This paper was
published in the proceedings of the 17TH Annual Conference of the
Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education
Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn, December 2000.
During the past three years, we have designed, facilitated, and evaluated
a series of Web-based games on a range of topics with over 1000 practitioners
mostly within the vocational and corporate training sectors in Australia
and the USA. These games incorporate research-based prescriptions from
instructional design, game design, and online learning and facilitate
dialogue between participants. Our observations and feedback from the
players have led us to reinforce what we suspected: that unglamorous,
low-tech but highly functional communications technology like email,
bulletin boards, and chat can be used as primary tools to promote and
encourage collaborative interactive learning online. This article documents
our observations and experiences in the use of email games.
games, online learning, instructional design, game design,
interactivity, motivation, voluntary participation, content
recent report on online training for corporate education (Dalton, 2000)
identifies three basic types of
strategies: HTML-formatted courses, live
presentations and web conferencing. Of these, 79 percent of the clients
report they use HTML content, 33 percent use live presentations and 26
percent use conferencing strategies. The same group also identifies their
biggest online learning challenge as "uncompelling, static content" associated
with the HTML-content that is ironically used by the majority.
on our belief that adult learners learn most effectively through people-to-people
collaboration and construction of knowledge, we have been
designing, facilitating, evaluating and researching a special type
conferencing strategy called "email games" (Jasinski & Thiagarajan,
2000). While we have been working independently in e-learning for several
years, our collaborative work is now in its third year. This paper presents
our conceptual framework, interim results and future plans.
Email games are primarily containers for facilitating dialogue about
different problems and issues and for encouraging the construction
of new knowledge, understanding, perspectives, and insights. Three
sample email games are described in the next section. Our current
of 15 email games have all been structured on the basis of prescriptions
from different disciplines including communication theory, complexity
theory, cognitive sciences, and social psychology. Different sources
for prescriptions used in the construction of these games are briefly
outlined below under the three topics of instructional design, game
design, and online learning.
core of email game templates contains real-world problems and issues
that are salient to the players. Using a constructivist
approach (Knuth & Cunningham,
1993), an email game engages participants in interactive discussion
of these problems and issues. Participants bring a variety of diverse
and previous knowledge to the task and the facilitator selects
and implements appropriate structures for different rounds of the
game that encourage
the construction and sharing of new perspectives, knowledge,
understandings and insights as suggested by Zhu (1998). Different
email game templates
are designed to facilitate different types of learning outcomes
as classified by Gagne (1985). The design, development, formative
evaluation and revision
of the email games are carried out according to the Instructional
Systems Design (ISD) model in its recent versions (Tessmer & Wedman,
1992 and Merrill, 1990).
email game templates include the four critical attributes of a game
(Thiagarajan, 1996): conflict (which prevents
specific goal), control (rules for taking turns and scoring
points), closure (special rules that specify how the game
ends and who
wins) and contrivance
(an element of playfulness). While there are several types
of computer games for training (Prensky, in press), these
games tend to represent
the categories of fact-recall tell-and-test variety at
end and elaborate
open-ended simulations on the other (Gredler, 1986). Email
games do not belong to either of these conventional categories
to a newer
approach labelled as structured sharing (Thiagarajan, 1998).
growing body of literature on computer-based and online learning
approaches has contributed to the design of
our email game
templates. Of special
relevance to our work has been recent studies in the
area of electronic collaboration
(Bonk & King, 1998). For example, a recent study
on Web-based case conferencing (Bonk, Malikowski, Angeli, & East,
1998) has provided us data on the tendency of gradual
reductions in the quantity and significant
improvement in the quality of postings during later rounds
of iterative email discussions. Other findings from content
researchers (Kirkley, Savery, & Grabner-Hogan,
1998) related to email's democratising effects, differences
between text-based communication and verbal communication,
scaffolding and support for learning,
types of feedback, and behavior patterns of lurkers,
have identified likely problems to be prevented and potentials
to be utilised. Current literature
on online learning has also provided us with validated
models and coding systems (Hara, Bonk, & Angeli,
1998) for the content analysis of computer-mediated
people promote interactivity as the most valuable feature of online
learning. Focused on the screen, hand on the mouse button, and
leaning forward, learners are poised for interaction! There are many
classes of interaction (Gayeski, 1980) ranging all the way from
clicking the mouse button to continue or to choose among options,
personalised feedback and branching based on the computer creating
real-time model of the user. A closer look at many instructional
offerings online reveals that much of this interactivity merely
connects the learner
with the content. We do not believe this is enough. Many adult
educators agree that the most effective types of interactivity involve
connections. This model of learning as social collaboration is
at the heart of email games.
an email game, a facilitator and a group of players address a key
issue by sending and receiving email messages during several
rounds of play spread
over days or weeks. Typical email games exploit the ability of
the internet to ignore geographic distances and capitalise on the
to generate and process content. In the early rounds of play,
the interaction is between players and the facilitator, while in
come together to discuss processed content and to debrief.
addition to training, we use email games for benchmarking and ideas-sharing
activities. Some of our games have been played
in a professional development
context in the LearnScope Virtual Learning Community at www.learnscope.anta.gov.au.
