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Using games to teach knowledge and basic educational content is gaining more attention in recent years. The discussion on harnessing the power of video games to teach actually began in the early 1980s with the popularity of Pac-Man (Squire, 2003, as cited by Jong, Shang, Lee & Lee, 2010). The premise behind using games for learning stems from the basic concept that enjoyment and fun are essential components in the learning process. The prospect of making learning more interesting to students served as the primary focus for early research on game-based learning.

New Theoretical Approach in Game-Based Learning: Behaviorism to Constructivism

This focus has changed in recent years, and the new focal point of game-based learning uses strategies to promote learning communities and sustained engagement over a long period of time. In this shift, advocates of game-based learning moved from a behaviorist perspective to a constructivist approach. In the old behaviorist approach, games aimed to condition an appropriate response in students by using techniques such as drill-and-practice games. However, transfer of knowledge from these games to the real world was a significant problem in the behaviorist approach.

In contrasts, the constructivist approach emphasizes the construction of knowledge by the learner. For game-based learning, knowledge construction is enabled by socio-cultural and cognitive interactions in an authentic and rich environment. Mini-games (1 hour or less) do not meet these requirements, but complex-games (dozens of hours) do facilitate this approach. In complex-games, players (i.e., learners) gain new and multiple skills, and the learners interact with other humans and computer-generated NPCs (non-player characters). Complex-games do not have a prescribed list of tasks, rather the tasks are open-ended. The open-ended and interactive nature of complex-games coincides with constructivist ideas of situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991, as cited by Jong et. al., 2010).

Education in Games vs. Games in Education

There are two primary approaches to implement games in an educational setting. One is the “education in games” approach. In this method, games from the commercial market are adopted and explored for opportunities to teach. Ultimately, this approach has been deemed more beneficial for informal learning than formal learning (i.e., school). On the other hand, the “games in education” approach seems to have much more potential for learning in a formal setting. Several pioneers have developed this games in education approach: Shaffer (2006, as cited by Jong et. al., 2010)-epistemic frame; Lee, Lee & Lau (2006, as cited by Jong et. al., 2010)-Folklore-based learning; Aylett (2006, as cited by Jong et. al., 2010)-narrative games; and Ip, Lukk, Cheun, Lee & Lee (2007, as cited by Jong et. al., 2010)-game-based collaborative learning platform.

Theoretical Framework for VISOLE

Having said this, very little discussion has centered on the role of the teacher in these environments, which was the reason for creating VISOLE (Virtual Interactive Student-Orientated Learning Environment). The theoretical framework for building VISOLE led the authors to focus on implementing three important aspects (i.e., phases) of constructivism: intrinsic motivation, situated learning and teacher facilitation. First, when students are intrinsically motivated, they participate in learning activities for the sake of learning, as opposed to an external reward. Second, situated learning places importance on acquiring skills in a strategic context that includes a relevant social-cultural situation.

Third, teacher facilitation is critical because simply allowing students to drift in a rich experience without guidance may not be an effective teaching tool, especially in transfer of knowledge to the real world. The role of the teacher is to aid in scaffolding and debriefing. Vygotsky’s (1978, as cited by Jong et. al., 2010) concept of scaffolding was to help activate the prior knowledge of students. In turn, students would be led to accomplish a task that would not be attainable without such prompting. After the gaming experience is over, debriefing encourages students to reflect on their experience.

Description of VISOLE and FARMTASIA

VISOLE was a new learning approach in game-based learning, and FARMTASIA served as the first working model of this approach. Reflecting the theoretical framework, the project was broken into three phases. The first phase was comprised of multi-disciplinary scaffolding. The second phase was the gaming experience itself, which emphasized situated learning. This is the phase that FARMTASIA was designed to support. The third phase was comprised of students’ reflection and debriefing. During the third stage, students were asked to submit a journal entry after each experience and after the entire project was over.

FARMTASIA was a complex-game and was designed to teach several disciplines including economics, biology, geography and technology. The game replicated a farm, and each player endeavored to cultivate and grow the farm. Several simulation models were imposed on the game that that reflected reality. For example, a player’s farm could be devastated by a disease in the crops, or an economic disaster could cause instability in the market. Most of these events were “unforeseen.”

