Good Game Design, Transmedia Storytelling and the Challenge of Engaging the ‘Net’ Generation

‘Transmedia Experience’ by Gerolf Nikolay available at under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at

‘Transmedia Experience’ by Gerolf Nikolay available at under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

When it comes to the holding power of video games, you can’t go past games such as World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto and Civilization. All three have been around for more than 10 years and have clearly struck a chord with the video gaming public as evidenced by their loyal following. But what is it about these commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games and others like them that has allowed them to attract and engage large numbers of users over a long period of time? What are some of the learning principles that have been incorporated into the design of these and other successful COTS video games? How can we tap into the principles of so called ‘good game design’ to develop educational games that provide learners with compelling, immersive and virtual experiences that stimulate cognitive growth and improve learning?

This literary composition will use Gee’s (2004) list of learning principles as a framework with which to focus on a couple of key events in the history of game-based learning. In particular, this essay will examine the rise of the seminal video game World of Warcraft. In doing so, this composition will attempt to answer two questions: Why is it that some video games have quickly found an audience whilst others have struggled to get off the ground? To what extent do these and other successful video games represent exemplars of good game design?

Finally, this essay will conclude by looking at the future of game-based learning as evidenced by the release of Ingress which will be examined through Gee’s (2004) learning principles framework as well as the advent of transmedia storytelling in the form of the Endgame trilogy (Endgame: The Calling, Endgame: Ancient Societies and Endgame: Proving Ground). Gee provides a useful checklist of learning principles organised into three sections with which to score the potential for learning in a video game (see table below).

I. Empowered

II. Problem Solving

III. Understanding

1. Co-design
2. Customize
3. Identity
4. Manipulation
5. Well-Order Problems
6. Pleasantly Frustrating
7. Cycles of Expertise
8. Information “On Demand”
and “Just in Time”
9. Fish Tanks
10. Sandboxes
11. Skills as Strategies
12. System Thinking
13. Meaning as Action Image


To what extent is World of Warcraft an example of good game design?

So does World of Warcraft measure up as a good game when assessed against Gee’s (2004) checklist of learning principles? Released in 2004 by developer Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft was well received by critics and players alike and quickly found its place in the world of video games. The following year World of Warcraft was awarded Best Mac OS X Entertainment Product at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco and Best PC Game, Best Multiplayer Game, Best RPG, and Most Addictive Game at the Spike TV Video Game Awards in Los Angeles.

By 2007 World of Warcraft had won a range of awards and amassed 9.2 million subscribers. In 2009, the Guinness Book of World Records awarded World of Warcraft a world record for the most popular MMORPG by subscribers by which point it had garnered 11.5 million subscribers. By 2012, World of Warcraft had become the highest grossing video game of all time having grossed over 10 billion US dollars in sales. In January 2014 Blizzard announced that more than 100 million World of Warcraft accounts had been created over the game’s lifetime.

In recent years, some researchers have begun to question the future of World of Warcraft based on the fact that the number of subscribers appears to have hit a peak in 2010 and has been trending down ever since:

1) 2010 – 12.1 million subscribers
2) 2011 – 10.2 million subscribers
3) 2012 – 9.1 million subscribers
4) 2013 – 8.2 million subscribers
5) 2014 – 7.8 million subscribers

There’s no doubt World of Warcraft has been a phenomenal success but how do we account for that success? When the game is examined alongside Gee’s (2004) checklist of learning principles it is immediately clear that World of Warcraft is particularly strong in category I. Empowered Learners. Players in World of Warcraft have a lot of control over almost every aspect of the game including their own learning. Not only can they customize their character’s appearance but they can also customize their game play. In particular, each time a player goes into World of Warcraft they are asked to choose their realm style with a number of different realms being available to choose from including:

1). PvE (Player vs. Environment)
2). PvP (Player vs. Player)
3). RP (Roleplaying in a PvE realm), and
4). RP-PvP (Roleplaying in a PvP realm)

Social identity is an important aspect of any massively multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG) and World of Warcraft is no exception. A new player in World of Warcraft gets to design their own character (or avatar) from the ground up. Before entering the game they must create their first character. In doing so, they must choose their first character’s realm, race and class. After that the new player can make adjustments to their character’s appearance before choosing a name for their character and entering the game.

Moreover, a player in World of Warcraft may create up to eleven characters per realm, with a maximum of fifty characters per account. Blizzard allow up to fifty characters per account for the simple reason that they know many players will probably want to experiment with different styles of gameplay. In fact, often this is exactly what happens. A player may end up creating lots of different characters with just one or two of them being their ‘main’ character or characters, that is to say, the one or ones they play with most of the time.

A player can view the realm they are currently playing in from just about any angle. They can zoom in and look closely at almost anything including their own character. By default, a player sees their current realm from the viewpoint of their character, that is to say, a player will normally see the back of their character’s head whilst playing World of Warcraft. However, a player can zoom in or zoom out at any time. They can also change the angle of view and look up to the sky or down to the ground. They can even turn around and look back at their own character. In effect, they can view anything from any angle.

A large part of the attraction to World of Warcraft is its gameplay which is very flexible. For example, a single player may choose to accept a quest from a quest giver or they may seek to join a group, a raid or a guild. The former often involves very little social interaction with any other player in the game whereas all of the other options would obviously require a high level social interaction between the player and other players.

Gee (2004) states that good games are pleasantly frustrating in that the player has reached the limit of their current knowledge. However, they are completely and utterly immersed in the game play and are experiencing what McGonigal (2011) terms ‘blissful productivity’. Although they are somewhat frustrated by their lack of progress, they’re having so much fun doing what they’re doing that they’re not about to give up anytime soon.

