Games can promote 21st century skills, such as multitasking, play, distributed cognition, networking, among others (see Jenkins white paper ). These “new media” literacy skills, social in nature, are based on traditional literacies such as writing. Today, self-sponsored writing and the universal authorship through digital network are put writing as an essential skill to be developed and as an essential activity by which a huge amount of learning and reflection occurs. This is exactly what Taiga and its intensive writing Quests are doing. So if much of the learning in QA happens when kids write Quests, how can we get them to submit better Quests and then use the feedback they provide?
In the Taiga Water Quality Unit, the narrative follows the activities of different stakeholders in the park (loggers, indigenous community, fishing company), looking at the ways in which their practices may put the future of the park and its wildlife at risk.
Ranger Bartle asks the Questers, now positioned as Field Investigators, for help in figuring out why the fish population is declining in the park. Through their series of missions, students propose a first solution to the problem and need to blame one of the groups inhabiting the park. With the help of a time machine, students can travel two years into the future to witness and experience the consequentiality of their previous decisions and submit a more nuanced solution that addresses the negative consequences of the first one.
After the completion of each of the five missions in Taiga, students write and submit a 50-100 word Quest. The writing of these Quests represent a crucial opportunity to help students enlist the scientific formalism underlying the narrative of Taiga. This process has been studied for several years, and we have used various strategies for supporting the inherent complexities of writing and the difficult process of drafting a scientific-like explanation.
During February-March 2010, one of our experienced teachers implemented Taiga with four sixth-grade classes. Borrowing from the portfolio assessment literature, in particular the distinction between “working portfolio” and “presentation portfolio” and with insights from our other projects, we translated these ideas into the writing process in Taiga. We manipulated the Quest in terms of the distinction between the two kinds of portfolio and incorporated new Reflection Questions (RQs). Two classes were told that they should respond to the goals of the Quests and to the new RQs, but that only the answers to the goals of the Quest would be reviewed by Ranger Bartle. For the other two classes the opposite instruction was given, i.e., the reflection questions would be looked at by Ranger Bartle. We wanted to see if this would have an impact on the quality of students’ initial submission to the Quest.
A second refinement we enacted was the incorporation of a wiki. Across the four classes and in an attempt to create a collaborative space to foster discussion among students around what was going on in Taiga, we replaced the individual field notebook with a group-based wiki. In this wiki, students could organize the information collected from the NPCs (non-player characters) and discuss it within their groups. These two refinements reflect current trends in sociocultural approaches to assessment and collective oriented tools for fostering practices more akin to the ones occurring in real social networking spaces.
Even though this implementation had to deal with unexpected external difficulties that shortened the time that had been dedicated to Taiga in past implementations, we could see promising outcomes and future challenges related to the impact of focusing on the reflection questions and the incorporation of a collaborative oriented tool such as a wiki in the context of the rich narrative of Taiga. It’s our hope that these changes may create a broader learning environment that merges together the potentialities of both technologies.