Making learning fun: Quest Atlantis, a game without guns

  • Sasha Barab
  • Michael Thomas
  • Tyler Dodge
  • Robert Carteaux
  • Hakan Tuzun


This article describes the Quest Atlantis (QA) project, a learning and teaching project that employs a multiuser, virtual environment to immerse children, ages 9–12, in educational tasks. QA combines strategies used in commercial gaming environments with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. It allows users at participating elementary schools and after-school centers to travel through virtual spaces to perform educational activities, talk with other users and mentors, and build virtual personae. Our work has involved an agenda and process that may be called socially-responsive design, which involves building sociotechnical structures that engage with and potentially transform individuals and their contexts of participation. This work sits at the intersection of education, entertainment, and social commitment and suggests an expansive focus for instructional designers. The focus is on engaging classroom culture and relevant aspects of student life to inspire participation consistent with social commitments and educational goals interpreted locally.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993).Benchmarks for science literacy. NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Axelsson, A., & Regan, T. (2002, January 29). How belonging to an online group affects social behavior: A case study of Asheron's Call. [Homepage of The Microsoft Research Publications]. Retrieved May 2, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://research SR-TR-2002-07.Google Scholar
  3. Barab, S. A., Dodge, T., Jackson, C., & Arici, A. (2003). Technical report on Quest Atlantis, Volume I, Bloomington NI,Center for Research on Learning and Technology.Google Scholar
  4. Barab, S. A., & Duffy, T. (2000). From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen, & S. M. Land. (Eds.),Theoretical Foundations of Learning Environments (pp. 25–56). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  5. Barab, S. A., Hay, K. E., Barnett, M. G., & Squire, K. (2001). Constructing virtual worlds: Tracing the historical development of learner practices/understandings.Cognition and Instruction, 19(1), 47–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barab, S. A., & Luehmann, A. L. (2003). Building sustainable science curriculum: Acknowledging and accommodating local adaptation.Science Education, 87(4), 454–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barab, S., Makinster, J. G., Moore, J., Cunningham, D., & The ILF Design Team. (2001). Designing and building an online community: The struggle to support sociability in the Inquiry Learning Forum.Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(4), 71–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barab, S., Schatz, S., & Scheckler, R. (in press). Using activity theory to conceptualize online community and using online community to conceptualize activity theory. Accepted inMind, Culture and Activity.Google Scholar
  9. Barab, S. A., Thomas, M. K., Dodge, T., Squire, K., & Newell, M. (in press). Critical Design Ethnography: Designing for change. To appear inAnthropology and Education Quarterly.Google Scholar
  10. Barab, S. A., Thomas, M. K., Dodge, T., Carteaux, R., Goodirch, T., Tuzun, H., & Misanchuk, M. (2002). Quest Atlantis: Creating a community-based, online, meta-game for learning (pp. 235–243).Conference Proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences.Google Scholar
  11. Bartle R. (1996).Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDs. Retrieved July 30, 2002, from the World wide Web: Scholar
  12. Bers, M. (2001). Identity construction environments: Developing personal and moraal values through the design of a virtual city.The Journal of the Learning Sciences 10(4), 365–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds). (2002).How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school, Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  14. Brown, A. L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings.The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(2), 141–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bruckman, A. (1998). Finding one's own in cyberspace. In High Wired: On the Design, Use, and Theory of Educational MOOs. Ed. Cynthia Haynes and Jan Rune Holmevik, Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P, 1998. 15–24.Google Scholar
  16. Cassell, J., & Jenkins, H. (1998). Chess for Girls? Feminism and computer games. In J. Cassell & H. Jenkins (Eds.),From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and computer games (pp. 2–45). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  17. Castronova, E. (2001). Virtual worlds: A first-hand account of market and society on the cyberian frontier.CESifo Working Paper Series No. 618. Center for Economic Studies and Institute for Economic Research, California State Univ, Fullerton, December 2001.Google Scholar
  18. Cole, M., & Engeström, Y. (1993). A cultural-historical approach to distributed cognition. In G. Salomon (Ed.)Distributed cognitions. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Collins, A. (1992). Toward a Design Science of Education. In E. Scanlon & T. O'Shea (Eds.),Proceedings of the NATO advanced research workshop on new directions in advanced educational technology. (pp. 15–22). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  20. Cordova, D. I., & Lepper, M. R. (1996). Intrinsic motivation and the process of learning: Beneficial effects of contextualization, personalization, and choice.Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 715–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Damar, B. (1998).Avatars! Exploring and building virtual worlds on the Internet. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press.Google Scholar