In essence, players in World of Warcraft are creating more than one character so that they can experiment with identity. In fact, being able to manipulate one’s identity in an MMORPG is one of the reasons why gamers keep coming back. Because they have invested so much time and effort in creating their character they form an attachment to their personalised character, and feel more invested in their character’s development.

World of Warcraft is well-represented on social media with the fan-created World of Warcraft wiki consisting of over 100,000 pages. There’s also an official World of Warcraft YouTube channel which was setup in 2006 and which has had over 173,000,000 views. As well as that, there is a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Google+ page. Click here to view Blizzard’s first official World of Warcraft infographic which includes some fun and surprising never-before-seen facts about the game. Moreover, a World of Warcraft movie is scheduled for release in June, 2016.


To what extent is Ingress an example of good game design? To what extent does Ingress represent the present (and possibly the future) of game-based learning?

In 2010, the NMC Horizon Report predicted that simple augmented reality (AR) would be the next big thing in education within the next two or three years. Unfortunately, AR has failed to make much of an impact in the classroom. However, we are closer than we have ever been with a small number of augmented reality games starting to make inroads into education. Augmented reality games are typified by their use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device.

In just the last few years, there have been several significant developments which are on the cutting edge of augmented reality, alternate reality and transmedia storytelling. Apart from Google Glass and the Oculus Rift, there have been several other innovations including Ingress, a game developed by Niantic Labs which is a start-up within Google. Strictly speaking, Ingress is an augmented reality massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (or ARMMORPG) since it combines an AR game with an MMORPG. Ingress is a location-based game in which gameplay involves travelling around and using the GPS on your mobile phone and/or your iPad to locate and then interact with portals either individually or in a team.

There are a wide range of Ingress-related resources available on the Internet. These include official resources released by Google and Niantic Labs as well as a plethora of user-generated content. Official Ingress resources include a Help Centre, a YouTube channel, a Facebook page, a Google+ community, a Twitter account and a range of audio and eBooks available from Google Play and Amazon. User-generated content includes a selection of YouTube videos, a wiki, a forum and a guide. No-one other than Niantic Labs and Google knows for sure how many people are playing Ingress. However, in 2014, Google revealed that Ingress had been downloaded by more than 7 million people in the past year.

Unlike World of Warcraft, a player in Ingress doesn’t have a character (or avatar) that they can customise. Games like World of Warcraft and Civilization allow the player to heavily customise their gameplay whereas Ingress will only allow a player to choose their character’s name and the faction that they belong to. There are two factions in Ingress with the Enlightened faction being represented by the colour green whilst the Resistance faction is represented by the colour blue. Both factions have the same abilities.

Whereas other MMORPGs and MMOGs create virtual communities, Ingress is a little different in that players are encouraged to interact with each other both in the virtual world as well as the physical world. Game play is such that each player is encouraged to reach out to other players who live in their local area. There are currently 8 access levels in Ingress and a player can level up by completing actions which will earn them action points (or AP). These actions include:

1) Creating a link from one portal to another (313 AP)
2) Creating a control field (1,250 AP)
3) Upgrading a resonator (65 AP), and
4) Hacking an enemy portal (100 AP)

A single player at a lower level will have no difficulty creating lower level portals. However, if a single player at a higher level wants to create a higher level portal then they are going to have to physically get together with other higher level players in order to do so. In other words, a higher level player can achieve so much more if they are prepared to collaborate with other higher level players in their local area. In fact, this is exactly what a lot of players do. They organise meetups where they travel around as a group and concentrate their efforts so that they can earn more AP than they would if they were to do so individually.

When viewed through the prism of Gee’s (2004) learning principles to what extent does Ingress represent an example of good game design? Like World of Warcraft, Ingress is strong in all three categories. However, it could be argued that it is particularly strong in the Problem Solving category. The challenges in Ingress are, for the most part, pleasantly frustrating.

Ingress has quickly become popular and is now played by millions of people across the world on a daily basis. One of the biggest reasons why Ingress has become so popular is because it is inherently social. Where once playing video games was, by its very nature, anti-social since it meant sitting at home by yourself in front of a computer, nowadays playing many video games is prosocial in the sense that you are actively encouraged to socialise (both online and offline) with others.

Ingress is particularly prosocial in the sense that it emphasises cooperation, collaboration and mobility. You can’t play Ingress by sitting around at home. The first thing you need to do is to download the Ingress app and install it onto your mobile phone (Android or iOS) and/or your iPad. After that, you need to choose your faction, your agent name and get yourself outside. Once outside you just need to start earning AP by playing the game. In particular, you need to move around in the physical world either individually or in a group with other agents and interact with the portals and control fields in your local area. This includes hacking them as well as creating them. There are a range of medals you can earn whilst playing Ingress including the Trekker medal which is achieved based on the total distance the agent has walked while playing the game.


To what extent is the Endgame trilogy an example of good game design? Does the Endgame trilogy represent the future of game-based learning?

The Endgame trilogy consists of Endgame: Ancient Societies, Endgame: The Calling and Endgame: Proving Ground plus a series of novellas and is an example of transmedia storytelling where a range of media are in the process of being used in an integrated way across books, a film, social media and a mobile game.

I. Endgame:
The Calling

II. Endgame:
Ancient Societies

III. Endgame:
Proving Ground

– a book – a book (TBC) – a book (TBC)
– an ebook – a movie (Jun 2016) – an AR game (TBC)

Transmedia storytelling is a new and emerging field and its use in education is still quite experimental. However, it is already showing great promise as a technique with which to improve students’ cognitive, social and emotional engagement (Rodríguez-Illera & Molas-Castells, 2014).