FARMTASIA also had several other elements to make the game more intriguing and functional. Students had a chance to play mini-games within FARMTASIA, and the winner of such games was given an edge in the overall competition. Teachers were able to track the progress of students by actually viewing the recorded actions of students as a video. An online knowledge manual was created to serve as a learning resource and reference guide. Student reflections were posted to an online discussion forum and blog.

Did this article help in understanding the use of technology in education?

This chapter provided a concise summary of the history of gaming in education. I had no idea that interests in teaching through video games dated back to Pac-Man. I also appreciated the insight concerning the move from a behaviorist point of view to a constructivist point of view. I think the VISOLE approach was correct in stipulating teacher support and intervention. Under the guidance of a teacher, students would probably be more prone to apply knowledge in the real world.

What future trends do you see coming from this topic?

The idea of game-based learning seems really intriguing. If the game was decent, then it would certainly capture the attention of students. However, there are several barriers that must be overcome before game-based learning is embraced at large. I will mention a couple below.

Game developers of this content are going to have an enormous challenge to stay relevant. The gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. If educators want to teach through a game that is relevant, then the game will need to be reflective of current games in the commercial market. This is a serious issue because someone will have to create, develop and update the games. It seems silly to offer a game to students that aims at relevance but uses outdated technology. In the end, this means someone will be spending a lot of time and money on game development.

Time and evaluation of students are also of concern. The authors noted they had an insufficient amount of “time for reviewing the students’ gaming histories and preparing the debriefing classes” (Jong et. al., 2010, p. 200). I would imagine that reviewing the history of each student is unrealistic. The authors did recommend a computer automated process whereby recommendations would be given to the students and teachers based on player actions. This computer automation might work, but a manual review would be impossible.

Having said that, I think VISOLE is an excellent idea. This approach seems realistic from that standpoint that I could imagine students gaining a great deal of knowledge from the experience. I see a direct implementation of this in career and technical fields. Teaching construction, drafting, pipefitting, electronics and the like might be facilitated well by this approach. A great deal of research would also need to be done concerning the actual transfer of knowledge to real-world application.

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Traditionally, Instructional Design (ID) models have assumed a framework that was well structured and linear. Therefore, these ID models (e.g., ADDIE) were able to spell out each sequential step in the learning process. The nature of Web 2.0 is non-linear and ill-structured because it is created by users, and Zheng argues that traditional ID models do not meet the needs of Web 2.0 learners. He argues that Web 2.0 forces learners to negotiate ideas, and the final product of such negotiations can serve as posteri goals.

Is information gathered and presented differently in Web 2.0 versus traditional approaches?
Most ID models assume that learners consume content. Web 2.0 applications help learners move from a role of content consumers to that of content creators. Traditional ID models worked with the first generation of the Web because information was presented for consumption on a series of individual pages. However, Web 2.0 technologies are driven through a variety of collaboration, discussion and idea sharing.

A group or an individual, often the instructor, created content in the first generation of the Web. In juxtaposition, Web 2.0 serves as an ideal platform for learning accomplished through social constructivism. There is a sense of shared ownership, and all users have the opportunity to contribute to the online community.

Another major adaptation in Web 2.0 is the ownership of content. Traditional models assume that content is concrete and developed by an author or group of experts. Contrastingly, social negotiation plays a primary role in forming dynamic content in Web 2.0. Through discussions, the learners help to define the ever-evolving content.

The number of simultaneous domains found in Web 2.0 provides another contrast between Web 2.0 and traditional environments. Books, articles and traditional Web pages present information through one medium at a time, such as a series of different Web pages. In order to get a different view, one needs to access a different Web page, article or book. However, Web 2.0 allows users to experience a smorgasbord of media on any given topic within one Web page. A single page might include a discussion forum, video, music, blog and wiki.

Obviously, this variety of content can lead to cognitive overload. Supporters of Web 2.0 should only select those strategies that enhance learning and jettison distractions. Zheng held that Web 2.0 users learn through schemas-of-the-moment, rather than predefined schema construction and automation. Learning in Web 2.0 is by nature responsive and active, rather than simply being receptive. This new approach helps to facilitate learning that can be integrated across multiple domains. That is, the variety of ways information is presented through a schemas-of-the-moment approach encourages connections between concepts, ideas and fields of study.

