Why aren’t they doing anything?

Ever been to an animal park and there’s one inmate pacing back and forth, while the rest lie somewhere out the back waiting for lunch?

According to a great post by Steve Wheeler, it’s called Social Loafing. He presents a great view of participation.

He quotes “the more people there are within a group, the less effort each will put into performing a given task.”

There are other descriptions too; the long tail of the internet; the power distribution curve etc., The point being that the presence of technology does not in itself promote deeper learning.

What can games teach us about loafing and lurking?

When I compare Steve’s contexts to virtual worlds and MMORPGs, the idea of lurking and loafing plays out very differently.

You can easily stand around Stormwind City in Warcraft and chat for endless hours; as the purpose of that City is to allow players to interact away from questing and the action. It’s a purposely designed social-hub.

When players are in a group to undertake a raid however, the is not doubt what is expected. There are no game rules against slacking off (apart from a non player character killing you). But among players, loafing doesn’t happen (for long) . The loafer is simply kicked from the group.

More importantly, from the first minutes into the game, you are always working harder; but not so hard that the task is impossible. This is called Leveling. You can try to do harder things, but soon learn that isn’t effective. You also learn that one strategy is also ineffective; and no one is going to win – without others supporting them. Even that is a learned skill, as joining a group is not controlled by the game, but the players. You might choose the ‘wrong’ group or the simply don’t ‘want’ your kind.

These are socially developed rules; the game itself neither polices or enforces them.It provides the framework that encourages it.

This kind of social-rule development, negotiation often don’t exist in student wikis, blogs etc. In most ICT instances, the rules are explicit – or made by one person, the teacher – while gamers study a negotiated curriculum based on just in time need, and collective understanding.

Most students understand typewriters; and Uni will stick them in the obligatory Learning Management System, so they learn about that too. But a wiki? where would that understanding come from? Most have USED Wikipedia, few have authored it.

There are a range of factors inside gaming that promote positive participation with others and the material: committed meaning; social competence; affinity in groups etc.

Semiotics too contributes to the way people perform, respond and react to highly visual and audible signs and signals of the worlds games take place in. They have particular protocols and norms in which linguistics are applied to communication itself.

It is quite normal to see a Death Knight cast a blue skull spell over their head, with audible clap, the text line will probably read “DPS kk r?”; the other players will respond to the call to action.

Of course you don’t get any of those clues in a wiki update, and even in the game, it is meaningless to lower level players.

Teachers can apply rules, deadlines and expectations; the effect of being authoritarian is short lived, as people will stop doing it once the pressure is removed.

In virtual worlds however; there are no lurkers in the same sense.

Users/Residents/Players have to be engaged simply by entering the space. Good games are simply too engaging to bother lurking or loafing. Paul Gee in his paper “Good Video Games and Good Learning” [pdf] talks about some valuable characteristics and principals that can be considered when deterring loafing.

Collis and Moonen (2002) identified, “An individual’s likelihood of voluntarily making use of a particular type of technology for a learning-related purpose is a function of four ‘E’s: the environmental context, the  individual’s perception of educational effectiveness and of ease of use, and the individual’s sense of personal engagement with the technology’.

Motivation in games comes from sustained feedback and active involvement, in a ways that meet the four ‘E’s – without the obvious ‘wrapper’ that you’ll find in a content-centric LMS which often perpecutates learning methods that facilitate lurking as Steve says – all be it digitally.

Virtual worlds offer a different proposition.

Angela Thomas is well known for her work in identity and immersive learning. Virtual Macbeth’ being just one example where students are so immersed in their learning that the lurk-o-meter get’s the day off.

Just take a look at the the visual impact; the expectation that it creates in the first seconds as the page loads. It is something that you want to experience; not just study.

Let’s be really clear: Learning with Office is actually okay – if what you want is typed up notes and essays. It doesn’t teach anything valuable, but makes it easier to mark. A wiki, with no explicit motivator is just another typewriter.

Steve says in his post “Asking each group member to perform a slightly different task will increase their perceptions of being ‘back in the spotlight’ and cause them to increase effort.”

Good game designers know that; and so do the players. It is an understood requirement of participation. That isn’t the case in the classroom. Group work is often so poorly designed, lurking and loafing make real options for students to stick at the surface level of learning.

Steve also refers to “often quiet classroom students avoid writing online as they fear criticism”. Risk is daunting; hight stakes testing and assessment is paramount to students; and few want to take risks. Most want to know exactly how to get the marks and exactly what YOU want – not what THEY want to learn. Failure is not an option; we learn that by middle school, when we stop playing.

Paul Gee says that “risk taking is encouraged in games; as they have low consequences if they fail” and that “in fact it’s a good thing”.

Think about this from a student’s perspective. Not too long ago; they are typing away and handing in paper and getting marks. Now they are in a fish-bowl of a comment-fest or worse — spaces where the teaching strategy offers no real change — task … work … assessment … feedback.

If students smell risk or feel confusion “why are we doing this?”, “does it matter” , “is it on the test” etc., then you’d better put new batteries in the loaf-o-meter.

Thanks to Steve; got me thinking about games again.

Ref: Collis, B., & Moonen, J. (2002). Flexible learning in a digital world. Open Learning, 17(3), 217-230.

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5 thoughts on “Why aren’t they doing anything?

    • Thanks for your commentary Dean, and I agree with you – I can see how games playing and in particular MMORPGS would play out differently to participation in online discussion or wikis. I would guess it’s different levels of engagement because of different kinds of motivation.

    • Kicking; to me in a social media context is the action of noticing, making sense then meaning from something – then sharing that with others in a way they can engage with. I’m not a fan of list posts — in order to boost blog hits, but those that kick good ideas and information, to me, are usually thinking quite deeply about it; rather than recounting or just adding a commentary. In that regard, the kick can be by anyone. Mal Burns for example; is a great kicker for Second Life. On Facebook; there are numerous students who kick great information to peer groups … is that what you mean?

  1. Pingback: Educational Blogs (Post # 2) | Barc's Corner

  2. This topic amazes me as I have absolutely no appreciation of gaming and its social dynamics. I often find myself blaming the gaming for any number of deficiencies I see in students’ ability to be ‘successful’ in school. I am slowly altering my perspective; in part, due to the following TED talk by Jane McGonigal:

    Maybe I’m at the join ’em phase?

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