an international learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9-16, in educational tasks. Quest Atlantis (QA) combines strategies used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. It allows users to travel to virtual places to perform educational activities (known as Quests), talk with other users and mentors, and build virtual personae. The project is intended to engage children ages 9–16 in a form of transformational play comprising both online and off-line learning activities, with a storyline inspiring a disposition towards social action. Explore our site and learn more about this exciting project.
Over the last ten years, more than 100,000 children on six continents have participated in the project. We have demonstrated learning gains in science, language arts, and social studies, and students have completed over 200,000 Quests, some of which were assigned by teachers and many of which were chosen by students to complete in their free time. Equally important have been reported personal experiences, with teachers and students reporting increased levels of engagement and interest in pursuing the curricular issues outside of school. Students and teachers conduct rich inquiry-based explorations through which they learn particular standards-based content, and at the same time develop pro-social attitudes regarding significant environmental and social issues.
Rather than just placing work and play side-by-side, QA strives to make learning fun and to show kids how they can make a difference. At the core of student activity with QA is the completion of Quests. A Quest is an engaging curricular task designed to be educational and entertaining. In completing Quests, students are required to participate in simulated and real world activities that are socially and academically meaningful, such as environmental studies, researching other cultures, interviewing community members, and developing action plans. Through these activities, we hope that children will not only learn to use technology, but will also develop standards-based academic and communication skills as well.
All of the academic activities are embedded in a secure online gaming context where children explore our 3D virtual environment, “chat” online with other students and teachers using QA, and take part in the story of Atlantis – a complex civilization on a faraway planet that is similar to our own and in need of help. Building on strategies from online role-playing games, QA combines features used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. More than just a game, Quest Atlantis offers weblogs (or “blogs”) written by Atlantians, novels, comic books, cards, and a host of social opportunities. QA is about community.
We should note that a professional development course is mandatory for all new Quest Atlantis teachers. While there has been very high demand by interested teachers and schools, the technology is complex and requires committed teachers. One of the early challenges with scaling our project has been supporting teachers around the globe in effectively using such a technologically-advanced and pedagogically challenging curriculum. We believe our online professional development module allows teachers to effectively integrate this innovative curriculum into their classrooms. Through our QA-PD we familiarize teachers the technology and wide range of opportunities in QA, as well as with the inquiry-based pedagogical approaches which are most likely to lead to successful, exciting implementation. Rather than being prescriptive, we see our PD as a learning opportunity which gives teachers the tools to get the most out of a very flexible, fun curriculum.
We are hopeful that the Quest Atlantis Project has captured your interest. We think that QA offers an innovative, academically sound, and highly motivating curriculum.
The Quest Atlantis Team
It is generally accepted by educators that learners should participate in domain-related activities, not simply receive the results of someone else’s activities as summarized in tests or as heard in lectures. Underlying the development of learning tasks,
unit plans, and the experience of Quest Atlantis more generally is a participatory framework that emphasizes action and reflection as central components to the learning process. This notion of an active learner engaged in real-world activities is central
to the child-centered, experientially-focused, and inquiry-based learning environments promoted in academic research, and is consistent with current frameworks and plans for educational reform.
In Quest Atlantis, there are a number of ways in which students (Questers) can participate, in which these ideas are integrated, but three structures are most evident: Quests, Missions, and Units.
Quests are curricular tasks that serve as important scaffolds to virtual and real-world explorations, to ensure effective content learning. Each Quest is connected both to academic standards and to our Social Commitments.
Missions are collections of multiple learning opportunities and tasks interrelated through some general problem and narrative. While some Missions are entirely voluntary and are open to all Remixers, others include Quests or classroom activities and must be activated by teachers.
Units offer teachers an organized lesson plan of real-world and virtual activities that help to explore a particular content area. Each unit is designed to provide a meaningful learning experience that is engaging and educational, and that concerns real-world issues.
Quest Atlantis provides students entire worlds in which they are central, important participants; places where their actions have significant impact on the world, and in which what one knows is directly related to what they are able to do and, ultimately, who they can become.
Quest Atlantis consists of dozens of worlds that communicate an overriding message or theme to members who visit them. Many worlds have villages that address different aspects of the world’s theme, and they do this through the dozens of Quests encountered in the village. A Quest lives inside of a village and is an exercise or activity that students (Remixers) complete either in the virtual space or in the real world that allows them to investigate their world based on the village in which they are questing. All Quests are associated with academic standards.