At this stage, it’s too early to predict whether or not this project will go on to be a success. Thus far, on the Amazon website at least, the Endgame: The Calling book has been reviewed by over 120 customers with the average rating being 3.4 out of 5. Moreover, there are a range of resources including an Endgame Twitter account, an Ancient Societies Twitter account, an Ancient Societies YouTube account and an Ancient Societies website.

In conclusion, Niantic and Google have clearly learnt a lot from Ingress and it is to be hoped that the ongoing rollout of the Endgame project including the Endgame: Proving Ground augmented reality game will continue to take advantage of new and emerging innovations in the fields of transmedia storytelling and augmented reality. If this is the case, then its entirely possible that the Endgame: Proving Ground augmented reality game as well as the rest of the Endgame project as a whole will be held up as an exemplar of good game design. In particular, assuming the Endgame AR game continues to actively encourage cooperation, collaboration and mobility then there’s every probability that it will successfully overcome the challenge of engaging the ‘Net’ generation.



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Blockchain Technologies in Higher Education

Currently, I am in the process of developing a case study in which I will attempt to answer the following question:

How might blockchain technology be deployed in higher education to enable open and secure sharing of academic proficiency and progress records?

In particular, my research will describe blockchain technology, before discussing how it may be applied to education, and its potential impact on the future of education.

I am keen to hear from anyone who is working in higher education and who has had some exposure to blockchain technology or who has an interest in blockchain technology.

If you are in any way interested in my research topic I would encourage you to help me with my research by completing the following short survey which is completely anonymous:

Thank you.

INF533 • Assessment Item 4 • Part C

This subject has opened my eyes to the affordances of digital storytelling as opposed to the affordances of storytelling in a non digital environment. Storytelling in a digital environment makes it much easier to share the story than it would otherwise be. Interactive digital storybooks such as SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure and The History of Jazz: An Interactive Timeline provide a much more immersive experience for the user. Instead of reading a factual piece on World War I in a traditional printed book you can read a multimodal digital story about World War I and feel like you’re actually there witnessing what you’re reading. In other words, digital storytelling has the potential to be much more engaging and immersive than storytelling of the past.

Serafini and Youngs (2013) state that reading was predominantly an individual experience in the past whereas digital storytelling is much more social in that new and emerging digital platforms allow the reader to share responses to texts on a global platform. As an example, I recently published a digital story using the Shorthand Social platform. Anyone viewing my digital story can immediately get in contact with me via my author page.

Digital storytelling also offers versatility in the sense that many ebooks include text-to-speech options, dictionaries and note-taking. This is something most traditional print books do not provide.

Moreover, digital storytelling platforms like Shorthand Social and Microsoft Sway make it easy for anyone to self-publish. Whereas in the past it was quite difficult for a budding author to find a publisher, nowadays a budding author can publish to a much wider audience. Moreover, these tools are so easy to use that an author can have their digital content on the Internet within minutes.

Of course, now that anyone and everyone can be a prosumer, anyone who is creating a digital story needs to be aware of intellectual property issues that can and do arise. For example, its important to avoid infringing copyright on images, music, video and text. If you are using an image in your digital story and the image was not created by you then you most probably do not own the copyright on that image. Therefore, you should make every effort to find out who has the copyright on the image and then contact them to get their permission to use the image. If you don’t then you’re putting yourself at risk of being taken to court for breach of copyright.

One of the other issues associated with digital storytelling and one that I have touched on previously is that of streaming media. A YouTube video that was viewable yesterday may not be viewable today. If you have created a digital story which includes an embedded YouTube video then you run the risk of your embedded video not being viewable in the future. If you have embedded YouTube videos that you created and uploaded to YouTube then you are unlikely to have this problem. However, if you have embedded someone else’s YouTube videos in your digital story then it is entirely possible that at some point in the future your embedded YouTube video will be removed from YouTube. As a result, anyone trying to view the YouTube video in your digital story will not be able to do so. This is just one of the problems associated with digital storytelling.

Also, currency is important with digital storytelling. A historical digital story may need to be updated from time to time. For example, the story may be a feature on a historical figure who is still alive. Once that person has passed away the digital story should be updated. However, if the digital story has been developed as an app then its possible that the developer may, for commercial reasons, no longer be interested in maintaining the app.

As an educator, I know that digital storytelling is a powerful teaching and learning tool. In particular, a learner’s digital literacy can be greatly boosted by their use of digital storytelling tools. These tools (many of which are free) make it easy for learners to create their own digital stories by combining text, images, video, music, etc. Learners can do this by themselves or collaboratively with others. After having created their personal multimedia stories the learners can then share them with others.


Alexander, B. (2011). The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. ABC-CLIO.

Leu, D.J. et al (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1), 5-14. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.55.1.1

Serafini, F. (2013). Reading Workshop 2.0. Reading Teacher, 66(5), 401-404.

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Yokota, J. & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 34(6). Retrieved from Making_Informed_Choices

The Backstory To My Backstory On The Late Antonio Giordano (1907-1984)

The above digital storytelling project is about the life of the late Antonio Giordano, an Italian journalist, author and community leader who arrived in Australia in 1924 as a stowaway before going on to make a significant contribution to the migrant experience.

