outside the avatar and the player sees the world as well as the avatar. When the avatar's head is turned left, right, up or down, the camera follows thus enhancing the feeling of embodiment.

Another affordable action of avatars commonly discussed in the literature is identity experimentation. Identity in virtual worlds is established by unique usernames and personalization of avatars. The avatar allows a player to distinguish himself/herself from other players and to establish a reputation in the virtual world. Identity is essential for establishing trust and accountability (Dickey, 1999), that in turn is important to establishing long term social relationships online. Other players know you through your avatar. Since players may also be allowed to have more than one avatar and to change their avatars, they can experiment with other identities. This is very useful for role playing in history as players can take on different genders, age, race, form etc. and see how people or things were treated by others in different times and different cultures.

The other affordable actions allowed by avatars included richer communication, affiliation, and socialization (Taylor, 2002). In communicating with others the player is no longer confined to emoticons and may include a limited set of body and facial expression. Players can also signify their affiliation by giving their avatars the same look as the group they belong to. Within the virtual world  you can hold almost any social activity that involve gathering somewhere like dances, conferences, and even virtual classrooms. An avatar affords the player to act on a game world. It is a virtual body that inhabits an environment and allows us the metaphor of place-of being somewhere in the game.

A feature of MMOGs and MUVEs that encourage social networking (and a virtual economy) is the persistence of the game. Participants of MMOG cannot restart the game or practice “save-and-load” strategy, and restore the game play progress back to their desired state, therefore when they disconnect from the game and return later on the results of the social activities and game play will remain. It creates an in-game history and in-game biography for an avatar. The game ends only when it is abandoned by the company that created it.

MMOG and MUVE's virtual world had been praised for affording the establishment of communities of learners and communities of practice. The difference between the two learning communities is that the community of practice is more dedicated to some professional activity. This had been lauded as a natural environment for learning, that is, people come there to learn voluntarily.  They organize themselves and sustain their communities by learning from one another (Steinkuehler, 2005). Would it not be great to see self-driven, self-organizing students who can sustain their own learning in a collaborative learning community? Perhaps by briefly looking at the dynamics of community building and disbandment in online multiplayer games we could learn how to design games that will afford this form of collaborative learning.

How gamers form communities

As previously mentioned MMOGs were studied by Steinkuehler and Siitonen. Siitonen in particular observed two types of communities of gamers, the casual gamers and the competitive gamers (2007). The casual gamers emphasize getting along and having fun rather than winning and efficiency. In certain MMOG these communities are called guilds or clans.

These communities could start from players who do not know each other or from players with real life relations such as relatives, friends or work mates (Siitonen, 2007). Those who found the community form the initial core group of the social network. Then they recruit other members based on the emergent values and norms of the communities. Casual gamers for example would recruit members who are fun to be with and easy to work with, while competitive players may value game skills over interpersonal skills. The new members and occasional players compose the periphery of the network, and moving to the core requires commitment and participation. Each community has leaders. The leaders manage the activity of the community, like quests, meetings, and other projects. Some leaders are autocratic, while others are more democratic. This brief description would already have suggested to the reader that online multiplayer communities are just like real life communities or groups.

In MMOGs players take on roles to do quests collaboratively. The quests are usually very difficult such that an individual cannot complete it by himself/herself. Sometimes there are too many monsters to kill in a dungeon. The roles may then be divided into those who fight and those who heal the fighters so they could fight longer. Of course we know from Bartle (1996) that there are players who prefer to just socialize with other players rather than kill monsters. We may need to provide a safe venue for socializers in same way that course designers usually put a General Discussion forum in an LMS.

Online gamers' communities according to Siitonen last only for months. They are then disbanded and the players move on to other communities or even to other newer online games. Sometimes the community is disbanded because of conflict among members. Misunderstanding could arise, or there are conflicts in the interpretation of the norms and values of the community. Sometimes the community just withers away as members lose interest; or their real life situation changes that affect their time to play (Siitonen, 2007). Again let me reiterate that the lesson here is that social networks or social relationships may be developed in a game even when players or learners are geographically separated.

