Figure 1: The accretion of the whole project
The software was named Multimaxand is a multimeter simulation game designed to give 12 to 19 year old students the opportunity to apply their knowledge of multimeters in the quest to meet the challenges posed by the program.
This article addresses two questions:
Development Obtain buy-in from a group of students to participate over a fairly long period of time. Train the team members. Design the program. Author the program.
The students involved in the development will have gained experience within the working environment of software development. Similar career guidance opportunities within the field are limited and could lead to a more informed career choice or a closer defined study field.
In addition to the learning approach experimentation
already mentioned, the value of simulation games can be better advocated
with the aid of proven examples. It is hoped that this research may therefore
contribute to the use of both learner participation and simulation utilisation.
In spite of various motivational theories, people often report doing tasks because they were caught up in the "flow" of it. Csikszentmihalyi’s respondents describes flow as “It was like floating” or “I was carried on by the flow” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Rieber (1996, p.6) defines "Flow" as follows:
“Flow theory gets its name from the way so many adults have described a peculiar state of extreme happiness and satisfaction. They are so engaged and absorbed by certain activities that they seem to "flow" along with it in a spontaneous and almost automatic manner - being "carried by the flow" of the activity.
Csikszentmihalyi (1990, p. 4) defines flow as"...the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it."
The quality of life does not depend directly on what others think of us or on what we own. The bottom line is, rather, how we feel about ourselves” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p44).
Implications on educational design
The fact that flow seems to be a universal experience, means that it should be kept in mind when designing educational interventions. This should be done for the following reasons:
Disorder in consciousness
Csikszentmihalyi speaks of disorder in consciousness, or psychic entropy (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993). He states that this indicates information that conflicts with existing intentions, or factors distracting attention from these intentions. Pain, fear, anxiety or jealousies all fall in this category. Prolonged experiences of this inner disorder can weaken the self to the point that it is no longer able to invest attention and pursue goals.
This negative state in itself is not desirable, but it does create the environment from which growth can be accomplished. The lesson approach of starting with a problem statement comes amongst others from Piaget’s theory that learning can not take place unless an individual is in a state of disequilibrium (Phillips, 1981; Piaget 1952). Learning is described as the construction of new knowledge resulting from the resolution of this conflict.
Piaget’s disequilibrium arises from the differentiation and integration needs of the individual. On the one hand there is the need to remain unique and differentiate between different factors, but, on the other hand there is also the need to find common denominators and integrate new information into the existing frame of reference (Van der Stoep and Louw, 1976). After each cycle of differentiation and integration the self is enriched by the new information that has been added. This new order in consciousness adds complexity to the self, producing psychological growth (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
From the above it can be deduced that Piaget’s disequilibrium is the first step in the cycle towards growth and that as a result of this it should be seen as a positive and desired condition. Within limits that would be true, but when the disequilibrium becomes too big it can cause frustration and anxiety. Too little challenge can change into boredom. “Enjoyment appears to be at the boundary between boredom and anxiety” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.52).
Figure 2 The balance between anxiety and boredom
In all Csikszentmihalyi’ s studies, enjoyment came at a specific moment when the individual's skills matched the challenges of the activities. In any given situation one person may be bored while another less skilled person may experience anxiety.Therefore the point where enjoyment is experienced is a dynamic one, which is dependent both on the skills level of the individual and on the challenge level of the activity. The diagram should be revised to incorporate these two factors:
Figure 3 The effects of skill and challenge on enjoyment
This enjoyment must not be seen as mere pleasure, for during these enjoyment periods, flow is reached and a cycle of discrimination and assimilation takes place. Positive feedback from each flow experience strengthens the self and more attention is freed to deal with the outer and inner environment.“In flow we are in control of our psychic energy, and everything we do adds order to consciousness” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.40).
Figure 4 The learning cycle (Csikszentmihalyi,1990, p 74)
In the diagram above, it can be seen that as A learns during the flow experience, the new skills acquired have the potential to take the individual back into the state of boredom ( A1 to A2). This state of boredom would be as undesirable as ever, but by moving the challenge to a higher level (A3) the boredom can be counteracted to leave room for a new learning experience (A3 to A4).In order to keep the learner within this flow channel the changes to the difficulty level should be within context of the skills level of the individual.