I am convinced that my digital storytelling project could be used in a number of different contexts. As an example, my current employer—an educational institution here in Victoria—consists of two colleges, namely the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce (ASSC) and the College of Science, Health and Engineering (SHE). I believe both Colleges could use my project as a prototype of a visually engaging, interactive, digital story developed using an emerging new learning platform, namely Shorthand Social. I see platforms like Shorthand Social, Shorthand Pro and Microsoft Sway as exciting new digital storytelling platforms which will help to bring history to life and make it so much more immersive than it has been in the past.

In fact, I have already had a preliminary conversation with an academic from the School’s Department of Languages and Linguistics and hope to have similar conversations with other academics across both colleges in the near future. The Shorthand Social platform lends itself to several different disciplines including history, languages, journalism and design. In terms of my specific project I believe my audience to be historians, students of history, history teachers, students of Italian, teachers of Italian, journalists, students of design, students of journalism, biographers, academics and writers as well as anyone interested in anthropology.

Moreover, there are several local organisations that may be interested in my digital story including the Italian Australian Institute at La Trobe University, the Museo Italiano, the Italian Historical Society, the Immigration Museum and the Melbourne Museum. As well as that, similar institutions in other states may also be interested since I know for a fact that Giordano spent time in every Australian state except for Tasmania plus the Northern Territory. I can see the Italian community both here and interstate viewing my digital story then wanting to create their own digital stories. There may even be some overseas interest in the sense that in 1969 Giordano received an award “in recognition of his work on behalf of Sicilian immigrants in Australia” from Il Centro Orientamento Emigrati Siciliani (COES) in Italy. Even after all this time its possible that this particular organisation may still be interested in Giordano. Last but not least, I believe Giordano’s Estate here in Australia as well as his descendants in Italy may be interested in the contents of my digital story.

This project was conceived as an opportunity to create an engaging multimedia feature article on specific events in the life of Giordano. I should point out that I’ve always been interested in social history and I saw this digital storytelling project as a perfect opportunity to create something which would hopefully inspire others to act. In other words, I wanted to take advantage of the affordances of the platform and create a piece of social history which would transcend the book.

In doing so I was keen to make my digital story as interactive and immersive as possible. I didn’t want my creation to look or feel like a traditional biography in the form of a book. I wanted to share an interesting story and at the same time create something entirely new. Something which would exist only in the digital realm and which would by definition be available to just about anyone, anywhere and at anytime. Assuming of course, that they have a reliable internet connection.

I hope that my digital story on Antonio Giordano will resonate with audiences both far and wide. My story is currently available to the digital public across the world 365 days a year and I am hopeful that it will be well received. Ultimately, I would like to see it being used perhaps as an example of a new and innovative way of presenting historical information. Perhaps my story will inspire a whole new generation of budding family historians to do something constructive with those shoe boxes full of old photos and letters. I hope so.

INF533 • Assessment Item 2 • Part B


Over the course of the last six weeks or so I’ve read a lot of information about digital literature plus I’ve looked a wide range of examples of digital literature with some of them sharing certain attributes. For example, it has been my experience that the digital literature I’ve seen which has been developed as entertainment is more often than not much more interactive than digital literature which has been developed purely to provide information.

The hallmark of a good digital text is the judicious use of meaningful interactivity. In other words, its important for the developer of the digital text to be thoughtful and intentional about when and where they add interactive elements. In other words, the interactive elements need to complement the text by adding meaning to what is being said. Walsh (2013) describes it as an aesthetic synergy between the technical features, the artistic creation of the text and the ideas within it.

At the same time, the good digital text has been developed to take advantage of the affordances of the platform being used whilst at the same time using interactive elements which help to communicate meaning. In other words, a good digital text includes interactive elements that enhance the meaning of the text and add value to the experience of the reader.

A good digital text is also well-designed in the sense that it has been constructed to suit the age of the reader and the purpose of the author. In other words, the content has been written in such a way that it can easily be accessed by the reader. In particular, the language used is appropriate to the audience.

As an example, the Al Gore – Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis iPad app contains a large volume of factual information in the form of language which is both concrete and specific. SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure, however, is a work of fiction with language that is much more abstract. Moreover, in Our Choice, in order to make it easier for the adult reader to digest this information, some of which is quite technical, the developers have created a number of interactive images that help to convey meaning. On the other hand, a developer creating a digital text to be viewed by young children would use short, simple sentences the meaning of which can be clearly understood by a small child. In particular, including technical information in a digital text intended for a young audience would be ridiculous since the children’s language skills would still be fairly basic.

Out of all of the digital texts I have looked at recently my favourite would have to be The History of Jazz: An Interactive Timeline. I believe this app could be used as a learning resource in a several different educational contexts. Students of visual design could analyse the app as a particularly fine example of a digital text whereas students of music history could learn about the various genres of jazz whilst listening to the music from each particular genre. I’m imagining a professional educator starting a tutorial by introducing his or her students to a genre of jazz by opening The History of Jazz on his or her iPad and playing some of the YouTube videos whilst projecting what he or she is doing onto a large screen. This activity could then lead into a discussion about the history of that particular genre of jazz music.

I’ve been a digital convert for many years. I don’t remember when I bought my first Kindle but I guess it must have been around the same time I made my first purchase on the Amazon website which was in July 2010. Anyhow, since then I’ve bought and consumed a large number of digital texts from the Amazon website. In fact, according to Amazon, I’ve purchased 10 ebooks in just the past six months. I hate to think how much money I’ve spent buying digital texts over the last five years.

As a bit of a greenie, I decided to buy a Kindle because I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint. Instead of buying printed texts which are labour intensive I wanted to save the world by buying digital texts where possible. I must admit, I found changing over from print to digital very easy.