What do gamers learn in a community?

Of course in terms of content one learns in-game content rather than school subject matter content. But as Becker (2008) had shown with single player games, the content is irrelevant to the fact that games have the appropriate pedagogy to teach novices. Learning is through full participation in genuine game play with more knowledgeable or more skilled others (Steinkuehler, 2005). The manuals are supplementary materials to learning. Contrast this with the traditional face-to-face classroom were the textbook or manual takes precedence in learning. The virtual world looks more like a richer learning environment than common impoverished classrooms in the Philippines not only because of the digital objects in the virtual world but also because of the many potential mentors that you can meet (just like in the real world outside the school). In the school students are limited to one teacher every 45 minutes or 1 ½ hour.

Note that nothing stops learners in a virtual world to organize a more intentional and formal class as shown by Magine's class in Michele Dickey's study (1999). Magine is a player who organized a class on building digital objects. Her class is part of the player organized Active Worlds University that offered virtual classes on technical stuff about digital objects in the MUVE Active Worlds.

Steinkuehler also emphasized the literacy learned in online multiplayer games (2005). Because players usually have to communicate through chat, reading and writing is an everyday activity. Not only have students had to learn to interpret a lot of symbols in the game. And they would even analyze games mathematically as well as write essays in blogs or websites about the game play. They would also discuss and even analyze strategies in forums. In this web environment they would manipulate not only text but multimedia like screenshots or video recording of their games.  Steinkuehler's study seems to suggest that gamers may produce more written material than a student in class. Players do not waste their time playing online games because it’s not all about pushing buttons. What advocates of using games in school are saying is that if only we could motivate students in school to organize themselves as learning communities like these gamers perhaps they will learn more and retain more of what they have learned.

Dangers in MMOGs and MUVEs

However, just like in the real world, when minors enter an open game world there are dangers. The persistence of games that affords social networking also affords overuse which may result in physical or mental health risks discussed above. At least with single player stand-alone video games there is a natural ending. And usually when a player finishes a video game, he/she loses interest in replaying that video game again. There may be a need to design pauses or breaks in MUVEs and MMOG used for teaching and learning not only to avoid overuse but promote reflection as well.

There are other perils aside from overuse. Commercial MUVE and MMOG internet services like Second Life and World of Warcraft have policies regarding misbehaviour in their games. Second Life does not allow users who are under 18 years old. In the teen version of Second Life only 13-17 years old are allowed to participate (Linden Research, 2010). Second Life and Teen Second Life have community standards, formal rules of behaviour. The goal of the Second Life community standards is stated as “...treat each other with respect and without harassment, adhere to local standards as indicated by simulator ratings, and refrain from any hate activity which slurs a real-world individual or real-world community (Linden Research, n.d.)”. Teen Second Life's community standard goal is to “...enjoy a safe, fun Second Life experience and always treat each other with respect. (Linden Lab, n.d.)”. In particular Teen Second Life has rules about respect for others, anonymity, password protection, privacy, vulgar language, expletives, nudity, sexual content, strong violence, harassment, assault, disturbing of the peace, etc (Linden Research, n.d.). This list reads like a student manual in school.  The list is self-explanatory except assault. How do you assault someone virtually? MUVEs like Second Life have simulated physics which allow players in to push, shove and even shoot others. This behaviour is restricted in combat zones or PVP (player versus player) zones.

There are players who misbehave intentionally and are known as griefers. According to Wikipedia a  griefer is a player in a multiplayer video game that purposely irritates and harasses other players (Griefer, 2010). It is the equivalent of an internet troll in chats, forums, and blogs (Troll in Wikipedia, 2010). Internet games may even be used for cyber-bullying where the intention is to divulge embarrassing or hurtful information about people (Cyber-Bullying in Wikipedia, 2010). Hekki Jungman studied criminal and offensive behaviour in multi-user virtual worlds and found that common offenses and crimes is connected to money e.g. getting one’s account password   to steal the virtual assets, and sell them for real-world money (2009).

