Recently I posted a blog called Reimagining Online Education in which I proposed that academic institutions should emulate social media games and take learning management systems in a more interactive direction (https://hapaziz.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/reimagining-online-education/). After writing the blog, I purchased the Activision game Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure for my kids (OK, maybe for myself too), and quickly became enthralled. It is engaging, self-directed, self-paced, rewards mastery, and progressively scaffolds on previous achievements—everything online education should be. It begs the question, “Are there elements of Skylanders game play that would translate to a new online learning environment?”
First, a little background on the game. Skylanders is a first of its kind—a toy based role playing game that works across multiple platforms including an online component. What make Skylanders unique is the “Portal of Power” and action figure-type characters that bring life to the game. The characters work through RFID. Each one stores in its memory statistics, points earned, unlocked features, etc. This enables the game player to use their figurines on multiple systems, all well progressively advancing its statistics and abilities. The character can be reset at any time if the user wishes to start over.
Aside from the portal and characters, game play is very much like any other RPG. The game plays out in a structured order—users must accomplish one chapter before proceeding to the next (but can repeat chapters at any time). The game player is accompanied by a number of additional characters that provide guidance and direction, even reminders if the user seems to lose focus on the objective of a challenge. And interaction consists of more stimulation than just arcade-game style action, though that is abundantly available. The user must complete several logic-based puzzles and solve problems along the way, keeping the game mentally stimulating. Various tokens, gems, and rewards push the gamer to travel every path, seek out and defeat every challenge, and ultimately provide a sense of achievement by rewarding mastery.
Finally, there is an online interactive piece that is separate from console play. By plugging your portal in to your Mac or PC, you can participate in a Sims-type world, where you develop your own living space and interact with other Skylanders in real time. Challenges exist there as well, but the game play does not relate to the console version of the game.
The possibilities for leveraging this kind of interaction in online education are limitless. Imagine an online program where each course is a software ‘world,’ accessible via game console or live online environment. Each course world consists of chapters including content and application. Students demonstrate mastery of a level by completing quizzes and solving problems. Success and achievements are stored locally in the students RFID based avatar, which can be uploaded centrally at regular intervals. Interaction and guidance are provided by guide characters. In an Algebra course: “I see you’re having trouble solving the equation. Why not try balancing before solving?” “It looks as though you’ve mastered slope/intercept. Would you like to practice again or do you accept the final chapter challenge?”
For students requiring real interaction, an online commons area can provide as much or as little as they’d like. Different areas would be opened to students based on which courses they take. Instructors could host live office hours by meeting with students in pre-established meeting areas of the commons.
Today’s student is accustomed to interaction in virtual worlds for recreation. Menu and text presentation are not easily engaging them in course work. But from Mario Brothers to Zelda, they are no strangers to spending hour after hour mastering skills and garnering achievements on a console or computer. Present learning management systems are not tapping into this intrinsic trait. When they do, you may see a whole new level of achievement and mastery from students who just don’t want to turn off their Algebra course and go to bed