Alexander, B. (2011). The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. ABC-CLIO.

Amped, Inc. (2011). The History of Jazz: An Interactive Timeline (Version 2.1) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from

Gannes, L. (January 12, 2011). 955 Dreams Jazzes Up iPad With Interactive Music History App

HAAB Entertainment. (2014, March 24). SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure. Retrieved from

HAAB Entertainment. (2015). SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure (Version 1.6) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from

Push Pop Press. (2011). Al Gore – Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis (Version 1.0.4) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from

Leu, D.J. et al (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1), 5-14. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.55.1.1

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Yokota, J. & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 34(6). Retrieved from Making_Informed_Choices

INF533 • Assessment Item 2 • Part A

What do we mean by digital literature? Electronic literature (or digital literature) refers to literary works created exclusively on and for digital devices including computers, tablets and mobile phones. Digital literature includes a variety of genres such as linear e-narratives and hypermedia narratives. The advent of digital multimedia and Web 2.0 has had an enormous impact on digital storytelling and has lead to calls for literacy and literacy pedagogy to be redefined. Digital literature brings with it unique affordances which I would like to examine in more detail by reviewing three of my favourite exemplars, namely SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure, The History of Jazz: An Interactive Timeline and Al Gore – Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.

SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure

Developed by HAAB Entertainment, SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure is an award winning digital adaptation of The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, a short story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and featuring Sherlock Holmes, the world-famous consulting detective. Conan Doyle’s short story first appeared in The Strand Magazine in August 1891.

In the process of developing their digital story, I have no doubt that HAAB Entertainment would have thought long and hard about which particular platform would have best suited the story. In particular, every digital story can take advantage of the unique affordances of each digital platform it uses (Alexander, 2011).

SHERLOCK is an immersive, 3D storybook which undoubtedly sets the standard for this genre of digital literature. SHERLOCK is an absolute delight to use. The developers have gone to a lot of trouble to give their app a pseudo-Victorian, steampunk sensibility that is totally immersive. The developers have used shades of brown (or sepia) throughout the 30 pages of their app. As a result, instead of merely looking at an app on an iPad, you feel like you’re reading a dusty old book published long ago. Moreover, because of the look and feel of the app, it felt like I had gone back in time and that I was actually there seeing the story unfold.

The team of developers who created SHERLOCK have reimagined the experience of reading a book in a digital environment by giving the reader two different ways of ‘reading’ their ebook. On the one hand, in portrait mode, the reader can interact with the app as if it were a book: They can look at an illustration at the top of the screen then read the text underneath. On the other hand, in landscape mode, the app becomes an audiobook with the text disappearing and being replaced by a button which the reader can tap to have a narrator read the text (see Figure 1a & 1b).


Figure 1a: Page 9 viewed in Landscape Mode


Figure 1b: Page 9 viewed in Portrait Mode

There are lots of different ways in which you can customise the app. In Settings there are five languages to choose from, namely English, German, French, Russian and Spanish. There are sliders whereby you can adjust the volume of the music and sounds as well as adjust the size of the font. You can also turn hints on or off.

In Share, you can send an email to the developers, rate the app and email your friends a link to the app. As well as having its own Facebook page, HAAB Entertainment’s iPad app can also be found on other social media including Twitter and YouTube.

One of the wonderful things about SHERLOCK is that the developers have included game elements in the sense that rather than just reading about Sherlock Holmes you can be Sherlock Holmes. In particular, in search mode you can use a magnifying glass to look for clues and when you find one you can tap it to add it to your collection which you can view at any time. There’s also a dossier of information you can view at any time as well as a detailed interactive map of 19th century London where you can tap the names of some of the famous buildings and a pop-up will appear with more information about that particular monument (see Figure 2 below).


Figure 2: Dossier of Pablo de Sarasate

As a digital technology, the Apple iPad offers unique affordances that app developers would be well advised to take advantage of. The developers of SHERLOCK have done exactly that. The app includes many of the multitasking gestures the iPad is famous for including swipe left, swipe right, swipe top, swipe bottom, double tap, pinch in and pinch out.

In terms of possibly using this app in an educational context, this app is clearly not suitable for unsupervised minors. However, I see no reason why more mature students of History and English should miss out on the pleasure of viewing this app. I believe their students would be highly engaged by the immersive nature of the app as they discover the history of the city of London during the Victorian period.

Whilst I have enjoyed using SHERLOCK, like any technology, the main drawback is that Apple update their software from time to time. In other words, the developers have no choice but to update their app otherwise it may not work as intended once Apple have updated their iOS operating system. As an example, if and when Apple bring out a new version of the iPad, HAAB Entertainment will need to update the app or risk being out of date. In other words, if they don’t update their app, word will soon get out that it doesn’t work properly on the new iPad and people will simply stop buying their app.

The History of Jazz: An Interactive Timeline

Developed by Amped/955Dreams, The History of Jazz: An Interactive Timeline is a whimsical, animated iPad app that appeared in the Apple App Store in January 2011. The app has clearly been designed to take advantage of the unique affordances of the iPad in the sense that the developers have made a conscious decision to design their app such that it can only be viewed in landscape mode. As well as that, they have made good use of some of the more common gestures associated with the iPad including swipe left and swipe right.

The app includes a comprehensive ‘app tour’ that clearly indicates how to navigate your way around the app (see Figure 1 below). As well as that there’s a Settings page whereby you can do various things including email the developers as well as give the app a rating. However, the ‘rate this app’ link didn’t seem to be working properly. In particular, I tried the link a number of times over the course of several weeks and I always got the same error message telling me that I didn’t have an Internet connection when in fact I did.