Second Life had dealt with minor offenses by suspending accounts and banishing people to a virtual detention centre called the corn field. When a player is sent to this virtual place he cannot teleport (travel to another place just by clicking a link or entering an URL address) elsewhere. He cannot communicate with anyone, and cannot create objects. All he will see is the corn field and a tractor. In other words the misbehaving player is punished with boredom (Walsh, 2006). But more serious offenses are punished differently. In World of Warcraft, a player who breaks the game play policy is punished in this order: warning, suspension, final warning, and account closure (Blizzard Entertainment, 2010). It would be wise to study the rules of existing MUVEs and MMOGs as part of the design of an educational game project.


Bartle, R. (1996, April). Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDS. Retrieved February 13, 2010, from

Blizzard Entertainment. (2010). World of Warcraft account penalties policy. Retrieved July 3, 2010, from

Boland, I.T. (2009, March). Efficacy of the 3D Multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) Second Life for learning in cognitive constructivist and social constructivist activities. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Capella University, Minnesota, USA.  Retrieved March 23, 2010, from

Cyber-bullying. (2010, July 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:47, July 3, 2010, from

Dickey, M.D.(1999). 3D virtual worlds and learning: An analysis of the impact of design affordances and limitations in Active Worlds, Blaxxun Interactive, and Online! Traveller; and a study of the implementation of Active Worlds for formal and informal education. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University. Retrieved May 29, 2010, from

Griefer. (2010, June 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:46, July 3, 2010, from

Hanghøj, T. (2008). Playful knowledge: An explorative study of educational gaming. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Southern Denmark. Retrieved March 13, 2010, from

Jungman, H. (2009, August). Criminal and offensive behavior involving multiuser virtual worlds. Thesis, Haaga-Helia, University of Applied Sciences, Finland.

Kong, S.L. (2008). Intention to learn in MMOG : examining the roles of peer intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Unpublished master's thesis, City University of Hong Kong. Retrieved June 19, 2010, from

Klevjer, Rune. (2006, July). What is the avatar? Fiction and embodiment in avatar-based singleplayer computer games. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Bergen, Norway. Retrieved June 6, 2010, from

Linden Lab. (n.d.). Teen Second Life community standards. Retrieved July 3, 2010, from

Linden Research, Inc. (2010, March 31). Second Life terms of service. Retrieved July 3, 2010, from

Linden Research, Inc. (n.d.). Second Life community standards. Retrieved July 3, 2010, from

Siitonen, M. (2007). Social interaction in online multiplayer communities. Doctoral dissertation, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Retrieved May 10, 2010, from; Available at

Squire, K.D. (2004).  Replaying history: Learning world history through playing Civilization III. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Indiana University.  Retrieved January 22, from

Steinkuehler, C.A. (2005). Cognition and learning in massively multiplayer online games: A critical approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from

Taylor, T.L. (2002). Living digitally: Embodiment in virtual worlds. In R. Schroeder (Ed.), The social life of avatars: Presence and interaction in shared virtual environments (pp. 40-62). London: Springer-Verlag. Retrieved May 25, 2010, from

Troll (Internet). (2010, June 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:47, July 3, 2010, from

Walsh, T. (2006, January 3). Hidden virtual-world prison revealed. In Clickable Culture. Retrieved July 3, 2010, from

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On Teacher-Game Content-Learner Interactions

Roel Cantada

I am going to discuss learner-teacher interactions and teacher-game the interaction in this post. In distance education the interactions between learners and teachers are mediated by communication technology. In this case the technology is video game content.  Some online video games have embedded chat and message communication facilities, but others rely on external web applications. Even though I am talking about distance education the reader should bear in mind that some of the   studies (Squire & Egenfeldt-Nielsen in particular) referred to in this post were conducted in a face-to-face classroom environment wherein the teacher can directly talk to the student without the need for mediation by technology.