Because we serve centers located in many different states and nations, our Quests are associated with the McREL Content Knowledge Standards. In some cases, we have also aligned content with specific state standards in New Jersey and North Carolina, based on contractual agreements. Quests are not only associated with these educational standards but also with our social commitments. This allows students to understand both the concept explored in the Quest and the impact this knowledge has upon their community or their world. In addition to Quests and Missions,
Units allow for mutiple-week lesson plans on various themes.
Quest Atlantis also promotes computer literacy and the sophisticated use of online media. Students create online portfolios that easily organize student work and teacher feedback. A computer-based Teacher Toolkit allows teachers to browse, assign, and review Quests. Students are self-motivated to learn academic content. Teachers can collaborate with classrooms from other schools and countries.
“I’m teaching a class to future teachers at the community college, and we focus on all the modern techniques like ‘learning by doing’ and situated learning, but this is the first time I have ever found a way to practice what I preach!”
Benefits for Classrooms
Designed to be more than just another CD-ROM or video game, Quest Atlantis uses a creative mix of online and away-from-computer activities that students, or Questers, complete alone or in groups to promote learning and growth. Below are a few of the benefits QA provides teachers and students.
Benefits for Teachers:
Quests are associated with educational standards as well as social commitments
Multiple-week lesson plans on various themes are provided
QA promotes computer literacy and the sophisticated use of online media
Students create online portfolios that easily organize student work and teacher feedback
A computer-based Teacher Toolkit allows teachers to browse, assign and review Quests
Students are self-motivated to learn academic content
Teachers can collaborate with classrooms from other schools and countries
Benefits for students:
QA provides students with opportunities for collaboration through Co-Questing, bulletin boards, blogs, and other group activities
Children have the opportunity to interact with users from around the world in a protected virtual environment
Students are motivated to progress in social skills, social commitments, and academics through completion of specific Quest clusters
Children can access their work from any computer with Internet access
Students develop online personae by way of avatar customization and personal homepages
The structure of many K-12 classrooms limits opportunities for students to engage meaningfully with information, thus positioning students as mere recorders of content rather than critical consumers and producers. Students are too often asked to reproduce procedures rather than leverage procedures to solve new problems because traditional structures of schooling and ideas about learning position textbooks as authorities, and students as recipients of knowledge created by others. Students have opportunities to remember, but not understand; to apply, but not create. This is a troubling reality, especially for students disenfranchised from classroom structures focused on compliance without rationale (D’Amato, 1992; Ladson-Billings, 1997; Lareau, 2003). Through developing mathematics and science curricula that create critical academic play spaces (Barab, Sadler, Heiselt, Hickey, & Zuiker, 2007), we seek to foster dispositions towards learning that capitalize on disciplinary knowledge as tools for solving meaningful problems.
The goal of this project is to foster dispositions that will inspire productive participation in the 21st century. By disposition, we refer to ways of being in the world that involve ideas about, perspectives on, and engagement with information (Gresalfi & Cobb, 2006). As Thomas and Brown (2006) note, dispositions involve “attitudes or comportment toward the world, generated through a set of practices which can be seen to be interconnected in a general way…. Dispositions are not descriptions of events of practices, they are the underlying mechanisms that engender those events or practices.” In short, we refer not only to what one knows but how they know it; not the skills one has acquired, but how they leverage those skills.
Objectivist models of learning posit that knowledge precedes application, which precedes dispositions. In contrast, we believe that knowing emerges through application and that dispositions derive from meaningful participation in situations where content has value (Barab & Roth, 2006). We suggest that the development and refinement of dispositions involves: (1) adopting disposition-relevant goals, (2) becoming knowledgeably skillful to achieve those goals, (3) attuning to the affordances of situations in which that knowledge is useful, and (4) adapting understanding through participation across myriad contexts. Although disposition can describe many orientations towards learning and content, we seek to foster dispositions that involve seeing oneself as an active problem solver who draws on disciplinary conent to represent situations and make informed decisions.
We view games as particularly well suited to establish “worlds” in which students can engage and adopt dispositions in response to the game dynamics. If, for example, students work collectively to analyze a water quality problem through using data collected in a virtual park, they also learn to address particular environmental problems by using to data to support claims. We also support teachers to develop dispositions to foster student agency and situational accountability. Such a disposition involves focusing on student thinking as a resource for instructional decisions; monitoring student ideas rather than answers; and supporting student learning relevant to their current activity (just-in-time teaching). Engaging this disposition requires that teachers connect deeply with content and develop pedagogical practices to empower students as independent problem solvers.
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