The app’s navigation consists of a series of timeline bars at the bottom of the screen. As you tap a timeline bar a date range appears on the bar just tapped plus the bar moves up the screen and the timeline moves left or right to reveal the content relating to that particular period. Tapping the Genre View button causes the timeline bars to lie flat thereby revealing an interactive diagram of the different types of jazz music. Tapping an entry in the diagram causes that entry to become highlighted plus the timeline moves left or right to display the content you have selected (see Figure 2 below).

Each time period includes a short piece of information about the style of jazz music popular at that time with a link to more information via Wikipedia. There are also thumbnails of several YouTube videos plus a showcase of jazz ‘Legends’ from that particular period. Tapping the photo of a ‘Legend’ causes a larger block to drop down from the top of the screen (see Figure 3 below). Each of these blocks includes biographical information about the artist plus YouTube videos of their performances as well as a curated list of their essential songs and albums. A feature of the app is its in-app purchasing whereby you can purchase a piece of music by tapping the button labelled “$0.99 on iTunes” (see Figure 4 below). However, I tested this on a number of occasions but I couldn’t get it to work.

Figure 3: BeforeFigure 3: After

Figure 3: Before and After

The History of Jazz, Figure 4

Figure 4: In App Purchasing


The History of Jazz is a delightful, informative aural romp. There’s much to love about the app but there are also some things which detract from the user experience. Streaming media is always going to be an issue in a digital world and Amped’s app is no exception for it includes a large number of videos which are being streamed from YouTube.

On the one hand, if the developer had not gone with streaming media, they would have ended up with a very large app. Apart from the fact that the app would have taken up a lot of memory on an iPad, the app would have also taken a long time to open.

On the other hand, by going with streaming media, the developers have undoubtedly opened themselves up to link rot. A website may be restructured and/or redesigned such that any inbound hyperlinks may no longer work. Moreover, a hyperlink may be broken because of some form of blocking. As a result, a web link that worked yesterday may not work today.

Unfortunately, there’s already evidence of link rot with several videos being unavailable for one reason or another. Ultimately, this and other issues are likely to detract from the user experience.

At times, I found the navigation to be a bit lacking. For example, whilst reading a section on Donald Byrd I found a typo where the text refers to “his live shoes” instead of “his live shows”. Anyhow, later, when I went back to confirm the typo I couldn’t even find the section on Byrd. At this point I realised that, whilst navigating the app is a breeze if you already know about the history of jazz, it would be a totally different story if you were new to jazz and just had the name of an artist. The user experience would benefit from a Search button which newbies would be able to use to find information on specific artists whilst jazz buffs would probably never need it.

I could easily imagine a music teacher, a student of music, a music historian or a musician buying this app and getting many hours of aural enjoyment out of it. In particular, The History of Jazz would be a great resource for a music teacher who would undoubtedly be able to use it in class with his or her students.

Al Gore – Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

Developed by Push Pop Press, Al Gore – Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis consists of 18 chapters and includes photography, interactive graphics, animation and video as well as audio commentary by Al Gore himself. The app has a visual table of contents in the form of a horizontal film strip along the bottom of the screen. As you swipe left and right the content on the screen updates accordingly. If you see something on the main screen that looks interesting just tap it and the table of contents will disappear. To go back to the table of contents simply pinch inwards and the table of contents will reappear.

Each chapter is laid out like a book with the text in blocks across two columns. However, the text is broken up with other content including high quality images and videos. You can zoom in on an image at any time by tapping on it. By doing so, the image will then resize to fill up the screen. Tapping the image makes it go back to its original size and location. Some images appear to stand out from the rest of the screen in the sense that they go beyond the edges of the page. Tapping such images causes them to unfold thereby revealing the other half. For example, Chapter 1 includes a visual representation of the various sources of air pollution. When you first see this image it fills the righthand side of the screen. Tapping the image causes it to unfold such that it now fills up both sides of the screen (see Figure 1 below).

Our Choice has the look and feel of a glossy coffee table book with many of the images being of a high quality. Many of these images include some form of interactivity. As an example, some of the images have a globe icon in the bottom right of the screen. Tapping this icon causes a map of the world to appear with a labelled red pin showing you exactly where the photo was taken. Once you’ve finished looking at the map you can tap the X in the bottom right and be taken back to the image you were previously viewing.

Moreover, many pages include interactive infographics. These infographics are characterised by a hand symbol in the middle of the image. Tapping the image causes it to resize such that it fills the whole screen. You are now free to interact with the infographic as appropriate. For example, in Chapter 13, in a section on the proposed European and North African electric grid, after tapping the image so that it fills up the whole screen, and a highlight in the shape of a white circle shows you the available options in the bottom left of the screen. Pressing and holding your finger over those options causes the content on the screen to change accordingly. As well as that, there are several prompts one of which invites you to “Touch a country to learn more” (see Figure 2 below).

As an app, Our Choice is much less interactive than it could have been. It is functional and informative but it’s certainly not beautiful. I suspect this may have more to do with the perceived readership than anything else. The developers of Our Choice would have done their homework and would have known that there’s no real need for the app to be highly interactive. The subject matter is such that they’re not trying to entertain. They’re trying to take an emotive subject, namely climate change, and lay out the facts in the hope that by doing so they can perhaps provoke a response from the reader.

