From the real-world data to game world experience: A method for developing plausible & engaging learning games

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Author: Dobson, Mike
This work starts by conducting and analyzing semi-structured interviews with network participants; finding categories of events, activities, conditions and consequences acted by role players under expectations of norms and regulation within the networked community of practitioners. We intend to (1) understand the patterns of causal events and episodes found in our interview cases so as to yield a working description of stories representative of the network, (2) model chains of episodes to simulate generative narrative that represents experienced stories (and could generate new but plausible stories), and (3) to design a new media game system that will allow participants to see previously invisible aspects of a network, to be challenged by the perceptions and expectations of others within the network, to explore simulated narratives within this realistic context, to try strategies for improving network performance, and to cross the costly boundaries that separate professional groups from one another. The work will address the questions (1) What are the factors that characterize learning in practice networks? (This will provide a contrast with better known formal learning situations), (2) How can three analysis traditions illuminate (and systematize) those factors, (3) How can those systematized descriptions can be used to design a simulation game for learning and provoke useful interactions for those practitioners, and (4) How can interactive narrative in games be designed to simulate crossing of disciplinary boundaries (leading to an instructional design approach for networks). We expect an improved understanding of learning in this health network that will benefit the participants. The game has potential to provoke critical reflection on any similar practice with a corresponding impact on the methods used to design learning technologies for workplace networks of action. This is an design experiment (Brown, 1992; Cobb, Confrey, diSessa, Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003; Collins, 1992). We plan to make this process a part of a reproducible instructional design practice for technology supported expansive learning (Engestrom, 2001, 2004) using interactive simulations. Our approach to analysis is influenced by a goal shared with Barab who draws from both cultural activity theory (Engestrom, 2001; Leont'ev, 1978) and actor-network theory (Barab, Barnett, Yamagata-Lynch, Squire, & Keating, 2002; Barab, Hay, & Yamagata-Lynch, 2001; Latour, 1993) but differs in crucial ways that reflect our alignment with cultural historical activity theory. While Barab’s work (2002) builds on networks of temporal transitions through activities (shown as simple events at the nodes of a network) we are more interested in the transformative and expansive learning opportunities and experiences presented within a network. In their earlier studies (Barab et al 2001) that drew from Engestrom’s work (Engestrom, 1987, 1999) they found no activity tensions so were unable to identify opportunities for tension resolution (learning). Nevertheless we see their action-relevant episodes (ARE) as crucial part of our approach to this project both from analytical point of view, since the analysis grain size approximates to that of naturalistic inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) and because we see the ARE as a basic unit of action in narrative. This is important in producing a generative narrative. Action episodes each have complex antecedent conditions and probable outcomes and can occur only within parameters of regulatory norms or labor divisions and expected temporal patterns of interaction with people and instruments. For example, a family physician rejecting patient with HIV, on the grounds of insufficient knowledge, can only do so after patient diagnosis). With these reservations we use the ARE for analysis of our health network. We recently conducted six pilot interviews with the centre of excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, the Fraser Valley health region centre for communicable disease, and three members of the VPLWA organization. From these interviews we are developing the analysis technique with three processes. The first is modified grounded theory (Corbin & Strauss, 1990; Glaser, 2002) which is inductive development of explanation (theory) from corpus data. In grounded theory cases are examined for similar outcomes and reviewed for common conditions to find causal factors. Data is open-coded in categories, concepts (nouns and verbs) and properties (adjectives and adverbs) and axial coding then relates these codes (categories and properties) into causal relationships: the phenomena, the conditions, the context, the intervening conditions, the action strategies and the consequences. Software tools help organize data and process. Our pilot interviews with network members each revealed case stories, reducible to action relevant episodes, roles, rules under which practice is governed and talk about tools used. Topics have included: dietary prescription, exercise habits, doctor patient relationships (including rejection by family physicians), treatment adherence, physician expertise and others. The pilot interview data has been open and axially coded (using ATLAS.ti) to reveal many story fragments. The second approach is to picture the events and cases using the diagramming system used to illustrate activity (Dobson, Le Blanc, & Burgoyne, 2004; Engestrom, 2004; Engestrom, Puonti, & Seppanen, 2003). This provides a crosscheck with the given causal explanations from interview data forcing a comprehensive review of activity components. Informants in other studies not using this tool have often failed to see the effect of new tools or objects on their own or other’s behavior, or the consequences of those instruments on preexistent rules of practice within an activity group (Engestrom, 1987). A third approach is to model the interactions of network participants using a simple social network analysis tool called TEAMVIEW. This allows us to illustrate the density of communications between dyads, the sequential ordering of communication, and the types of discourse. The results of these three analysis techniques will be used as basis for the design of an interactive narrative drawing on interactive narrative theory (Bal, 1997; Murrey, 1998), schema theory (Schank, 1995; Schank & Abelson, 1977) but by using the story elements defined by the coding system above we will investigate the extent to which plot can be constructed by chaining events arising from tension resolutions in activity systems. This work will take a simplified view of interactive narrative more concerned with the effect of plausible generated story lines on the user’s learning experience than on the complex process of story understanding (Young, 1999). Our presentation at DIGRA will illustrate this process and show a prototype interaction for a game player. Refcrences Bal, M. (1997). Narratology: Introduction to the theory of narrative. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Barab, S., Barnett, M., Yamagata-Lynch, L., Squire, K., & Keating, T. (2002). Using activity theory to understand the systemic tensions characterizing a technology-rich introductory Astronomy course. Mind, Culture and Activity, 9(2), 76-107. Barab, S., Hay, K., & Yamagata-Lynch, L. (2001). Constructing networks of action-relevant episodes: An in-situ research methodology. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10(1&2), 63-112. Brown, A. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions. Jourrnal of the Learning Sciences, 2(2), 141-178. Cobb, P., Confrey, J., diSessa, Lehrer, R., & Schauble, L. (2003). Design experiments in educational research. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 9-13. Collins, A. (1992). Toward a design science of education. In T. O'Shea (Ed.), New directions in educational technology. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (1990). Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons, and evaluative criteria. Qualitative Sociology, 13(1), 3-21. Dobson, M., Le Blanc, D., & Burgoyne, D. (2004). Transforming tensions in learning technology design: Operationalizing Activity Theory. Canadian Journal of Learning Technology, 30(1), 21-45. Engestrom, Y. (1987). Learning by Expanding. Helsinki: Orienta-konsultit. Engestrom, Y. (1999). Activity theory, individual and social transformation. In R. Punamaki (Ed.), Perspectives on Activity Theory. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. Engestrom, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: Toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133-157. Engestrom, Y. (2004). New Forms of learning in co-configuration work. The Journal of Workplace Learning, 16(1-2), 11-21. Engestrom, Y., Puonti, A., & Seppanen, L. (2003). Spatial and temporal expansion of objects as a challenge for reorganizing work. In Knowing in organizations: A practice-based approach. Armonk: M.E.Sharpe. Glaser, B. G. (2002). Conceptualization: On theory and theorizing using grounded theory. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1(2). Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Leont'ev, A. N. (1978). Activity, consciousness, and personality. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. Murrey, J. (1998). Hamlet on the Holodeck. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Schank, R. (1995). Tell me a story: Narrative and intelligence: North Western University Press. Schank, R., & Abelson, R. (1977). Scripts, Goals, and Understanding. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum. Young, M. R. (1999). Notes on the Use of Plan Structures in the Creation of Interactive Plot. Paper presented at the AAAI Fall Symposium on Narrative Intelligence.
Contact: Mike Dobson, SIAT SFU,
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