Teachers' attitude towards the use of games in education varies (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005; Hangøj, 2008; Jamison, 2008). John Jamison classified the attitudes towards learning Second Life among higher education educators as positive, neutral, and negative (2008). He reported that all groups experienced the same set of frustrations about learning the game but responded differently. The positive group treated the frustrations as motivational experiences, to which they responded by increasing flow experience. While the negative group were dissatisfied and wanted clear instructions from the researcher.  When they were unable to acquire the instructions during the orientation some of them gave up. The difference between the positive and negative group is that the positive group had personal intrinsic reasons for participating in the orientation while the neutral and negative group had professional extrinsic reasons only (Jamison, 2008).

The danger here is that teachers with negative experience with games tended to transfer their personal interpretation of that experience to others, including their students (Jamison, 2008, pp. 57-58). They generalized their point of view to all and in a way projected their weaknesses to their students. They think that if they can't learn to play a game, their students would not be able to as well. Of course this is not always the case.  Reverse socialization had been observed with new technology, in fact my seven year old nephew taught me how to play MMORPG.  In addition they think failure is bad. They are shocked to find that in a game as a learning environment “failure” is the norm. But of course teachers must learn to manage failure and frustration among students (Squire, 2004).  Kurt Squire puts it quite perspicuously,

 “...that managing students’ questions and failures may be particularly important early in the unit, as students orient to the game and adjust to the feelings of frustration and the failures common to game play.

Ultimately, how to support students in learning games and managing success and failure may be less an issue of particular instructional resources and more one of learning culture. It is worth reiterating the contradiction between predominant approaches to curriculum and instruction where information is broken down to easily processed chunks of information and “failure” is to be avoided, and game-based learning environments, where problem spaces are complex, information must be gathered from disparate sources, and failure is the norm. Learning in game-based learning units means resetting expectations so that problem spaces are way too large to be fully understood, information must be gleaned from multiple sources (particularly other games), and failure is accepted, even valued. Learning, as it predominantly occurs in game playing communities is driven by goals (which are often going unmet due to failure) and is iterative, multi-modal, and ongoing." (Squire, 2004)

I believe that the reason why we created artificial learning environments like schools is to minimize the dangerous consequences of failure but not to eradicate failure. Students have a right to fail. In a sense that their failure is a consequence of their action that resulted from experimenting with solutions to problems rather than the judgement of a teacher (as in a grade).

Jamison's  study is an orientation on Second Life for educators. It is worth noting here that he recommended the following for a successful orientation into the virtual world environment:

  1. Participants should have the option of being a part of an orientation process that includes formal social activities, or leaves all participants to seek out their own interactions.
  2. Participants should have the option of participating in structured activities early in the orientation that more directly introduce them to the specific concepts of the 3-D virtual space, and to the role of the avatar in that space.
  3. Participants in an effective orientation program should have the opportunity to select from a wide range of structured learning materials addressing the wide range of skills and behaviours required to function fully in the virtual environment.
  4. Participants should be asked to identify their motivation for participating in the orientation process, and this stated reason should be a factor in guiding the participant through the orientation.
  5. Provide a live mentor. (Jamison, 2008, pp. 85-87 )

In the previous post I mentioned that M.P.J. Habgood  said that “...educational computer games have been traditionally used by classroom teachers as a ‘hands-free’ mode of teaching: an individual reward for completing work, or simply just a way of keeping a class occupied while attending to other priorities (2007, p.246).”

If teachers use games in teaching then the hands-free mode criticized by Habgood above should be avoided. The different results can be seen from the findings of Kurt Squire (2004) and Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen (2005). Squire actively interacted with the students while they were playing.  He gave prompts, technical advice, and just-in-time lectures. In my opinion Egenfeldt-Nielsen followed the hands-free mode. Most of the time he simply observed how the teachers and students used the game in a formal classroom. Of course he was playing the role of researcher.  But the problem with his situation is that the participant teachers were not experts in the game he used.

