A large body of research exists on the topics of computer-based educational gaming on the one hand and the role of playing traditional games in face-to-face learning environments on the other. Relatively few studies, however, have looked at the potential of technology to support traditional face-to-face games in an online educational environment. While some traditional games such as Tic-Tac-Toe, Hangman, Monopoly, and Chess have been ported over to an electronic medium, relatively little thought has been given to porting games where human-to-human interaction is a central component. This chapter reports on the use of a game in an online learning module that was presented to adult learners. It sets out to explore the complexities involved in teaching and learning in an adult online learning community that is based on a modified version of the television reality show, “Survivor.”
Over the past two decades or so, electronic games have become an integral part of the suburban scene in many affluent societies, especially among younger people. While the obsession of the young with these games initially alarmed both parents and educators alike, some far-sighted educational researchers soon began to wonder whether this intense motivation to play could be tapped and harnessed for educational purposes (Malone, 1981). Therefore, “not long after the birth of computer games, the first hopes for the potential of learning through games were expressed” (Smith, 2003). Experts hoped that the enthusiasm so obviously generated by playing games could be harnessed in the cause of sound learning. The CyberSurvivor module was consequently designed with this expectation in mind.
If one considers that Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. 3 has earned US$500 million worldwide, it becomes clear that the game industry is growing fast and may well generate more income than other kinds of media in the future (Smith, 2003). One research project on the media as used by six- to nine-year-old Europeans revealed that “79% of boys and 48% of girls play computer games” (Smith, 2003). In the CBS television program “60 Minutes,” the presenter opened the documentary on pro-gamer Jonathan ‘Fatal1ty’ Wendel with the following statement:
Worldwide sales of video game consoles and software are expected to reach US$35 billion this year. That is more than twice the revenue of the NFL [football], the NBA [basketball] and Major League Baseball combined.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Edutainment: Represents a combination of education and entertainment, and often represents the elements of play, information technology, and learning. Some commercial games are marketed as having the potential to promote learning and therefore are branded as ‘edutainment’.
Cyberspace: A term used in conjunction with virtual reality, designating the imaginary place where virtual objects exist (http://www.answers.com/topic/cyberspace?cat=biz-fin). In the case of CyberSurvivor, cyberspace (Cyber Island) was the imaginary place where the game took place.
Survivor: A popular reality show produced in the United States by CBS and televised internationally.
Asynchronous: A type of two-way communication that occurs with a time delay, allowing participants to respond at their own convenience. Literally not synchronous, in other words, not at the same time (http://www.tamu.edu/ode/glossary.html). In CyberSurvivor, learners relied quite heavily on asynchronous communication as they all worked at different times during the day and night, and it was difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate their time online.
Collaboration: Focuses on the process of working together, and the word for cooperation stresses the product of such work (http://www.city.londonmet.ac.uk/deliberations/collab.learning/panitz2.html). In CyberSurvivor, both these constructs were employed.
CyberSurvivor: A module in a tutored master’s program that explored the complexities involved in teaching and learning in an adult online learning community that had adapted a metaphor of the television reality show, “Survivor.”
E-Learning: Any learning-related activity that is supported by the Internet. In the CyberSurvivor study, the focus of e-learning was predominantly on the Internet as a medium of instruction (construction), even though it is acknowledged that e-learning can utilize a much greater variety of technologies other than personal computers connected to the Internet. In essence, e-learning is therefore “the use of network technologies to create, foster, deliver, and facilitate learning,” synchronously and asynchronously anywhere (http://www.synergy-learning.com/education/Samples/SynergyLearning-PedagogyWhitePaper.pdf).