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Teaching with Technology: Using Interactive Fiction to Teach English Students


INST 7870: Instructional Games is a class composed of graduate students in Instructional Technology. The students explore the field of instructional gaming through a survey of readings, existing products, and those in development.  The class considers:

  • What is the emerging nature of this field?
  • What are the elements of an effective game? 
  • What makes for “good” instructional design within a gaming environment? 

A large portion of the class is dedicated to the examination of current research.  In-class activity centers on discussing assigned readings and other topics.  Out-of-class activity includes playing related games, and designing and creating an instructional game in small groups.

Research Project Overview

This class is unique in many ways, the most prominent is that students learn how to create new media resources for education. As Gee noted, “When people learn to play video games, they are learning a new literacy” (2003, p. 16). In this course students must develop an instructional game where all game elements are integrated with stated learning objectives. This theory of "alignment" is both a design requirement and guideline for the design and development of the game. We will use a design experiment approach to study how students follow this theory, how it manifests itself in the IF game, and the process of how instructional designers build an educational game around specific theory.

Designing an Appropriate Curriculum

A section of results will reveal outcomes of the teaching effort by highlighting pitfalls that students encountered, time constraints of the effort, and project results.  A list of research and readings attempts to span the spectrum of learning theory, game theory, and instructional game research that includes Aldrich, Crawford, Gee, Wolf, Kirriemuir, Koster, Miller, Squire and many others (a full list is available at Brett Shelton's Instructional Games Class website).

The Case for the Class: Designing and Creating Interactive Fiction

One of the major assignments for this class is the design and partial creation of an instructional game based on Edgar Lee Masters’ work Spoon River Anthology using the medium of interactive fiction (IF).  Students experience the medium of IF through play and critical analysis (Zork, Montfort and Granade works, among others) then dive into an unfamiliar computer language in order to transform a classic text into something new.  The result is a new media text aimed at helping 9th grade English students experience and analyze a piece of literature in a way that is both traditional (reading comprehension, poetry, literary devices) and non-traditional (computer language, confidence and self-esteem, problem solving).

Go to the Voices of Spoon River page to download the game and learn more about it.

Implementing a New Media Pedagogy in Instructional Technology

Students in the class theorize about and design instructional games. The class project is aimed at designing a work of IF to teach a classic book for use in high school English classrooms.  Findings of the design experiment expand on how instructional technology designers need to become mini-experts in various subjects, and will share successes and pitfalls of the students in the class.  We will discuss the challenges faced with implementing a new media pedagogy on a personal and departmental level. All will be centered through rich description of the IF project, portions of the game they develop available to be shared on CD.


     VOSR Project Links

  1. Design/Developement of Instructional Games
  2. Voices of Spoon River Interactive Fiction Text Game
  3. VOSR 3D

Research Team

  • Brett Shelton, PhD – Principle Investigator
  • Jon Scoresby – Research Assistant

  • Computers in the CLE lab
  • Inform interpreter and compiler


We are currently in the data analysis phase of this research.

new media

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