Squire had some success with some students. Students who played the game recursively were able to connect world history with their experiences in playing the game. One student even went so far as to consider the game as a simulation of world history. On the other hand, the teachers in Egenfeldt-Nielsen's study did not have the time to integrate the video game to their teaching. They failed to connect the student's game experience with learning history during their discussions. As a result their students failed to connect playing the game and learning history as well. Egenfeldt-Nielsen lists three lost learning opportunities in his study: First, students had no appreciation of the historical information embedded in the game because the teachers failed to point out the value of these facts to them. Second, there were rare times when the students appreciated historical facts in the game but the teachers were unable to exploit that teacheable moment, they instead went on with their lesson without relating it to the game. And third, when the some students did ask questions to explore the emergent nature of history in the game, the teachers failed to extend these moments to enrichment activities or assignments that would have tied the game content with the learning content (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005). Egenfeldt-Nielsen emphasized the need for teachers to be explicit in linking game content with learning content.  Probably because the students are yet to be socialized in using games for learning. If teachers dismiss the game experience of students in order to cover their course content, then the students will dismiss the game as irrelevant to their learning.

Thorkild Hanghøj came up with an incisive classification of how teacher's pedagogical beliefs manifest in the way they value or make the game content relevant for the students. He found that:

"By comparing how the teachers taught with and reflected on the same game, three pedagogical approaches concerning the game emerged. More specifically, the teachers interpreted the game scenario as a scripted, a performative and an explorative form of teaching. The difference between the three approaches was particularly clear in the way that the teachers authorised the game results in the end-of-game discussion. Thus, one teacher promoted particular interpretations of the game which were only partially related to the students’ game experience. Two teachers chose to let the assertions and results of the game determine possibilities for interpretation, while two other teachers explored and validated multiple different interpretations of the game session.
These three pedagogical approaches also indicated three different epistemological views on the subject-related knowledge of the game scenario. The scripted approach mostly focused on the “facts” of the game and validated game-based knowledge as being either “true” or “false”. The performative approach viewed game knowledge as an entertaining contrast to the more “serious” knowledge of upper secondary education. Finally, the inquiry-based approach validated the students’ game-based knowledge as a construction and reconstruction of hypotheses." (Hanghøj, 2008, pp. 321-322)

Teachers can serve as a bridge or a barrier to the successful use of games in teaching and learning.
Egenfeldt-Nielsen's study suggests that there is a need for changing current teacher's practices in teaching. But teachers are resistant to this change. The successful use of games may have to wait for teachers to change their teaching practices (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005). Or an active program to retrain and reorient teachers to use games in teaching and learning would have to be developed.

What is the role of teachers in successfully using games in teaching and learning?

I doubt it if teachers should be expected to create their own games, or even to modify games. The skills needed for such activities may be beyond the knowledge and time of many teachers. The ideal is that there would be a course team of designers, developers, programmers, and artists who will design and develop games for specific courses. Another possibility is relying on a community of open source games developers, and a few in-house people who have the technical expertise to modify these games. This second approach is what I am exploring in my project.

But it does not matter if the game is created, modified, or acquired as a commercial off the shelf game, the first task of the teacher is to play the game. He/she needs to evaluate the game in terms of the learning goals of his/her course.

Egenfeldt-Nielsen said if the teachers only learn the game at the same time as the student, the use of games in education will probably fail. Teachers will not have enough time to integrate the game with their content and vice versa. As a result they will not be able to help students with their game play problems (2005). Clearly, the teachers should be knowledgeable in the game before the start of the course. Van Eck (2009) suggests the use of walkthroughs and cheats to speed up evaluation. There is no need for the teacher to be an expert gamer, or to be better than their students at game play. What he/she needs to be is a pedagogical scene setter (Wastiau, Kearney, & Van den Berghe, 2009). Someone who can prepare the learning environment that uses games, and ensures students learn the subject matter content from playing games.

Some of the things teachers must do during the implementation of the educational gaming is to exploit teacheable moments including errors and biases in the game (Squire, 2004). This will allow students to understand the systemic nature of games and compare these errors and biases with real life phenomena. The literature also recommends extending or supplementing the game with assignments and projects (Squire, 2004; Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005; Watson, 2007).  It has been observed in online gaming communities which are considered learning communities (Steinkuehler, 2005) that gamers go beyond the game and create websites, forums, and even face-to-face meetings to share knowledge about the game among them. The creation of learning communities is one of the objectives of distance education, and it would be better if it is voluntary.

Teachers should also be prepared with back-up lessons and activities in case of technical difficulties, specially in the Philippines where random brownouts are common. If the game is delivered online, it is very frustrating for distance education students to experience server downtimes and not be redirected to a forum or website where they could receive further instruction onn what to do next.

Debrief students. It is important for reflection and analysis of the students' game experiences (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005; Wagner, 2008; Watson, 2007). Some of the possible guide questions for debriefing include:

  1. How did you feel while playing the game? (decompressing – feelings)
  2. What happened during the game? (describing – facts )
  3. How does this activity compare to other phenomena? (drawing comparisons – enhancing transfer)
  4. What might you plan to do differently in future activity? (deriving lessons – application). (Heinich et al., as cited in Squire, 2004).

Given the ambivalent attitude of students towards the validity of learning with games, students appear to dislike being graded on game play.  William Watson said “that the students strongly resisted the notion of being graded on their performance in a game. However, the students did not have an issue with being graded on an assignment related to the game, such as their reflection assignment. It seems likely that learner attitude towards the use of an educational game could be turned negative if the learners feel pressure to perform in the game. The focus on extrinsic reward, such as grades, could increase immediate engagement with the game but might damage long-term engagement with the topic, which is the driving goal behind the GATE theory. It is therefore recommended that educational games developed with the GATE theory should encourage a play experience which is intrinsically rewarding (Watson, 2007, p. 152)”. In the case of some students in Squire's study, grades do not motivate students, and they refuse to do anything they do not want to do (2004). On the other hand in Egenfeldt-Nielsen's study, a student commented that “she learned history in order to get good grades, so she could get into university.” This tells us again that the teacher should be sensitive to what motivates their actual students.

The methods of implementing a game in the William Watson's GATE instructional design theory provide further guidance for teachers’ use of games (See Watson, 2007).  In the next post I will discuss the findings of educational game literature regarding social play among learners.


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Habgood, M.P.J. (2007, July). The effective integration of digital games and learning content. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Nottingham, UK. Retrieved June 6, 2010, from

Hanghøj, T. (2008). Playful knowledge: An explorative study of educational gaming. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Southern Denmark. Retrieved March 13, 2010, from

Jamison, J.B. (2008, May). Educators in a strange land: The experience of traditional educators when immersed into the virtual environment of Second Life. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Capella University, Minnesota, USA. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from

Squire, K.D. (2004).  Replaying history: Learning world history through playing Civilization III. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Indiana University.  Retrieved January 22, from

Steinkuehler, C.A. (2005). Cognition and learning in massively multiplayer online games: A critical approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from

Van Eck, R. (2009). A guide to integrating COTS games into your classroom. In R.E. Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of research on effective electronic gaming in education (pp. 179-199). Hershey: Information Science Reference.

Wagner, M.D. (2008, May). Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games as constructivist learning environments in K-12 education: A Delphi study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation proposal, Walden University, Minnesota, USA. Retrieved May 8, 2010, from

Wastiau, P., Kearney, C., & Van den Berghe, W. (2009, May).  How are digital games used in schools? Complete results of the study. Belgium: European Schoolnet, EUN Partnership AISBL.  Retrieved July 1, 2010, from

Watson, W.R. (2007, August). Formative research on an instructional design theory for educational video games. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Indiana University. Retrieved May, 25, 2010, from
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