March 22-25, 2006
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sessions: Abstract

Interactive Educational Storytelling: The Use of Virtual Characters to Generate Teachable Moments

Matthew Fisher, Night Kitchen Interactive, USA
Juan Leon, Night Kitchen Interactive, USA

Virtual characters developed in rich-media play increasingly valuable and conspicuous roles in educational games and courseware, but they can be detrimental to the instructional value of these materials when used inappropriately. The guidelines presented here draw upon learning theory, cognitive psychology, studies in human-computer interaction, and narrative theory to provide a framework for placing virtual characters in the optimal "teachable moments". Our work with the National Constitution Center in the development of the on-line interactive exhibit, Abraham Lincoln's Crossroads serves as the case study in light of which we have developed these guidelines. We focus on the human-like value of a virtual mentor in courses modeled on "cognitive apprenticeship", describing the three principal roles played by the mentor. We then explore the social psychology behind the high engagement these characters offer, the instructional events an educational game must provide, and the structure of a typical story line. We describe the elements — including interactivity — that must be added to stories to make them more fully educational and identify the parts of a story in which the characters can best present facts, concepts, processes, procedures, or principles. We conclude by noting ways in which today's understanding of narrative comprehension demands careful attention to graphic illustration in stories and by presenting the reader with a straightforward process for aligning story genre, story events, and virtual character placement with the educator's learning objectives.

Session: Education on the Web [Education]

Keywords: digital storytelling, interactive exhibit, educational game, virtual character, rich-media, instructional design, cognitive apprenticeship, cognitive psychology