Scripting collaborative learning in virtual game environments, by Raija Hämäläinen
From my point of view, usage of collaborative working methods in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) corresponds well with the aims of edugames, and creates an interesting overlap between learning research focused on the potentials and limitations of collaborative learning games.
Computer games are typically associated with high motivation and
fun, and players can spend a long time in solving complex tasks
together. With educational software on the other hand, students often
suffer from motivational problems, misunderstandings and lack of
engagement. In between, traditional 'edugames' are drill-and-practise
type of games, and so far the possibilities of virtual 3D-game
technology have not been completely utilised.
From my point of view, usage of collaborative working methods in
Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) corresponds well with
the aims of edugames, and creates an interesting overlap between
learning research focused on the potentials and limitations of
collaborative learning games. Both edugames and CSCL are, after all,
based on the idea that a group of people work together and
collaboratively construct knowledge. Therefore I have been conducting a
series of design studies based on idea of scripting collaborative
learning games –as a joint effort of our institute, Vocational
Institute of Technology, Jyväskylä, and together with University of
Oulu, Finland. The series of studies is integrated into the work of the
Kaleidoscope European Research Team on the Computer-Supported Scripting of Interaction in Collaborative Learning Environments
(CoSSICLE), in which we have been establishing a joint research agenda
on the specification, formalisation and implementation of CSCL scripts.
The CoSSICLE team combines expertise in educational sciences,
psychology, and computer sciences from Germany, Finland and Switzerland.
The theoretical background idea within these game studies leans on
the use of collaboration in a virtual environment of a new kind. The
aim of an edugame is to provide students with complicated challenges
related to a learning task. The tasks of collaborative learners
encompass co-ordination of different perspectives, commitment to the
joint goals, shared evaluation of group, and creation of shared
solutions into problems set. At their best, well-designed multiplayer
games may enable such collaboration between players during gameplay. It
is typical of good games that the story keeps the player motivated
throughout the game, but with the edugames enhancing motivation should
not be considered for extrinsic reasons. Rather, developers should
concentrate on relating learning tasks to the game story, so that the
game world brings some added value to learning. Accordingly, it may be
said that designing edugames is about balancing between motivational
aspects, learning tasks, and theoretical knowledge of learning.
We in the CoSSICLE team have explored a script as a structure for
collaboration. Studies have pointed out that collaboration does not
emerge automatically when a group of people is operating in the same
virtual environment – or if it does, interaction is often sub-optimal,
e.g., learners participate heterogeneously, or they focus on tasks
other than learning. Our recent studies have indicated that besides
only 'natural' interactions, some amount of scripting may help teams
achieve effective collaboration. Scripts are intended to facilitate
collaborative learning processes and guide learners’ activities.
Scripts specify and sequence activities and roles, and assign them
among the members of the team engaged in collaborative work.
So far, three scripted CSCL games (eScape, Mustakarhu and Secure)
have been implemented, tested and empirical analysed. There will be at
least two more coming up. Interestingly, our studies have already
indicated common features in scripted CSCL games with different
learning contexts. On the basis of the findings I can conclude that:
Scripting interactions is a natural idea in gameplay, because
games are often based on different levels of activities and scripting
can be integrated behind the game story. The different levels of script
can correspond to higher game levels that may be reached by solving
problems set in the game. For example, a higher level may offer a new
scope for action or give access to more tools that help the player
succeed in the game. Different levels of the game also enable
motivating scripts and it is also possible to integrate individual and
collaborative learning with the game story.
Scripted edugames can offer interesting possibilities for learning
because they can be based on a set of authentic situations, make
virtual group interactions visible, and visualise the learning tasks in
a manner that are impossible in a traditional classroom setting.
The scripted environment helps to ensure that all players are able
to go through the game and at their best, scripts have potential to
make learning more efficacious. The learning outcomes also indicate
that scripts can be used in a game environment to support learning.
Despite the script, great variations between the groups easily
occur in the game environment. For example, the groups differ in the
time spent on the game, the degree of collaboration shown, the roles
assumed and the attitudes displayed by their members. Hence the
question arises: How to make all teams collaborate as needed, and how
to increase the cognitive level of group activities with the help of
In a game environment it is easy to obtain collaboration on
practical problems, but higher levels of collaboration are difficult to
reach, which poses a challenge to future educational games: How to
combine the speeded and sometimes competitive elements of games with
reflective learning and working together?
Students’ perceptions of a scripted game environment are often
very positive and they easily feel that they collaborate well and solve
the problems as a team. However, collaboration depends crucially on
team members’ need for each other, because they often try to solve the
game tasks alone first, and join forces with the other players only
when they realize that they are stuck.
On the basis of existing findings, collaborative games can be seen
as one of today’s innovations in learning, because at their best they
make it possible to design environments that promote new forms of
virtual learning. They also enable learning tasks that are impossible
in a traditional classroom setting. At the end of these five different
design studies conducted around CSCL games, my aim is to be able to
conclude a more general level knowledge about scripting CSCL games.
Already it is evident that in future learning activities, the benefits
of new technologies should be utilised more extensively. When
discussing learning and computer games we should take into account the
theoretical knowledge and needs of learning as well as the existing
possibilities of game development. In other words, designing
pedagogically meaningful virtual environments for specific contexts is
a challenging task that calls for close cooperation between the
technical game developers and specialists with pedagogic and
field-specific expertise. From my point of view, Kaleidoscope
activities (especially in CoSSICLE) have achieved an excellent way to
enable this cooperation between other European researchers.
Raija Hämäläinen, University of Jyväskylä (Finland) will participate in the workshop Scripting Approaches in CSCL on 23-25 November 2005 in Tübingen, Germany.