Life long learning
The continuous spiral of movement between boredom and anxiety, clearly sets the stage for an approach where the individual can be assessed on an on-going basis to constantly readdress needs as new competencies are acquired.
The South African education system recognises the need for lifelong learning (South Africa, National Department of Education, 1997). This approach to education makes room for a more flexible time-frame which, without stating the fact, clearly makes it possible for learners with different abilities to steer their path of intellectual growth in such a way that they stay within the borders of the flow channel.
From his studies Csikszentmihalyi (1990) draws the following eight factors that make flow possible if one or more of them are met:
Challenge is optimised.
Attention is completely absorbed in the activity.
The activity has clear goals.
The activity provides clear and consistent feedback as to whether one is reaching the goals.
The activity is so absorbing that it frees the individual, at least for the moment, from other worries and frustrations.
The individual feels completely in control of the activity.
All feelings of self-consciousness disappear.
Time is transformed during the activity (e.g. hours pass without noticing).
Since flow is conducive to quality learning, the educator has to try to incorporate as much of these factors into any learning program as possible. It should not be the sole consideration. Rieber (1996) warns of the difficulties, but because the flow theory provides intriguing psychological insights into the effects of certain experiences, its value is again underscored.
Simulation design within simulated roles
The use of students within the roles of game architects, instructional designers and programmers are in itself a form of simulation where all the reasons for the game itself apply to the design team. This warrants a closer look at simulations and games.
Simulations and games
Students do not share the self-discipline that adults (should) show in completing tasks that are not enjoyable, but excel in most activities they choose. Children’s play is an engaging and deliberate activity to which they devote great effort and commitment. It would not be true to say that play is irrelevant or inconsequential to either formal or informal learning (Rieber, 1990).
When discussing advantage, it must be said what holds advantage over what. In this regard the simulation is such a powerful medium that authors like Alessi and Trollip (1991) not only state advantages of simulations over other methods of instruction, but also the advantages that simulations hold over reality.
Papert (1973) writes about “learning by doing”. Alessi and Trollip (1991) echo this and maintain that it holds superior motivational value to simulate (e.g. Flight), rather than merely reading about it. The likeness between simulation and reality makes the student more confident when confronted with reality. This improvement in transfer of learning often justifies the cost involved in the creation of a simulation. The efficiency of transfer in any given time period also compares favourably to any other learning platform. Add to this the intrinsic motivational strengths of the simulation as a result of the high fantasy level involved in the interactions and it becomes clear that the simulation holds great advantages.
Simulations vs. reality
Simulations as instructional tools hold advantages over the real world as a classroom. Alessi and Trollip (1991) back this statement by listing improved safety concerns as a prime reason. The ability to manipulate time is another example of how the simulation makes things possible that would not have been possible in the real world.
The fact that most pilots and other personnel in charge of dangerous environments such as nuclear power facilities are trained extensively in simulators, could well be because a simulation creates scenarios so unlikely and potentially hazardous that real exposure could not have been endeavoured.
In the Multimax game, a simulation structure was
chosen as combined approach, because of the ability to control the environment
to focus on the mistake of the moment. For example ;In real life it is
possible for another person to switch on the current while a linesman is
working. Therefore a notice to say that the power is down for a specific
reason, should be posted. Because the worst does not happen each time a
risk is taken in real life, workers grow lax and students sometimes think
they can also get away without the necessary precautions. Multimax is scripted
to make the worst happen every time, to make it clear to the user what
the danger can be when performing a particular action.
They have extensive experience in the latest multimedia games and contribute with relevant suggestions.
Suggestions for appropriate language for the particular age groups came easily from the students who still express themselves in a similar fashion.
As representatives of the target group, with the same level of subject knowledge, they could suggest realistic mistakes to include in simulation distracters.
It should be noted that all of the above mentioned contributions relate to Malone’s (1987) rules regarding control.
The creativity of especially Tony, Juan and Gerald were of constant value. These three students applied themselves to the generation of new ideas with dedicated effort. They took initial remarks by the author regarding cognitive scaffolding to heart and were often bouncing ideas off one another in an effort to get an even better result. Although they deny this, the author is convinced that there were elements of pure competition. This does not change the quality of their contributions, but ties up with motivation derived from confidence and satisfaction (Keller and Suzuki, 1988).
Students are very honest sounding boards. They do not only help with the workload, but also add affective value by, for instance, the wrong joke at the right time.