This app may not be as exciting as the other two apps. However, its subject matter is timely and I have no doubt that it would have broad appeal. Anyone with an interest in environmentalism, climate science, renewable energy or demographics would enjoy reading this app. In an educational setting, I can see Our Choice possibly being used in high schools as well as universities. In particular, in a high school, Our Choice could be used in a range of subjects including biology, chemistry and physics. Moreover, this app could also find a market with green groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace Australia Pacific and others.

I worry about the shelf life of an app like Our Choice. According to the App Store, this app hasn’t been updated since September 2013. The technology behind the science of climate science is evolving so rapidly that this and other apps like it are going to be out of date even before they’ve been developed let alone two years later. As a result, as a professional educator, I would be concerned about the veracity of the information contained therein and would be reluctant to use this app in an educational setting.


Alexander, B. (2011). The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. ABC-CLIO.

Amped, Inc. (2011). The History of Jazz: An Interactive Timeline (Version 2.1) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from

Gannes, L. (January 12, 2011). 955 Dreams Jazzes Up iPad With Interactive Music History App

HAAB Entertainment. (2014, March 24). SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure. Retrieved from

HAAB Entertainment. (2015). SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure (Version 1.6) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from

Leu, D.J. et al (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1), 5-14. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.55.1.1

Push Pop Press. (2011). Al Gore – Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis (Version 1.0.4) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Yokota, J. & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 34(6). Retrieved from Making_Informed_Choices

INF533 • Blog Task 1

eBook Readers Galore

I must confess, up until quite recently, I knew virtually nothing about digital literature environments. My limited experience was confined to the purchase of Kindle ebooks which I initially read on my Kindle but which I now prefer to read via the Kindle app on my iPad. Suffice to say, it wasn’t until I started this subject that I became aware of, and started to develop an understanding of, the different ways in which literature can exist in a digital environment. In particular, since the start of this subject, I have made a concerted effort to seek out some of the exemplars mentioned in the readings I have done over the last few weeks.

Thus far I have purchased several ebooks including Red Apple, Our Choice, Pedlar Lady and The War of the Worlds. On each occasion, after having made my purchases, I have found it useful to view each ebook whilst asking myself two important questions: “Is this ebook of a high quality? Does it represent quality literature?” In my opinion all of my purchases meet this criteria apart from one.

Walsh (2013) is concerned with the nature and quality of digital narratives and asserts that it is a complex issue to identify and classify what actually IS quality literature within all the digital variations available. By way of example, I would argue that The War of the Worlds ebook is somewhat lacking in quality.

The War of the Worlds has taken on many forms since being written by the English author H. G. Wells between 1895 and 1897. It was first published in a serialized form in 1897 in Pearson’s Magazine in the UK and Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. The following year it made its first appearance in book form being published by William Heinemann of London in 1898. Walsh (2013) distinguishes between literature that has been re-presented in digital forms, digital narratives created solely in digital form and the future of hybrid texts and genres.

The War of the Worlds is an example of traditional literature which has been re-presented in a digital format. Version 1.0 of The War of the Worlds ebook appeared in the Apple app store on 2 October 2010 and was quickly followed by version 1.1 on 16 December 2010 and the most recent version, 1.2, on 21 October 2011. The War of the Worlds is an early example of literature which has been re-presented in a digital format but which has not been done so successfully. I must admit, I was left somewhat underwhelmed by The War of the Worlds iPad app since I felt that it didn’t really take advantage of the affordances offered by a digital environment.

Obviously, a digital narrative need not include all of the features on Walsh’s list to be able to qualify as a digital narrative. However, one would hope to see many of these features in a quality example of the genre. Having said that, some of these features are quite clearly missing from The War of the Worlds. For example, using Walsh (2013) as my guide, The War of the Worlds ebook is still very much a linear progression of the story. The viewer/reader is required to read text on a page followed by text on the next page and so on and so forth. As well as that there are very few interactive features.

The Yokota & Teale (2014) reading was particularly enlightening in that as well as naming and then describing a number of examples of popular interactive ebooks Yokota & Teale (2014) outline some of the common pitfalls associated with digital narratives. For example, they state that one of the problems they have seen is where text is overlaid on an illustration in such a way that it obscures a part of the illustration important to meaning-making on that screen or page.



Leu, D.J. et al (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1), 5-14. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.55.1.1

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Yokota, J. & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 34(6). Retrieved from Making_Informed_Choices

What Has INF541 Taught Me About Myself, Games And Game-Based Learning?

When chickens attack

‘When chickens attack’ by Dan Jones available at under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

This subject has been a real eye opener for me. I used to do a lot of gaming about twenty years ago and at one point for a period of about 6 months to a year became quite obsessed with it. Last year I had the pleasure of reading Jane McGonigal’s fabulous book Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world.

As an ex-gamer, much of McGonigal’s (2010) book made perfect sense to me. When McGonigal described the feeling of fiero gamers sometimes experience I knew exactly what she meant because I had experienced an emotional high two or three times whilst playing computer games in the 1990s.

On one particular occasion when I had won a cultural victory after playing a very long game as the Egyptians in Civilization. This particular game seemed to go on forever but it culminated in my achieving a cultural victory over the other six or seven civilizations. I can distinctly remember being very excited and feeling like I wanted everyone to know about my achievement.

Like Gee (2004) who made a conscious decision to play online games in order to be authentic, I fervently believe that no-one can really write about games and gaming unless and until they’ve actually done it. Afterall, how can someone convincingly write about World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto if they’ve never played it? Anyhow, up until last year, I had barely played any computer games other than the occasional short game of Civilization which I still had on my computer but which had lost much of its shine.

