Saturday, February 25, 2006

"Neverwinter Nights" in the classroom: UMNnews: U of M. 

"Neverwinter Nights" in the classroom: UMNnews: U of M.: "NWN has another, very important feature: it is sold along with a game-building toolset that allows users to modify the game, and BioWare encourages players to design their own versions of NWN using 'tilesets'-groups of images-which are available legally and online in databases set up by NWN fans around the world. This element of the game is what allowed Hansen and Paul to modify the software for the pedagogical needs of the 3004 course: they replaced the medieval world of Forgotten Realms with the modern world of a small American city called Harperville, and transformed the rogues, wizards, and barbarians into news editors, reporters, and other modern characters.

In the modified game, the student plays the role of a rookie reporter at the Harperville Gazette. A train has derailed in town and spilled its load of anhydrous ammonia, and the rookie reporter is assigned to write a context piece to help Gazette readers understand the implications of the accident. In the game, the reporter talks to the paper's editor about a good angle for the story, such as the health effects of the ammonia, the potential environmental effects, the public safety aspects of the wreck, or issues of railroad safety, for example. Once players choose their story angle, they are free to go anywhere in the newsroom and anywhere in the city of Harperville to research the story.

Players have many options for researching their stories. Hansen and Paul--with the technical help of Matt Taylor, an interactivity developer for Allen Interactions--filled the game's 'news library' with hundreds of pages of documents and sources from online sites, and populated Harperville with dozens of characters who can be interviewed by the rookie reporter, including hospital employees, railroad executives and workers, city hall and emergency management personnel, university experts, and business people. As students move through the information-seeking process, they take notes in a reporter's notebook within the game. They then 'file' their story, get a printout of their reporter's notebook, and write a 1,000-word news story with the information they've gathered. As the class instructor, Hansen has access to the log of each student's movements through the game; students must also turn in their reporter's notebook and their stories so she can see the type of notes taken by each student, and how those notes were used in generating each story."

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