(LearnScope is a national Australian professional development
program aimed to encourage teachers and trainers in the vocational
sector to utilise online technologies to achieve more flexible
learning.) Email games have also been played with members of
the American Society
for Training and Development and the North American Simulation
and Gaming Association. In addition, we have created our own
players from different countries around the world. We also
provide a design service to teachers and corporate trainers who have
adopted and adapted
our games for their own training contexts.
are brief descriptions of three email games.
role-playing game uses email and a bulletin board to produce more
informed perception of controversial issues as its
Depolariser is based on the philosophy that many issues
we treat as problems to be
solved are actually polarities to be managed. We begin
the game with an open-ended question (example: Do lurkers
rounds of the game, players explore this issue from both
a personal perspective
and also from a designated role. By informing the players
about the range of positions, we increase their awareness of
spread of opinions
the issue. By having players randomly role-play extreme
positions, we encourage
them to think about different points of view. By reviewing
extremely polarised comments, we help players make more
The game typically
encourages players at extremes to get closer to the average.
Thus, it may not change anyone’s opinion, but it increases players’ level
of awareness of alternative points of view.
learning outcome from this email game is a higher-level analysis
and understanding of factors that influence
and negative consequences. In this roleplay game,
players participate in a time-travel
scenario to explore an issue relevant to their context
(example: the status
of online learning for vocational training in the
year 2004). Each player is given either a utopian scenario
in the form
of a newspaper
(Australian Vocational Education and Training
Sector Leads the World in Online Learning) or a dystopian
and Training Lags the World in Online Learning).
Players are randomly assigned one of these two scenarios and
roles of trainer,
learner, manager, decision maker, or industry client.
Each player is then asked to submit a 150-word story
how his or
contributed to either this utopian or dystopian future.
These scenarios are submitted to the facilitator
who collates and
posts them in a bulletin
board under the stakeholder role. After reviewing
all the optimistic and pessimistic scenarios, players submit
five top ideas
a utopian future. Finally, players vote on critical
issues that need to be addressed to ensure the utopian future,
using the bulletin board.
The learning outcome from this email game is collaborative
problem solving. C3PO stands for Challenge, Pool,
Poll Predict, Outcome.
In Round 1 of C3PO,
players receive an open-ended challenge (example:
How do you increase person-to-person interaction
sends three ideas
to meet this challenge. In Round 2, the facilitator
sends the resulting pool of ideas back to the players
generate a priority
list. Players read through the pool of ideas, select
three that personally appeal to them most, and
send them to the facilitator.
Round 3, players
review the original pool of ideas, make a prediction
of how the entire group would have voted and identify
the most votes.
during the Round 2 selection process, the players consider how they
personally feel and react to
the ideas. During
the Round 3 prediction
process, the players put themselves in other
players' positions and estimate the
reaction of the population. As one player put
it, "The prediction
step forces you to stop thinking wishfully, projecting your preferences,
and become absolutely objective”. The player
with the closest prediction is the winner! After
the results are announced, players participate
in an online forum to debrief the game.
the past three years, we have conducted 64 email game sessions,
each lasting an average of 5 rounds spread over a 3-week period.
than 1,250 players have participated in these games, sending
us several thousands of email messages on a variety of topics and
addition to the inputs from the players, we have some additional
sources of qualitative data:
- Spontaneous and voluntary feedback from the players about their reactions
to the email games and suggestions for improving the structure and the
process of the games
- Comments from players in response to email, telephone, and face-to-face
- Comments, suggestions and feedback from a subgroup of players who have
accepted our invitation to provide additional information
- Reports from other trainers and facilitators who have adopted and adapted
the email game templates for use with their own groups
to explore local issues and problems.
Here are some factors related to email games that have emerged
consistently in an analysis of comments from different
is familiar, available, cost-effective and widely used. User
confidence with email means the focus
can be on the learning
distracted by unfamiliar technology. Email is very
inclusive, as online novices and those with more
expertise can participate
on an equal footing.
comes to the desktop. No passwords are needed and there
are no download holdups. The game
integrated with the daily
work of players,
the effort required for participation. The convenience
factor of a push technology like email appeals
to many players.
games promote effective learning. This person-to-person
approach is different from the
methods used for many computer
games. In addition, the games require active
participation as players must generate and
process the content.
If players don’t contribute,
there is no game.
games transcend space and time constraints. The distributed
asynchronous process permits
colleagues anywhere in the world
to share their expertise
and to address common issues. Several of
games have involved players from the US,
Canada, France, India,
Argentina, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.
As the deadline
for each round contains sufficient time,
players at different time
participation to suit their personal schedule.
process is motivating and engaging but not time-consuming or laborious. The
a game into rounds creates
anticipation and is not
time demanding. Even if players miss a
round, they still receive the results,
so can join in the next round without losing
too much of the flow.
can be anonymous. This aspect of email games attracts active
participation by many
Anonymity allows people to be more candid
and extreme in their opinions without
fear of reprisal
or ridicule. We have also effectively
used play names to increase this anonymity.
games achieve productive outcomes. These
games generate ideas, solve problems
on topics and issues
and salient to the participants.
games are continuously improved. The
in-built iterative feedback process
debriefing provides dynamic
for immediate refinements that even
better meet user needs.
games are versatile and inclusive. We have
different game templates
range of performance-improvement
applying, analysing and synthesising.