They also brought specific abilities. Juan could
do some Delphi programming and Wayne and Ryan were good with Paint
Shop Pro. This lead to a culture of cross teaching and learning. They
seemed to be motivated by curiosity to learn the other programs (Malone,
1981) and found sufficient confidence from their own contributions, not
to feel threatened by the possible disorder in consciousness as a result
of confrontation with new knowledge (Csikszentmihalyi 1990).
By applying the flow theory rules (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) stated above, it follows that there could be a correlation between losing track of time and learning. All the members of the group claim that they have learned from the program and claim to have lost track of time. Observations made, seem to support this:
All participants worked for an hour while being videographed. None of them even stopped for a moment to stretch an arm or to look around the room.
They were completely absorbed by the activity. Brian actually started humming and Sunél-Marie talked to herself.
All of them started off rather slowly, but wanted to continue even after the time was up. Three of them wanted a personal copy of the program. This supports a move away from anxiety, towards enjoyment, again correlating with Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) theories on learning.
In what way can the learning experience be structured according to open-ended constuctivist principles and still be useful for carrying a specific narrowly focused message?
The development team
The team took a far greater value from the program than mere development skills. They were not bound by any formal educational structure. No prior objectives were set and no tests were written. At no stage was any one forced to acquire any skill and all participation was strictly voluntary. Yet, the students never once objected to address any problem. The common goal of the Multimax program was enough to focus the energy. When a task was complete or if something needed doing more urgently, the students were all too eager to find a way to solve the next problem.
Once, Tony almost gave up and said that he did not think he was getting anywhere with the scripting of the question-generating engine. Immediately Juan and Gerald stopped their own tasks and came over to help him find a solution. Juan, writing a data library file (.DLL), in Borland Delphi eventually solved this particular problem. Gerald then linked it to a Macromedia Authorware function call. During this time they telephoned twice to postpone other activities and ended up leaving with beaming faces and red eyes at 23:30 that evening. This commitment coincides with Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990, p4) definition of flow: “…the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter”.
The value of teamwork and the joy of a job well done, could hardly have been taught in any better way.
The time investment needed, does not make this method suitable for carrying a specific message in a short time frame. However, the longevity of the learning experience and the scope of competencies picked up by the participants, indicate ample application possibility.
The quality of the end product
The design team was most successful in finding ways to carry the subject message, while still making it fun for the end user. Most of the users confirmed that it felt as if the program were ready for any eventuality. The game character of the program made it possible for the users to experience control while they were still moving within the boundaries of the game. All users were quite happy with the structure of the program and did not feel threatened.
The simulation content is strict and can only be done in the correct way, but depending on options taken, the users can learn skills like the value of good manners or the danger of vandalism. The students fared well with the simulations. The mistakes made were the same ones encountered in the electronics workshop. This is encouraging as it indicates applicability while still enjoying the benefits of safety and convenience as suggested by Alessi and Trollip (1991).
What others think of us is less important. What is important is how we feel about ourselves (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). It is interesting to note that no one of the pilot testing group, asked for help immediately. They were confident they could master the game without accessing the help file. Hence, they did not know the background information or what was expected of them. Once they came round to doing so, they worked more structured. By making the information optional, students could ask for the information when they needed it and could use the information well once they obtained it. The selective nature of assistance ensures that students do not feel pressured into a particular way of working. It echoes Malone’s (1991) call for control to provide choice and empowerment and follows the suggestions on confidence from Keller and Suzuki (1988).
Some aspects of the program deserve mention as they proved to be undesirable.
The question bank consists of 50 questions that rotate according to the variable interval performance (VIP) structure (Alessi and Trollip, 1991). However, the students needed so many credits, that some questions eventually repeated.
Since many labs have hardware restrictions, high specifications cannot be taken as the minimum requirement.When running Multimax in 32 bit environments, some animations proved to be unstable. This problem was not consistent, but should it occur; reapproaching the scene usually helps.
of the students complained, but they did ask about the voice artists, indicating
that the quality of the speaking drew their attention.
From the above it follows that students do not only gain in knowledge when participating in projects like these, but also improve their self confidence.
The joy that the students experienced with the VIP question structure was apparent. Projects like Multimax can provide these liberating experiences of successful completion of difficult tasks.
Recommendations for further research
The Multimax project gave rise to the following hypotheses. Further research is required to investigate their validity.
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