Why don’t existing Instructional Design models work in Web 2.0?
Zheng’s argument for the need of a new ID model was predicated upon the premise that existing ID models are not appropriate for Web 2.0 environments. Early models of ID were based on the ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate) model. This model and similar ones (e.g., Gagne’s) are examples of linear system instructional design (SID). These approaches were created for goal-based, well-structured learning, which doesn’t work in the ill-structured Web 2.0 framework. Notions of constructivism in learning challenged these linear models.

The next generation of ID focused on non-linear SID. In essence, these models were very similar to earlier linear SID, but non-linear models were not restricted by a specific sequence of steps. The non-linear method took a more holistic approach, which encouraged learners to relate different events and access several events simultaneously. However, the non-linear method does not work well in the ill-structured Web 2.0 environment because goals in the non-linear approach are predefined.

Instructional designers have realized a disconnect between online learning and these two SID models (i.e., linear and non-linear). As a result, three new models have emerged to fit the unique needs of online learners, but these new approaches still do not fully meet the needs of Web 2.0 learners. The WisCom (Wisdom Community) design model aims to harness the collective wisdom of members through knowledge creation and social negotiation. However, the WisCom model still positions learners in the role of consumer and does not allow for user-generated content. The T5 (Tasks, Tools, Tutorials, Topics and Teamwork) design model promotes creative thinking and helps teachers use learning management systems (LMS) in an effective manner. Nevertheless, the T5 model does not account for learner’s knowledge creation in the online environment. Lastly, the 3PD (Three-Phase Design) model helps create a productive online learning environment, modifies content according to the needs of learners and maintains a quality environment. While the 3PD design is learner-oriented, this approach does not coordinate the various elements of the design process.

What theories serve as the basis for Zheng’s new Web 2.0 design model?
Five theories serve as the basis for Zheng’s new design model. First, emergence theory holds that highly complex and intelligent behavior can emerge from the interaction of elements without hierarchical or centralized control. Second, functional contextualism emphasizes goals that are developed as a result of initial learning (posteri goals) as opposed to priori goals that are formulated before learning begins. Third, the individual differences of each learner were considered in the formulation of this model. Fourth, metacognition was deemed a central component of this Web 2.0 design model. Last, the self-regulation of each learner was emphasized in the formation of the new model.

What does Zheng’s new Web 2.0 design model look like?
First, the Web 2.0 design model was characterized by a learner-centered approach in which users could simultaneously access a variety of knowledge domains. Second, the goals of the new approach would be defined by learners after the initial stage of social negotiation occurred through discussion on a topic (posteri goals). Third, schemas-of-the-moment would help to unravel ill-structured problems and issues that emerged in the learning process. Fourth, the collaboration of the teacher and learners would promote a dynamic learning environment. Last, this environment would encourage learners to adjust their metacognitive thinking skills and self-regulation.

The primary difference between the three new ID models and Zheng’s approach can be found in posteri goals and schemas-of-the-moment. The implementation of Zheng’s approach requires teachers to consider what learning activity will best elicit a desired behavior. This approach holds that complex learning is derived from open-ended learning, which incorporates posteri objectives and goals. The author also argues that open-ended learning promotes metacognitive thinking and self-regulatory behavior.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this chapter?
The strengths of this chapter can be found in the literature review. The summary of theoretical models was solid, and the author made an excellent case for the need of a new design model. However, the major weakness of the chapter was the author’s presentation of his own model. He did not clearly define exactly what his model entailed, especially how it might be implemented.

How could teachers use the ideas presented in this chapter? What is the future?
I agree that ID should always be a central focus of teaching. I am not sure if traditional models are completely irrelevant to new learning environments. Perhaps traditional models could be tweaked to fit the Web 2.0 environment instead of completely scrapping approaches that are tried and true.

This chapter provided a very rich and concise overview of the evolution of ID. I now understand this development more clearly. Particularly, I thought the author did an excellent job of explaining why instructional designers moved from a linear to a non-linear approach. I will be interested to see what models will develop in the coming years to address the needs of learners in complex learning environments. The evolution of ID will never end in this regard because technology is ever-evolving. As content presentation changes so too will learning to some degree.

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