Citekey: @cheung2008

Cheung, K. K. F., Jong, M. S. Y., Lee, F. L., Lee, J. H. M., Luk, E. T. H., Shang, J., & Wong, M. K. H. (2008). FARMTASIA: an online game-based learning environment based on the VISOLE pedagogy. Virtual Reality, 12(1), 17–25. doi:10.1007/s10055-008-0084-z


Virtual interactive student-oriented learning environment (VISOLE) is a game-based constructivist pedagogical approach that encompasses the creation of an online interactive world modeled upon a set of interdisciplinary domains, in which students participate as ‘‘citizens’’ to take part cooperatively and competitively in shaping the development of the virtual world as a means to construct their knowledge and skills. (p. 1)

FARMTASIA is the first online game designed using the VISOLE philosophy, encompassing the subject areas of biology, government, economics, technology, production system and natural environment. (p. 1)

According to our exploratory educational study, we show evidentially that positive perceptions and an advancement of subjectspecific and interdisciplinary knowledge appeared among the students who participated in VISOLE learning with FARMTASIA (p. 1)

Briefly speaking, the VISOLE approach encompasses the creation of an online interactive world modeled upon a set of interdisciplinary domains, in which students participate as ‘‘citizens’’ to take part in shaping the development of this virtual world. With teachers’ facilitation (scaffolding and (p. 1)

debriefing) and a sophisticated multi-learner game-play simulation context, the students are empowered to cooperatively and competitively learn from their near real-life experiences in the virtual world (the game), and finally construct knowledge and skills by their own. (p. 2)

Distinguished features of FARMTASIA include realistic simulation models developed with the help of subject domain experts, mini-games, interaction among players, virtual synchronization of asynchronous game play, and full logging of user behavior to facilitate case studies and analyses sessions. (p. 2)

2 A closer look on VISOLE (p. 2)

VISOLE is a three-phase pedagogical approach with a combination of Multi-disciplinary Scaffolding (Phase 1), Online Game-based Learning (Phase 2) and Just-in-time and Summative Debriefing (Phase 3). (p. 2)

Part of Phase 3 interleaves with activities in Phase 2. In this phase, the teacher(s) closely monitor the progress of the students’ development of the virtual world in the backend, and look for and try to act on ‘‘debriefable’’ moments to ‘‘lift’’ the students out of particular situations in the game and empower them to reflect and generalize their gained knowledge and skills, that is, to transform their game-play experiences into learning experiences. (p. 2)

‘‘Wise Genie’’, one of the game characters who will occasionally appear in the virtual world to give some advice or hints (p. 3)

In this game, every student (hereafter interchangeable with the term ‘‘player’’) acts as a ‘‘farm manager’’ to individually run a farm, which is composed of a cropland, an orchard as well as a rangeland. Each of them competes for financial gain and reputation with other three ‘‘farm managers’’ (players) who are also at the same time running their own farm somewhere nearby in the virtual world (p. 3)

The design of FARMTASIA follows three vital principles. The first one is to make the game as realistic as possible so that players can learn in a near-real life environment that enables situated learning (Lave and Wenger 1991) to occur. The second one is to inject challenge, curiosity, control, fantasy, competition, cooperation and recognition elements to arouse the players’ intrinsic motivation (Malone 1980) so that they will go on to constructively learn and acquire various knowledge and skills with the game. The third one is to make easy for teacher(s) to conduct various VISOLE facilitation tasks. (p. 3)

Throughout the game-play period (around 2 weeks), the players have to formulate various investment and operational strategies to output both high quality and quantity farm products to the market in order to make money. Nevertheless, the richest may not be the final winner, as the final reputation of the players in the virtual world, governed by good public policies, is also a vital and critical judging criterion, which is determined upon their practices on sustainable development and environmental protection. (p. 3)

3.1 Special game-play design and features in FARMTASIA (p. 3)

dilemmas (p. 3)

3.1.1 Scientific models (p. 3)

The geographical model is in charge of four-seasoned climate, which alternates temperature, rainfall, wind-speed and humidity against a year in the virtual world (see Fig. 3). (p. 3)

always keep an eye on the context (temperature and rainfall etc.) in the virtual world in order to make just-in-time actions (p. 3)

both botanical and biological models are adopted in simulating how the crops and livestock evolve in the game (p. 3)

sudden events will randomly happen in the virtual world (p. 4)

an economic model is also adopted to deal with the exchange of toils, farm products and revenues in the game. (p. 4)

3.1.3 Mini-games (p. 5)

The mini-games serve for two main purposes. The first one is to make FARMTASIA to be more fun, pleasurable and challenging; the second one is that the players’ performance in the mini-games will contribute to how well the relevant activities are carried out in their own farm. (p. 5)

3.1.4 Game-play control (p. 5)

Simplicity (p. 5)

Mini-games are competitive in nature, in which players compete for better scores. (p. 5)

3.2 Teacher console in FARMTASIA (p. 5)

the VISOLE teacher can view the proceedings of each student in the virtual world by making use of the teacher console which re-transforms the gameplay logging stored in the game server into students’ gameplay histories and presents them in Gantt chart format, see Fig. 8a. By clicking on the ‘‘blocks’’ appeared in the Gantt chart, the teacher can entirely replay all students’ actions in the game even in the form of ‘‘video’’ playback, see Fig. 8b. (p. 6)

5 An exploratory study on FARMTASIA (p. 7)

5.1 Students’ subject-specific and interdisciplinary knowledge (p. 8)

5.2 Students’ perceptions (p. 8)

students were generally positive towards this game. (p. 8)

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Bodong Chen, University of Minnesota

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