Understanding the Relationships Among Various Design Components in a Game-Based Learning Environment

Understanding the Relationships Among Various Design Components in a Game-Based Learning Environment

Yuxin Ma (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA), Douglas Williams (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA) and Louise Prejean (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/jgcms.2012010104


Designing an electronic, game-based learning environment is a multi-disciplinary effort that involves the consideration of various theories and models in multiple domains. Taking these theories and models into consideration adds to the complexity of the development process. Which elements should designers consider first? How do designers reconcile the demands and conflicts of different design components? Game-based learning environments are a relatively new territory for research and development. This paper reports an analysis of the decision making related to the interplay of various design components in developing Conquest of Coastlands (CoC), an electronic, game-based learning environment. The analysis may help designers better understand the intricate relationships among various design components involved in creating game-based learning environments.
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Design Models For Game-Based Learning Environments

In the past several years, game-based learning environment has gained interest from researchers and practitioners. Egenfeldt-Nielsen (2005) warned us that this is not the first time that researchers believed that games had tremendous educational potential. History shows that games are not magic bullet that will automatically solve the problems in education. Without appropriate research and development to guide practice, educational gaming will be like other passing fads, which fail to have significant impact on educational practice (Van Eck, 2007).

Recent research on game-based learning environments such as Civilization III (Squire, Giovanetto, Devane, & Durga, 2005), River City (Ketelhut, Dede, Clarke, & Nelson, 2006; B. Nelson, 2007), and Quest Atlantis (Barab et al., 2007; Barab, Thomas et al., 2005) emphasized studying the effective ingredients of these learning environments that are essential for their success. They examined various environmental and personal factors such as collaboration and communication, facilitation and faculty development, narrative engagement and identity development, reflectivity, race, gender, socio-economic status, and class size.

Recent research on game-based learning environments is valuable and much needed. However, there is a lack of studies on the design models for creating these learning environments. Design is a type of complex, ill-structured problem solving activities (Nelson & Stolterman, 2002). There are three types of design problems (Brown & Chandrasekaran, 1989). Class 1 design problems are open-ended problems that do not have clear goals or existing design plans. Class 2 design problems are less open-ended. Well developed plans are available for these problems. Class 3 problems follow routine plans. We argue that designing a game-based learning environment is a Class 1 problem because of the innovative nature of these games. Developers may not know exactly what to develop at the beginning of the development process and do not know what plans to follow especially when the development team and community have limited experience designing this type of learning environments.

Design problems are typically decomposed into interconnected modules or design elements (Goel & Pirollia, 1992) to deal with the complexity. The design process is a repetitive and cyclical process in which design elements and modules are revisited multiple times in different context and from different perspectives. Tensions or conflicts of various design decisions may emerge (Tatar, 2007). Designing is an act of decision making in identifying objectives and constraints, determining fixes, resolving conflicts, and choosing from alternative solutions. Design decisions are made in the process of balancing affordances and constraints of the solutions. They are also influenced by beliefs and other social cultural variables (Jonassen, 2008). As the project progresses and more decisions are made, the designers have less degree of freedom because previous decisions not only afford opportunities; they have also become constraints.

Existing instructional design models are generally linear and they are inadequate in guiding designers in dealing with the complex process of design (Jonassen, 2008) . For example, in instructional design models such as ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) (Molenda, 2003), analysis occurred first in the hope of identifying project requirements. However, Jonassen (2008) argues that it is rare that all the constraints will be identified at this stage. Instead, design occurs in iterative cycles and new constraints emerge in every cycles of development. In addition, the development of game-based learning environment involves more than instructional design, new models and processes are needed for designing these learning environments.

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