Supporting the Design of Interactive Scenarios in a University Environment: Techniques, Issues and Constraints

Supporting the Design of Interactive Scenarios in a University Environment: Techniques, Issues and Constraints

T. M. Stewart (Massey University, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-189-4.ch018
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Interactive scenarios are embedded in many e-simulations and can assist learning by providing authentic and engaging student experiences. While software exists for constructing and delivering interactive scenarios, planning and storyboarding for the latter can be difficult. This chapter illustrates a systematic approach to planning interactive scenario-based exercises and tying them into a lesson plan prior to constructing the electronic version. Constraints and barriers to using interactive scenarios in a university setting include lack of training or knowledge of pedagogy by academics and conflicting demands on their time. Strong institutional support is required to embed interactive scenarios within the learning culture.
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Interactive scenarios play an increasing role in blended learning. Many of the chapters preceding this one discuss interactive scenarios of one type or another; indeed many e-simulations are a form of interactive scenario. The term “interactive scenario” can be defined very broadly. However, the term has a specific meaning in this chapter so before continuing it is useful to clarify its meaning.

A scenario in its simplest sense is a description of an event or a series of events. Scenarios can be used as methods to describe and plan for the future (as in futures research) or they can be linear or non-linear discrete event narratives (as understood in the film and digital games industry). The term “scenario” in this chapter refers to the latter type. In an e-teaching environment an interactive scenario refers to a sequence of events, delivered electronically in the context of a lesson and utilising a possible mix of media (text, images, video and audio). A learner working through such a scenario should have a degree of control as to the sequencing, depth of information, pace, and/or eventual outcomes. The scenario requires input from the learner hence it is “interactive”. The interaction could range from the very simple, such as mouse-clicks to determine pace in a sequential “click-through” narrative, to rich non-linear explorations where the learner is required to answer questions and make decisions. These decisions may have consequences, and may result in limited or expanded information access. They may also change the eventual outcome of the scenario. Feedback is given during or after tasks. From a designer’s perspective, these scenarios are well structured and the outcomes are pre-programmed. Although the learner may have choices, each outcome is anticipated and appropriate feedback prepared. These scenarios are used for scenario-based learning, which Kindley (2002) defines as “learning that occurs in a context, situation, or social framework. It's based on the concept of situated cognition, which is the idea that knowledge can't be known and fully understood independent of its context”.

I first encountered interactive scenarios as described above 30 years ago, in the guise of text-based “adventure games” such as those described in Montfort (2003). These games were written for adults not children. These user-directed narratives were elaborate, rich and most of all engaging. They engaged me, who could see that their slow unfolding nature, exploratory nature, opportunity for reflection, and problem-solving tasks provided potential for narrative and scenario-based instruction. It is gratifying that today, adventure games are recognised as carrying useful pedagogies for learning (van Eck, 2007).

Inspired by these games, I, alone and with others, developed similar scenarios and associated authoring software for my own subject discipline (Stewart, 1992; Stewart et al, 1995; Stewart & Galea, 2006). I also created a generic authoring tool called CHALLENGE (Stewart & Bartrum, 2002). Many of the concepts used in CHALLENGE and the previous discipline-specific software found their way into SBL interactive (University of Queensland, 2010).

In the last five years, I have supported and been involved in scenario-creation for a number of subject disciplines, firstly through a large national project which involved a precursor to SBLi called PBL interactive (Stewart, 2007), and then in a consultancy and support role for teaching staff at Massey University. This chapter draws on this experience by outlining and discussing techniques, which have been found useful in planning and designing interactive scenarios for use in lessons. These will be illustrated with select examples. Issues and constraints of using this teaching pedagogy in a University setting are also discussed with some possible solutions suggested. Finally, a look to the future is touched on, including the challenges of incorporating more game play into teaching and embedding interactive scenarios more closely within learning management systems.

SBL interactive is my authoring and delivery tool of choice, but this chapter’s content is relevant to all interactive scenario design and use, regardless of the authoring tool or delivery platform used.

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