Quest for a Community of Practice

Jane McGonigal, in Reality is Broken, notes that among well-designed games there is always some sort of quest.

A quest is a journey to accomplish a task. Completing the quest often provides the participant, in this case the gamer, with a sense of satisfaction. And the more epic the quest, the more satisfying the accomplishment. The game design typically impacts the motivation of the person playing, and most of the better designed games inspire intrinsic motivation on the part of the gamer.

The other day, @alexragone tweeted:

@brainbits @fredbartels Just got to the player investment design lead in #realityisbroken How can we design OPuS courses with this in mind?

OPuS is the Online Progressive unSchool being developed by Fred, and he describes it as:

an education environment in which learners work together to discover and develop what Ken Robinson calls their element, or what many of us call, their passion.

OPuS supports communities of practice in which teachers and students with shared interests collaborate to develop mastery of their chosen element, and as part of that process, work to make the world a better place.

Additional information about OPuS is available in this Prezi. (By the way, Fred replied to Alex that OPuS is Communities of Practice, not courses.)

Alex’s tweet got me thinking about Fred’s description, and how it meshes with much of what Jane McGonigal describes as being the important factors in game design. The “player investment design lead” refers to a job description at the game designer Bungie, of Halo fame. The person in this position

directs a group of designers responsible for founding a robust and rewarding investment path, supported by consistent, rich and secure incentives that drive player behavior toward having fun and investing in their characters and then validates those systems through intense simulation, testing and iteration. (page 244)

McGonigal concludes that, based upon the job description above, the goal is to design a game in such a way that “participants should be able to explore and impact a ‘world’, or shared social space that features both content and interactive opportunities.” She then notes the additional characteristics of such a game:

  • participants will be able to create and develop a unique identity
  • participants will see the bigger picture
  • the only reward is participation in good faith
  • the emphasis is on making the content and experience intrinsically rewarding

Hmm, a well designed community of practice has a guide to steer the process. The members of the community are self-selecting participants because they share an interest in a particular passion and know that by participating they will enhance both their own and everyone else’s understanding of the topic. The participation happens individually and collaboratively, in physical spaces and interactive virtual social spaces. And the quest to learn is its own reward.

In another tweet, @alexragone wrote:

More on definition of student engagement:  https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Student_engagement#Indicators#isedchat

Sounds to me like a well-designed game and a community of practice share many of the traits that encourage student engagement.

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