Student-driven Design

Student-driven design can be a rather complicated topic. Rather than go into the details here, it's perhaps more appropriate to describe where this concept intersects with Mentira.

Basically, we think students learn a little about the Spanish language and Los Griegos by playing Mentira and working through its mysteries together, but if playing Mentira were only the precursor to researching and designing their own game, we could produce an opportunity for truly deep learning to take place. It is one thing to see that a character is being polite to you, it is entirely another to write a character so that she sounds polite. Since we have placed our game within a minority time slot in the middle of a course with many other duties to attend to, there simply isn't time to engage the sort of student design we are ultimately after. We are hoping to construct other structures (300 level classes, independent studies, etc.) to afford opportunities for deeper design-driven work in the near future that would be closely tied to our principal Mentira development.

While we have yet to address student-driven design in some of the deeper ways we feel could be relevant and beneficial, we have nonetheless let this direction guide us in producing content that is aware and responsive to the learners who play our game. We use student feedback and brainstorming as an important part of the degin process to give them ownership over their experience with our game. We believe that our ability to convey the feeling that their considerations are important in how we proceed with our designs has been instrumental in the high level of student engagement we have experienced in our two trial studies. 

The main use to which we put the various forms of observational data (classroom observations, gameplay video, surveys, and interviews) from our two trials was to find out what was working in the game, what was making it work, and more importantly, what was not working and why. Each time, there were in particular a few major features in need of drastic overhaul to improve the enjoyability and usability of the game: We rearranged the levels so that the murder mystery comes sooner in the story, refined the user interface to make ersatz travel seem more natural, made a commitment to actually run the outdoor portion of the game, etc. The game dialogue was also thoroughly re-written to give the characters more distinct personalities and interactions with the player. 

This last item is emblematic of a sometimes subtle difference between how we see the role of students as testers and is typical of user testing in design, and how we hope this difference can grow over time. The difference can be explained somewhat by saying that we consider students to be stakeholders and not simply consumers. They have a more integral role and responsibility with the final product than they would otherwise, and this is particularly true when it comes to how our game reflects their intention to interact with the subject matter. In addition to referencing a pre-existing body of content we wish the students to assimilate, we're introducing broad categories of participatory structure and seeing what sticks, using these results to develop content that feeds off the students particular interests in the subject and desires for assistive technology in their learning. In the case of the NPC dialogue, this has perhaps unsurprisingly meant trying to build ever more robust interactions. On the other hand, it has been a welcome relief that learner perceptions of the depth of simulated conversations tend to focus on the depth of interaction and meaning rather than on eye candy. 

Where we have been able to give ownership through the language of design, we have not yet implemented a more substantial pedagogical use of design: as a principal and powerful focus for learning the intended subject and researching and interacting with the local community. We are currently seeking such opportunities.