Thursday, April 05, 2007

Muckrakers at ACRL

ACRL Session: Muckrakers: Engaging Students in the Research Process Through an Online Game.
Presenters: Paola Ceccarini, Ann Brown, and Cathy Eisenhower of George Washington University

This is one of the last sessions I attended but interest has been expressed so I'm writing it up now. The only handout was a bibliography, so hopefully I'm deciphering my notes properly.

The goal of this project - the creation of an online game to teach research skills - was to "develop virtual instruction that encourages collaborative learning, peer evaluation, exploration, and critical thinking." They wanted to incorporate 3 teaching methods: Collaborative learning, peer teaching, and exploration and discovery.

The idea is that MMORGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games), such as World of Warcraft, have clear goals, clear and relevant feedback, and keep challenges in balance with user skills (the tasks are doable - you may have to try a few times, but eventually you'll learn enough to get past it). These things all help to maintain attention. I once heard that the test of a truly good MMORG (or probably any game) is how much time you lose track of while playing it.

Some details about the game George Washington University is developing:
1. Research skills are a BY PRODUCT - if you conduct research, you gain more points.
2. Students can leave text messages in the game for their friends
3. They can talk to each other during the game.
4. The characters have PDAs for taking notes and other tasks.

The game is set up so that each player is working for one of three newspapers which each have different political slants. The players are expected to keep a log of their research. They come up with individual topics, research them, and then pitch them to their teammates. The teammates then pick one of those topics - the one that sounds the best - and pitch that to the whole newspaper staff.

I think scoring is done through how users rate each other's work? So if someone's topic is chosen, he or she gets more points. I think...

The cost to the librarians so far is 2 years, and at least 10% of their work time. And it's not done. The programming has been done entirely by one graduate student which can be problematic, because research shows that it's best to have at least 3 programmers to get the different perspectives needed. Plus, it really is too much work for one grad student. One example of this is that they had to go with 2D instead of 3D.

We were shown an excerpt from the game, and it looks pretty good. They included both text and audio for different learning styles. The dialogue was quite humorous and not cheesy (at least, as far as I can remember). However, they still don't have a working version to test due to technical difficulties.

Overall, what I got out of this session was this: It's just not really doable. They are two years into it and still going. The shared value of games is not very good because it's not cost-effective to customize it to your own institution. And it takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Libraries just can't compare to game companies which can afford to hire many programmers to design these things.


DBQ Hams said...

Kate, thank you for your very informative write up. I don't know if you heard my plea over at my site, Research Quest (, but thank you.

I was starting to figure that the news about Muckrakers was not good. There was nothing online about it, and since it's been 9 months since they presented at LOEX and they are still using the same bibliography handout... that's not good news about the game.

I'm distressed about the game, I had hopes for it's potential. But really only having one grad student work on it is hard. The education game "Revolution" out of MIT had 6-10 people working on it (some game designers) and it still took them 4 semesters to get a playable product.

I wonder where this leaves library games for the rest of us. Will there be a lack of interest (or worse admin support) due to this pending failure? Or will it force us to make realistic expectations on resources and time? I still believe there are applications out there that can be successful.

Thanks again.

Kat said...

Paul - I had heard your plea through an email from my coworker, Andrew - I believe you've corresponded with him before.

And yes, the news is not good based on what I heard at the presentation. They seem quite frustrated. They had wanted to get more grad students initially, but for some reason, that did not work out. I cannot remember if they said why.

To me, it really seems like library games are just not doable. This is something I've thought before attending this session. It takes a lot of work and programmers to create games, and I don't see very many libraries having the resources for that. But I wouldn't mind being proven wrong. :)

Anonymous said...

I suspect that library would have been better served to have set up a reference library service within a commercial MMORG like WOW or GuildWars or even EVE.

2nd Life - 2nd rate don't bother.

But then, I was a gamer long before I became a librarian and probably have differing expectations. LOL

John D. Berry, UC Berkeley