The games have been used
for strategic planning, problem
solving, brainstorming, and exploring controversial
Here are some additional findings
of a quantitative nature, based
as a function of response requirement. All email
are prompted by
one or more open-ended questions
that are similar
to those used during brainstorming
sessions. In general, the data
indicate that the
of the participant,
likely they are to participate.
of responses. Most participants tend to either respond immediately
after the instructions
for a round
of play are posted
or just before
the deadline for the round.
If short responses are required,
to respond immediately. For
responses, they tend to wait
until the last moment.
respond well to a prompt.
disclosure. Participants prefer to have their inputs
by peer judges or used
for further processing during
page support for email messages. If a round of
play has lengthy
input, the combination
of email and a web page
to elicit more participation
than a lengthy email
alone. In these
summary and then links
to a web page
which contains more detailed
instructions and/or a
complete list of player
of instructions and text. A key to engaging
the rigidity of too
much structure and the confusion
of too little structure.
optimum state varies
from one group to
text short to minimise
seems to increase the
score. Although a few participants
these scores seriously
as one element of
quantitative feedback. Announcing “winners” of
a round seems to
help sustain interest.
events. E-games have a start
this discrete and
facilitated learning ‘event’ rather
than the ongoing
process of many
incentives. Simple recognition
prizes tend to
in a game. Placing
the names of
top-scoring players in a "Hall
of Fame" Web-page
and awarding prizes
(usually in the
form of books or
small tokens) to "winners" appear
to elicit increased
These types of
particularly useful during
of a lengthy game.
games are easy to adopt and adapt. The templates for these games
are deliberately designed to permit easy replacement of old content
with new. In other words, the content changes, but the process
stays the same.
Once players have participated in a game, they can easily modify
it for use in their own training context.
there is much more to a successful email game than plugging in new
knowing that the process will work. Based on our
experiences and preliminary data, here are some questions to
help decide whether an email game is appropriate for a training context.
task: What to do want your learners to do? Will a game be an appropriate
strategy to achieve a learning task?
technology: Do the learners have the appropriate hardware, software,
and technical support to
enable them to effectively
an email game?
media: Is a text-based medium like email an appropriate way to achieve
the learning task and a suitable technology
Players: Does the learning context enable players to effectively participate
in email games? Issues to consider include
voluntary versus mandatory
participation, learning location, access, computer literacy,
type of support provided
and learning preferences.
Facilitation: Do you have the time, commitment and skill to facilitate a virtual
an Email Game
heart of the matter for a successful email game is effective facilitation.
Although players generate and process the content, the
the game. Email games change the role of the teacher to a designer
and facilitator of learning activities rather than a content expert.
a seamless email game, facilitation requires technical, administrative,
interpersonal and instructional design functions.
Here’s a quick look at these factors.
need a working knowledge of the communication technologies they will
be using to play virtual games as well as spreadsheets
for data management. If players experience technical difficulties
with the forum software, they will most often turn to the facilitator
for assistance. Developing a FAQ response file allows the facilitator
responsive to most queries.
responses to email games arrive they must be processed quickly and
accurately in preparation for the next round of play. Accurate
keeping, like player tracking, collation of input, and sending
out of next rounds are critical to the smooth flow of email
the game templates provide the steps needed to play a game, facilitating
a game is more than a mechanical process.
the scene, sustaining
motivation, and debriefing relies on the human factor and
a fair degree of interpersonal skill. Facilitators need to
a game and determine when to change pace, contact individual
change the tone of the play. Player participation patterns
vary. Some players reply promptly, others leave it to the
contribute to others and some will register and observe but
never actively contribute.
Email games lend themselves to a dynamic instructional process.
The facilitator is close to the players and in a position
to be responsive
As the games are played in rounds, it is easy to use a
just-in-time instructional design process. If something is not
it can readily be changed.
the Instructional Context
open-platform approach of inviting colleagues to use our e-game templates
in return for sharing their results and modifications, has encouraged
spontaneous adoption and improvement of this instructional methodology.
While we are excited about creating new e-game structures and templates,
we also realise the importance of a systematic study of the factors
influence the process and outcomes of email games. We invite our
colleagues in tertiary education to join us in our plans for a specific
So far we have been conducting email games with volunteer groups
(usually listservs and learning communities) where participants have
choice about their participation. We are curious about the impact
of other instructional contexts on the participation rates and learning
outcomes. For example, anecdotal data currently suggest positive
when email games are incorporated in college courses as a mandated
requirement. We are planning to explore the optimum integration of
these games into
vocational and higher education curricula.
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||complexity | intuition | unpredictability | comparisons | personality | emotion | communication
||designers as learners:
igniting the spark for web-based roleplay | 2003