  22. Dede, C., & Ketelhut, D. (2003, April). Designing for motivation and usability in a Web-based multi-user virtual environment. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Chicago, Il.Google Scholar
  23. Delgado-Gaitan, C., & Trueba, H. (1991). Crossing cultural borders. New York, NY: The Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  24. Dewey, J. (1938).Experience and Education. New York: The Macmillan Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  25. Dick, W., & Cary, L. (1990), The Systematic Design of Instruction, Third Edition, Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  26. Donath, J. (1999) Identity and deception in the virtual community. In M. A. Smith & P. Kollack (Eds.),Communities in Cyberspace. London; New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Duffy, T. M., & Cunningham, D. J. (1996). Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction. In D. J. Jonassen (Ed.),Handbook of research for educational communication and technology (pp. 170–198), New York: McMillan.Google Scholar
  28. Edelson, D. C. (2002). Design research: What we learn when we engage in design.Journal of the Learning Sciences, 11(1), 105–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Eden, C., & Huxham, C. (1996). Action research for the study of organizations. In S. Clegg, C. Hardy, W. Nord (Eds.),Handbook of organizational studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (pp. 526–542).Google Scholar
  30. Engeström, Y. (1987).Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki, Finland: Orienta-Konultit.Google Scholar
  31. Fine, M. (1996). (Eds.)Disruptive voices: The possibilities fo feminist research. Ann Arbor, MI. The University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  32. Finn, J. (1994). The promise of participatory research.Journal of Progressive Human Services, 5(2), 25–42.Google Scholar
  33. Freire, P. (1970/2000)Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.Google Scholar
  34. Fullan, M. (1993).Change forces: Probing the depths of educational reform. Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  35. Gaver, W. W. (1996). Situating Action II: Affordances for interaction: The social is material for design.Ecological Psychology, 8(2), 111–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Geertz, C. (1976). From the native's, point of view: On the nature of anthropological understanding. In K. Basso & H. A. Selby (Eds.),Meaning in anthropology. Albuquerque, N.M.: U. of New Mexico Press.Google Scholar
  37. Glesne, C. (1999).Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction (Second Edition ed.). New York, NY: Longman.Google Scholar
  38. Grills, S. (1998).Doing ethnographic research: Field settings. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  39. Heinich, R., Molenda, M., Russell, J. D., & Smaldino, S. E. (1996).Instructional media and technologies for learning (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.Google Scholar
  40. Herz, J. C. (1997).Joystick nation: How videogames ate our quarters, won our hearts, and rewired our minds. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.Google Scholar
  41. Jenkins, H. (1998). Voices from the combat zone: Game girls talk back. In J. Cassell & Jenkins, (Ed.), From Barbie to Mortal Combat: Gender and computer games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  42. Katz, J. (2000). Up, up, down, down. Originally published November, 30, 2000. ( Scholar
  43. Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Press.Google Scholar
  44. Kolbert, E. (2001). Pimps and Dragons: How an online world survived a social breakdown.The New Yorker, May 28, 2001.Google Scholar
  45. Kollock, P., & Smith, M. (1996). Managing the virtual commons: Cooperation and conflict in computer communities. In S. Herring (Ed.),Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social, and Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  46. Koster, R., et al. (2000). The laws of online world design, Scholar
  47. Krajcik, J., Blumenfeld, P., Marx, R. W., & Soloway, E. (1994). A collaborative model for helping science teachers learn project-based instruction.Elementary School Journal, 94(5), 483–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Laurel, B. (2001).Utopian entrepreneur. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  49. Laurel, B. (2002, January).Gender and technology: A case study in design research and ethics. Presentation at Indiana University, Bloomington.Google Scholar
  50. Levinson, B. (1998). The social commitment of the educational ethnographer: Notes on fieldwork in Mexico and the field of work in the United States. InBeing reflexive in critical educational and social research. Geoffrey Shacklock and John Smyth, (eds.), London: Falmer Press. 83–109.Google Scholar
  51. McLellan, H. (1996). Virtual realities. In D. Jonassen (Ed.),Handbook of research for educational communications and technology (pp. 457–487). Boston, MA: Kluwer-Nijhoff Publishing.Google Scholar
