Time flies when you’re having fun. Some of you have noticed that I’ve been in-world at Last Outpost for the last couple of weeks. Teaching in a multiuser environment — especially one so foreign — is a challenge. In this case, literally teaching in the (virtual) town square.
Playing in the MUD requires much more skill and attention than might be guessed from the initial simple introduction. Because it’s text based, there are several advantages to the environment.
First, it’s accessible to almost anybody with a computer and a connection. Even people who are blind or visually impaired can play. People on dialup can play. People with really old, slow computers can play. The barriers to entry are very low and for an educational environment, that’s key. Not just important. Key.
Second, it’s interactive. What you do has an effect in the game. Whether it’s picking up a weapon, donning your armor, learning a spell, or saving your companions, it’s reflected in the game. This is real interaction, not the pseudo-interaction “click here to advance” or “pick the answer that most closely agrees” level of question response. From the time you first stand in Town Square, everything you do has an effect on your character in the game.
Third, it’s multiuser. You are not there alone. One of the earliest computer games was “Adventure in the Colossal Cave” which is actually the antecedent of all modern MUDs. In that, the adventurer solved puzzles, slayed monsters, and explored the cave. From “Adventure” a whole series of single player games called Zork came on the scene and evolved in the early days of personal computers. Dialup networks gave access to similar single player “bbs games” and finally the MUD-engines were developed to provide a full multiuser, persistent game space.
Fourth, all the characteristics of an educational game are in play, except – perhaps – core content. Personally, I maintain that this is an artificial contrivance to make educators feel better about using games but that it cripples their ability to use them effectively — Grendler, notwithstanding. While many things that happen in the game are generated by random number selection, the reality is that the actual game play is almost entirely within the player’s control. If you make a mistake, the game will punish you. If you play well, the game rewards you. The occasional dispute between players — and the occasional interference from ‘pkillers’ who delight in messing up the game play of others — is certainly not random, any more than a fistfight in the back of the playground is random.
Fifth, it’s horribly time consuming. Going through the same instructions for everybody take time as each new player comes up to speed in their own way. Other players in the game are excellent sources of information and more advanced students regularly help those just starting out.
Lessons learned so far:
It doesn’t matter how much instruction, how many resources, or how well the ground is prepared, students don’t pay any attention to it. Several people have asked for more instructions on how to play the game, only to find out that the instructions existed already and they’d ignored them.
A corollary to that is that the game is, in fact, an instantiation of “exploratory learning.” You’re supposed to learn to play the game by playing the game.
One piece of instruction was missing. When following another, the screen goes into a “compact/brief” mode to cut down on the amount of information flowing. This is not necessarily a good thing for somebody trying to learn their way around. It’s easily reversed by typing “compact” to turn it off, and “brief” to reestablish the view.
The reflection papers from 688 were due last night, but the rubric wasn’t available until the evening. I’m looking forward to reading them.