As a direct result of this subject (INF541), as well as playing some cool games including Ingress, Plague Inc, Fate of the World and World of Warcraft, I have been exposed to some of the theories of learning that intersect with game-based learning including social constructionism. In fact, I can honestly say that I witnessed social constructionism first hand when I researched and subsequently played World of Warcraft. What an amazing game.

The thing I liked most about this subject is that it has given me permission to play games again. Not only that but it has given me permission to feel good about doing so. Up until recently, like many others my age (over 50 and proud of it), I would have felt guilty about wasting my time when I could have been doing something more productive.

This subject has actually helped to change my mind about game-based learning. In the past, like many educators I had never really given much thought to the implications of playing games in the classroom. Having played several different games over the last 10 weeks or so I am convinced that there’s definitely a place for game-based learning in education. It has saved me from myself. It has reawakened my interest in playing games.

But its not just the young who can benefit from playing video games. I’ve seen a few journal articles recently which state that video games boost the brain power of the elderly and make them feel better about themselves in general. I fully intend to do whatever I can to safeguard cognition in my later years and I honestly believe that I will still be playing games for medicinal purposes and otherwise. How about you?



McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. Penguin.

How can games help us to develop a more socially inclusive classroom?

In his Good video games and good learning Gee (2005) identifies a total of 16 learning principles that are incorporated into good games. In outlining his Risk Taking principle Gee states that players are encouraged to take risks, explore, and try new things (p. 35). Deyenberg (2013) states that video games are a viable option to explore for students with physical disabilities, allowing them the opportunity to move and explore in a virtual world that which they cannot in the physical world (p. 11).

There are several perceived affordances in the design of educational games. Traditionally, people with disabilities have not always been able to access the learning they need when they need it. Educational games have largely overcome that problem by providing a range of options whereby a player with a physical disability can interact with a game without having to use a joystick, a mouse or even a keyboard. In other words, depending upon the game they are playing, they can play the game by using voice commands and/or gestures. Similarly, a player with a mild cognitive disability such as Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may become highly motivated and engaged when playing a well designed educational game.

As well as that, according to Gee’s list of learning principles, players experience a sense of agency or control when playing games. In game-based learning environments, the player can customise many aspects of the game to fit their learning and playing styles (p. 35). This affordance means that whereas previously, learners had no input into their own learning, with the advent of educational games, players now have much more control. As an example, at the start of Civilization V: Brave New World a player will first need to decide whether to play the game as a single player or a multiplayer. After that, if they’ve chosen to play as a single player then they have the option of customising their experience of the game by selecting from a range of setup options including civilization, map size, and difficulty level. Once play is underway, the player will typically work towards a goal, choosing actions and experiencing the consequences of those actions along the way.

Gee (2005) outlines his learning principle of performance before competence and states that players can perform before they are competent, supported by the design of the game (p. 37). In other words, in a game, a player is free to make mistakes without fear of being judged and/or ridiculed. He or she can play the same level over and over until they finally gain the competence they need to level up. Conversely, in an educational setting, learners are rarely encouraged to gain competence in this way. They are normally tasked with gaining competence by reading texts. They’re not allowed to just experiment until they get it right. They have to do the prescribed reading so that, when given the order to do so, they can get it right on their first attempt.

In summary, educational games are a powerful tool to be used by the teacher to create a more socially inclusive classroom since they provide a safe environment for repeated practice without a sense of failure.



Deyenberg, J. (2013). Video games in an inclusive learning environment. Retrieved from

Gee, J. P. (2005). Good video games and good learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37.

Digital games are most definitely still being overlooked in ‘digital education’ reform


I’ve been working in higher education for many years and I can honestly say that I don’t recall ever having encountered any form of game-based learning. Several years ago, as a challenge to myself, I created a guided, digital crossword puzzle but that was predicated on the students already knowing the answers. In other words, it didn’t involve the students learning by doing or learning from doing. In order to complete the puzzle, the students simply needed to know the answer to the question or the missing word.

As a professional educator, I’ve been hearing about game-based learning for some years. The 2011 Higher Ed Edition of the annual NMC Horizon Report predicted that game-based learning would gain widespread usage within two to three years, however that hasn’t really eventuated. I suspect there has been piecemeal takeup in secondary education but I’m struggling to think of a credible example of game-based learning in higher education that I’ve heard about through my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

In 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Jeffrey Brand from Bond University. Professor Brand has developed a career exploring the cognitive and behavioural effects of electronic media on young audiences and has been known to hold classes in Minecraft.

As highlighted by Josh Jennings in his excellent article titled Teachers re-evaluate value of video games, in Australia at least, there are distinct barriers to the widespread adoption of game-based learning. In particular, there’s a definite cultural barrier in the sense that many educators still think of playing games as time-wasting. In their view, students don’t play games to learn. They play games to avoid doing what they should be doing which is their homework.

Having read Jane McGonigal’s provocative book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, I’m convinced there’s a place for game-based learning in higher education. I’m just not sure what that place will look like. Plus I think the jury is still out on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of game-based learning as an instructional strategy to engage students in higher education. As per the article, I think we need more longitudinal studies on the subject.

In fact, apart from the fact that I’m keen to learn more about game-based learning, my main reason for doing this particular subject is that I hope to be able to influence my peers both now and in the future to seriously consider game-based learning as a legitimate, sustainable instructional strategy.

For game-based learning to have any chance of succeeding we need to encourage innovative teaching practice. We need educators who are prepared to take risks both face-to-face and online in the hope that by doing so they will be able to engage their students and improve student outcomes.


Jennings, J. (2014, November 30). Teachers re-evaluate value of video games. In The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. Penguin.