October 16, 2010 by Amanda Visconti

Bringing ARGs into the Classroom

(Reposted from my blog over on THINKtransmedia.org--check out the site for a community of transmedia and ARG designers and scholars. Read more about our research study, Alternate Reality Games in the Service of Education and Design, over at the National Science Foundation.)

Front page of http://www.THINKTransmedia.org

I'm a graduate research assistant working with THINKtransmedia.org community members Derek Hansen (PI), Kari Kraus (PI), and Elisabeth Bonsignore on an NSF-funded study exploring the design and use of ARGs in educational contexts. The purpose of this research is to better understand how transmedia storytelling experiences can be used as novel educational activities. We're also trying to improve our understanding of how experts and novices create transmedia experiences and experience them, with a special emphasis on the use of mobile devices.

Our study falls roughly into three parts:
1. Expert Interviews
Over the past year, we've been interviewing experts in the area of ARG design and development, transmedia studies, and games and learning. Our previous interviewees include Margeaux Johnson, a recent MLS grad from UMD who is now a science/reference librarian at the University of Florida; she spoke with us about her experiences designing an information literacy mission/quest as part of a larger university ARG ("Humans vs. Zombies"). We have also interviewed Georgina Goodlander, Interpretive Programs Manager Smithsonian at the American Art Museum and one of the developers behind their very recent ARG "Pheon". Margeaux and Georgina are also THINKtransmedia.org community members, so feel free to contact them with questions about their transmedia work.

Update: as of 01/2011, we've also interviewed Sean Stewart (ARG-writer extraordinaire of The Beast, ilovebees, Last Call Poker, and the Cathy's Book series, to name a few), Drew Davidson (director of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University), Heather Owings (librarian and developer of several ARGs for and with teens), James Gee (games and education theorist and author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy and Good Video Games + Good Learning), World without Oil designer Ken Eklund, and John Maccabee (novelist; designer of ARGs such as the Smithsonian's "Ghosts of a Chance"; and CEO at CityMystery, which specializes in building educational ARGs).

2. Novice Designers
We've created a pool of ARG game-design novices from one of Professor Hansen's graduate iSchool classes as well as members of the research team. This team of "novice designers" will create a transmedia lesson plan that includes a mini-puzzle, the best of which will be used in an actual ARG. This group will both help us populate are ARG and study how first-time game designers confront design tasks; we'll be documenting their work through interviews and design diary activities throughout the design process.

3. ARG Players
We're developing an ARG (with the help of the novice design group) to run during spring 2011. This part of the study will look at the place of ARGs within education--by working with both middle-schoolers and undergrads, we hope to build on our understanding of how ARGs communicate and reinforce learning, especially the learning of information literacies such as information-finding and collaboration.