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Figure Iii.1 Canonical navigation structure
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The second component of the canonical structure, the context component, permits and encourages children to explore and complete individual activities. This structure can be mapped in the following ways. Some games keep a record of the user s activity performance history, so they require the users to sign into the game. This step is accomplished at the signin screen, where new users enter their game identity or select one from an existing profile. A new user would listen to the storyboard which describes the purpose of the game and serves as the motivation for completing the various game activities. After signing-in, the user is brought to the navigation screen and the game playing starts. Incremental progress is monitored through the successful completion of tasks within activities. For example, once a task is completed, students receive a small reward that leads toward the final goal. Once all the small rewards have been collected, students enter the winning screen where they watch a winning animation as a celebration of their effort. Thereafter, students may continue playing different activities for fun or for skill practice. Together, these screens make up the context component of the canonical structure, since they contribute to motivating the children to explore and complete individual activities. The third major component is the peripheral structure, which extends the storyboard and the navigational screen by giving more control to the child in the exploration process (e.g., through more choices or options). However, careful design in separating the navigation screen is required so that the child remains spatially oriented. The peripheral structure also makes the game more realistic and challenging by having extra activities after collecting the immediate rewards. The contextual and peripheral structure increases the student s incentive to play the educational activities, but does not require additional skills. 123
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Eileen Wood, Bowen Hui, and Teena Willoughby Each of these major components serves different purposes, and each of the game companies in this study used a different combination of components. Specifically, Edmark software provided the core navigational structure, Disney software provided a goal-oriented context around the core structure after the student signs into the game, a story is told outlining a particular objective (e.g., in the preschool version where the child has to help Pooh organize a surprise birthday party for Eeyore). Pooh travels around the navigation screen to tell everyone about the party. At each activity, the student s task is to help prepare a birthday present. Once all the characters are ready with a present, everyone gathers together to celebrate the occasion. Finally, software from The Learning Company (Reader Rabbit) provided a structure that elaborated on the storyboard, navigation screen, and extraneous activities beyond the goal. Specifically, after the student is introduced to the main characters, signs into the game, and watches the story unfold, the student is brought to a navigation screen that splits into multiple paths. As the alternatives are explored, the student receives a reward (e.g., a yellow brillite after completing each activity). When five yellow brillites have been collected, the student enters the mountain to blow the pirates boat off. This final task is complicated by requiring the student to accomplish two small activities before arriving to the winning scene. In order to represent these unique features in our generic model we merged some of the complex structures into one component, for example, the multiple navigation screens in Reader Rabbit. As a result, we arrived at a canonical game structure that underlies these four games. Importantly, children who master the navigation structure of one product should be able to transfer this knowledge to other software by the same company and across companies to some extent, especially those with simpler structures. In order to develop effective software, it is clear that the design needs to be systematic and clearly accessible to the learner. Having a generic template of structures allows learners, even very young ones, to transition between software with greater ease. In addition to the structural features, the content of software has to be relevant, accurate, and interesting. It is critical that the interesting activities in the software map onto specified cognitive, emotional, or social variables. For example, if the software is designed to promote early literacy skills, then the games or activities should contain exercises which strengthen these skills. In a further analysis of the software, we constructed cognitive taxonomies for skills such as emergent reading, memory, and language development consistent with the target areas purportedly supported by the software. Currently, we are mapping the specific activities present in the software onto the taxonomies to see which if any specific functions the games actually 124
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Introduction addressed. For example, both Reader Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh claimed to promote reading. When we examined the taxonomy we identified that in the Winnie the Pooh software, a game called Kanga s Alphabet Soup supported letter-name matching ( L equals the sound for the letter l) for capital and lowercase letters. This is one of the fundamental skills required for emergent readers. Similarly, with Reader Rabbit, there were a range of games that supported a number of emergent reading skills including letter-name matching, sight word recognition, rhyming, and blending. Within the software packages, some skills appeared at the preschool and kindergarten levels and some skills only at one level. There were more emergent reading skills identified in the Reader Rabbit software than in the Winnie the Pooh software. Also of interest, there were other domains where only some of the reported skills identified in the taxonomies were supported in the software. Clearly, packages designed for formal education contexts need to be precise with respect to the skills that can be developed in the software, and the software needs to be explicit about the match between activities and skill development in order to maximize the effective use of the software for learners with different needs. Researchers have been sensitive to ensuring the development of high quality and relevant software for children. For example, the chapters written by Abrami et al. (chapter 6) and Nesbit and Winne (chapter 7) introduce software packages designed to facilitate learning. In both of these chapters, there is considerable attention to structure and content and the need to ensure that the software is pedagogically appropriate for formal educational environments. Abrami et al. s chapter identifies software interventions that promote the development of basic skills (e.g., a balanced reading program for children called ABRACADABRA) as well as software programs that allow learners and educators to maintain digital records and evaluate academic performance (e.g., e-portfolios). The chapter by Nesbit and Winne examines software designed to facilitate learning across subject domains, called gstudy. The impetus behind this software is to develop self-directed learning behaviors in learners. This software package is a key element also in fostering higher-order information literacy skills. Interventions like these are critical in allowing learners to strengthen their information literacy, critical thinking and learning skills across the curriculum. The chapters by Abrami et al. and Nesbitt and Winne focus on rigorously designed software packages that support learners as they develop understanding and skills. An additional recent innovative program explores instruction through the Internet. Specifically, Kafai and Giang in chapter 8 demonstrate how Internet applications, drawing on a naturally engaging environment, can be used to provide an important alternative instructional 125
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Eileen Wood, Bowen Hui, and Teena Willoughby format. They discuss how multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs), in particular Whyville, can offer both science play and learning activities to thousands of players through a primarily informal learning experience. Kafai and Giang argue that MUVEs have the potential to lead to greater engagement and understanding of science and technology ideas. Learning by exploration is also a key fundamental concept in the work discussed by diSessa in chapter 9. diSessa outlines the best intellectual possibilities and opportunities offered by new-media literacies for reinventing or redesigning fundamental scientific principles. diSessa convincingly argues that the ability to transform the way that science and mathematics are taught will increase young children s motivation for learning these subjects. The final two chapters in this section examine some of the supports and limitations experienced by both learners and educators when using technology. Specifically, Desjarlais, Willoughby, and Wood (chapter 10) examine the importance of identifying potential challenges that learners may experience when interacting with the Internet. In particular, learners with little domain knowledge may experience difficulties when conducting searches, identifying relevant information, and/or integrating information within and across individual websites. Desjarlais et al. discuss why learners with low domain knowledge experience these challenges with the Internet, and outline supports that can be provided to facilitate their learning. Educators also play a critical role in children s learning with technologies. We explore the knowledge and experiences of educators in chapter 11 by Mueller, Wood, and Willoughby. These authors summarize educators perceptions about their technological skills. In addition, there is discussion of the potential supports and barriers to the integration of technology within the school system. This chapter distinguishes between having access to technology and using it effectively as an integrated part of instruction. As such, this work has important implications for policy with respect to the design and implementation of in-service and technological support programs for educators. In summary, there have been extensive technological advancements in software capability and in access to information on the Internet. As a result, there are exciting new opportunities for enhancing formal learning contexts for children. The challenge, however, continues to be how to ensure that these technologies are used effectively in the classroom. In fact, children s learning with technologies in informal settings often may be more sophisticated than what they experience at school. To effectively understand and use technologies, therefore, we need to pay attention to both formal and informal learning technologies. The two sections of this book provide a balance in understanding informal (Part I) and formal (Part II) learning contexts. 126
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