  52. McNiff, J. (1995).Action research principles and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  53. National Research Council. (1999).Designing mathematics or science curriculum programs: A guide for using mathematics and science education standards, Washington, DC. National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  54. Poole, S. (2000).Trigger happy: Videogames and the entertainment revolution, London: 4th Estate.Google Scholar
  55. Preece, J. (2000). Online communities: Designing usability, supporting sociability. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  56. Prensky, M. (2000).Digital game-based learning. New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  57. Provenzo, E. F. (1991).Video kids: Making sense of Nintendo. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.Google Scholar
  58. Provenzo, E. F. (1992). What do video games teach?Education Digest, 58(4), 56–58.Google Scholar
  59. Randi, J., & Corno, L. (1997). Teachers as innovators. In B. J. Biddle, T. L. Good, & I. F. Goodson (Eds.),The international handbook of teachers and teaching (Vol. II, pp. 1163–1221). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  60. Reason, P. (1994). Three approaches to participative inquiry. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.),The Handbook of Qualitative Research. (pp. 324–339). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  61. Reid, E. (1999). Hierarchy and power. In M. Smith & P. Kollock, (Eds.),Communities in cyberspace, (pp. 107–133). New York, NY: Routledge Press.Google Scholar
  62. Reigeluth, C. M. (Ed.) (1999). Instructional-Design Theories and Models, Volume II: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.Google Scholar
  63. Rogers, E. (1995).Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  64. Rogoff, B. (1990).Apprenticeship in thinking, New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Roth, W.-M. (1998).Designing communities. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  66. Schuler, D., & Namioka, A. (Eds.), (1993).Participatory design: Principles and practices, Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  67. Schwartz, D., Lin, X., Brophy, S., & Bransford, J. (1999). Toward the development of flexiblity adaptive instructional design. In C. Reigeluth (Ed.),Instructional-design Theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol II, pp. 183–214). Lawrence Erlbaum: Mahwah, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  68. Schwen, T. M., Godrum, D. A., & Dorsey L. T. (1993). On the design of an Enriched Learning and Information Environment (ELIE).Educational Technology, 33(11), 5–9.Google Scholar
  69. Scriven, M. S. (1983). Evaluation methodologies. In G. F. Madaus, M. S. Scriven, and D. I. Stufflebeam (Eds.),Evaluation models: Viewpoints on educational and human services evaluation (pp. 229–260). Boston, MA: Kluwer-Nijhoff Publishing.Google Scholar
  70. Squire, K. (2002). Cultural framing of computer/video games.The International Journal of Computer Game Research,2(1), Game Studies Available online: 12-24-02Google Scholar
  71. Stake, R. E. (1978). The case study method in social inquiry.Educational Researcher, 7(1), 5–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Stake, R. E. (1995).The art of case study research Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  73. Stringer, E. T. (1996).Action research: A handbook for practitioners, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  74. Turkle, S. (1994). Constructions and reconstructions of self in virtual reality: Playing in the MUDs.Mind, Culture, and Activity 1(3), 158–167.Google Scholar
  75. Turkle, S. (1995).Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  76. Turkle, S., Dennis, P. D., et al. (2000/2002). Tech savvy: Educating girls in the new computer age. In E. Bucy (Ed.),Living in the information age: A new media reader (pp. 262–268). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. (Reprinted report from 2000, Washington, DC: American Association of University Women Educational Foundation).Google Scholar
  77. Vygotsky, L. (1933/1978).Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  78. Vygotsky, L. S. (1934/1986).Thought and language (A. Kozulin, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  79. Wasson, C. (2000). Ethnography in the field of design.Human Organization, 59(4), 377–388.Google Scholar
  80. Wells, G. (1999). Dialogic inquiry: Towards a sociocultural practice and theory of education.Google Scholar
  81. Wertsch, J. (1985).Vygotsky and the social information of mind, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  82. Wiggins, G. (1992). Creating tests worth taking.Educational Leadership, 49(8), 26–33.Google Scholar
  83. Willet, R. (2001).Children's use of popular medin in their creative writing. Unpublished dissertation, London: University of London, Institute of Education.Google Scholar
  84. Women's Foundation of Colorado. (1999).Cyberpink: Are software companies selling our girls short? Denver: Women's Foundation of Colorado. Retrieved Nevember 19, 2003, from Scholar

Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sasha Barab
    • 1
  • Michael Thomas
    • 3
  • Tyler Dodge
    • 2
  • Robert Carteaux
    • 2
  • Hakan Tuzun
    • 2
  1. 1.School of EducationIndiana UniversityBloomington
  2. 2.Instructional Systems Technologyat Indiana UniversityUSA
  3. 3.Department of Educational Psychology at Oklahoma UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations