Note: Some of these thoughts are based on a paper by John Rice, a school technology director in Texas. John has spent several years researching instructional gaming and his doctoral dissertation focuses on predictors for student success in educational video games. Since 2007, he has chronicled research in the field on his blog at edugamesresearch.com, presented at major conferences on the topic, and has written several intriguing papers including the paper “Assessing Higher Order Thinking in Video Games,” which appeared in the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education and which is used for some of the thinking of this post.
Assume a Role
To foster higher level skills, the player should assume a role during the game and not just play. Assuming a role means the learner must actively think about their actions, decisions and choices from a perspective other than themself. From a social learning context allowing the learner to mimic or role-play desired behavior influences future behaviors of the learner. A role play provides a framework for the learner to practice what he or she needs to do in a safe and secure environment.
A role play places the leaner into a learning situation closely resembling the real life environment in which the desired behavior will be exhibited. Situating the learner in, as realistic a situation as possible, increases on-the-job recall, knowledge transfer and reinforcement of appropriate behaviors. John Rice states that “role playing often forces users to engage in analysis, in which they must interpret elements in the game according to the role they are playing; synthesis, in which they must apply concepts to a new setting (the role they are playing within the game’s environment); and evaluation, in which they must constantly evaluate whether actions taken within the role they are playing assists them in meeting the goals of the game.”
Since role plays can occur in a classroom setting, e-learning modules or in a virtual 3D environment, it is important to consider advantages and disadvantages of each. In a classroom, the instructor can oversee the event and make sure it follows the necessary flow. However, it is sometimes difficult to get students to volunteer for a face-to-face role play and if the students veer off in an unanticipated direction, the instructor needs to step in. The biggest drawback is that the role play typically takes place in an environment dissimilar to the actual environment in which the actions are to be undertaken. Sitting in the front of a classroom is not typically where the desired behavior being learned is going to be exhibited. The classroom context is artificial.
One solution is to that problem is to deliver the role play in a pre-scripted, self-paced branching e-learning module. Using an e-learning module, images of the desired environment can be taken and put into the program, graphics can be designed to look like the location where the behavior is to be exhorted and the learner can move through the content at his or her own pace. This can be effective for novice learners who are trying to understand the right sequence and general statements to say but for learners who have intermediate or high level experience with the content, a branching e-learning role play is unsatisfying.
The typical complaint is that the options for answering a role play question are too limited and the learner would never say any of the answer choices given. The problem is that the branching is limited. It is only possible to program in a limited number of choices or decisions. Another complaint is that no instructor is available to offer customized assistance.
Using a 3D virtual world can remedy both of those issues. One advantage of a virtual world role-play over a pre-programmed role play is that the number of branches is unlimited. In a virtual 3D environment there is an actual person operating the avatar so that any question posed by a learner can be responded to appropriately by an instructor. The presence of the instructor also allows for unanticipated question. Another advantage is that the learner is immersed into the role play environment. The space inside the 3D virtual world can look like the space where the skills are to be applied. If uniforms are needed, the avatars can don the appropriate apparel.
Problems with virtual worlds for role plays include the fact that the instructor cannot see body language which may play a key element in a person-to-person role play. Additionally, the added “layer” of having an avatar may allow the learner to be more bold and aggressive in the virtual environment than he or she might be in the real life situation.
Regardless of the environment in which the role play takes place, the concept of immersing a learner in a role to mimic a real life activity in order to learn skills is an effective method of engaging higher order thinking skills. Properly designed role plays can prove to be invaluable for practicing key interpersonal skills.
In one example the Department of Public Welfare in a Northeastern state is using a virtual office building to teach caseworkers how to interview potential and existing welfare clients.
The role play in the gamified environment complete with avatars, wall posters and pencil holders on the virtual desks provides a realistic environment in which caseworkers can practice their interviewing skills. The caseworks take applications, walk the client to the proper location within the office and hone their skills of listening to the needs of the client.
To Learn more see chapter 7 of “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction” or read the section about “agency” in the book “Learning in 3D”