Communication in Learning Games

One of the most compelling aspects of Web 2.0 is the integration of communication tools, ranging from VoIP chat in Skype to P2P IM to asynchronous collaboration in wikis and social networks. However, communication integration in games, especially in games designed for learning, is problematic: collaboration can lead to answer-sharing and invalidate instructional outcomes.

Because games require rules, answer-sharing may lead to “cheating,” if the rule-set is discovered by an early game master. For example, even if the design uses an ill-defined problem, if that problem has a single solution, intra-game communication may lead inexorably to the wide dissemination of that solution. Just as classroom assessments prohibit talking during tests; as cell phones are banned from testing centers; as wireless access points are disabled during final exams; so too have learning games ignored community-enhancing communication or divorced the assessment from the game environment.

At least three potential solutions exist for this dilemma:

  1. Randomization of assessment events mitigates answer-sharing and produces personalized evaluation with personal outcomes; however, these events must be carefully designed to construct equivalent experiences.
  2. The game can be designed so that the process, not a specific solution, is the assessment (i.e., no single correct answer exists); however, this lack of theatrical denouement in a game may decrease learner motivation.
  3. Apparently random game events caused by the intersection of other games or game players can create individualized gameplay; however, this methodology results in the loss of instructor control.

In considering this last solution, the use of wikis in games may offer potential:

  • Collaborative knowledge-building tool
  • Draws its power from usage (needs a lot of input)
  • Draws its accuracy from usage (wisdom of crowds and successive approximation)
  • Characterized by a low contribution-consultation ratio (scribe role)
  • Unnecessary if providing only an encyclopedic function

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