Friday, July 16, 2010

Instructional Roleplaying Idea: Stone Age Hunter

A thought popped into my head a few minutes ago and I'm now (perhaps unwisely) setting down those half-baked initial thoughts here.

We 're in the process of overhauling our out-dated self-paced information literacy online course. I'm not doing the day-to-day work, but am giving feedback regularly, in an attempt to keep the project on an even keel and give it my thoughts as far as two skills I do relatively well in: student-centered instruction/design and strategic thinking. My focus has been on suggesting ways to streamline things (keeping the jargon to a minimum, basing the content on real world experiences that students can relate to), making sure content addresses multiple learning styles and is as interactive as possible (given no access to programming or visual design skills), and that a coherent narrative and design flow is maintained. We are using WordPress for the new site (the current one resides in Lotus Notes and is almost totally text-based).

My current thoughts are on the best way to get students thinking critically about the steps in the research process; how to get them invested in the entire process at the outset; interested in exploring the details, or at least open to the idea. Currently, we've got the research steps labeled simply (which is good), but broadly and rather generically (each category contains multiple subsections):
  • Develop a Topic
  • Strategize
  • Search
  • Evaluate
  • Cite
My concern is: will students gain anything from these labels? Will they be able to connect those labels to the more concrete steps outlined within each of them? If not, is there a better way to "brand" the research process within this site so it has more a visceral impact?

So my half-baked idea is this: turn the research process into a role-playing scenario where the student becomes a stone age hunter seeking to feed his or her family. The steps in the research process would then become the steps needed for the student to hunt and kill a stone age creature, such as a mastodon. The alternate labels I came up with were:
  • Seek populated hunting grounds (topic creation)
  • Coordinate the attack  (strategize)
  • The Hunt (search)
  • Take the best cuts of meat (evaluate)
  • Honor the animal's spirit  (cite)
I know this metaphor could use lots of work (perhaps there might be a "gatherers" metaphor to mine from this, too, for the vegetarians?) and I'm not even certain it would resonate with anyone, but in spare moments, I'll see if this path bears any fruit. Going a couple steps further, I could see, for example, this kind of thing being a cool setting for an instructional role-playing game (IRPG?). Your thoughts?

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