'A.R.G. - Creating Alternative Reality Games for the Classroom'

Award Winner: 
2012 Sloan-C Effective Practice Award
Author Information
Author(s): 
Dr. Jeff D Borden
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Chaminade University
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Metropolitan State College of Denver
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Northern Colorado
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Dr. Jeff Borden has used 3 Alternate Reality Games (ARG) to teach high level college / university courses, as well as in a Master Teacher's workshop. Based on the confluence of outcomes, assessment, content, media, modality, and communication elements, Dr. Borden has developed a template by which other instructors can begin to craft their own gamification experience through ARG use. These experiences have also led to a book development project as well as an app development project to help facilitate the experience for anyone interested in ARGs for the classroom.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Long before the term "serious game" came into wide use with the Serious Games Initiative in 2002, games were being developed for non-entertainment purposes. Sometimes labeled as “edutainment” – educational based gaming has transformed in recent years to be noted by many researchers and scholars as important for generational learning. An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants' ideas or actions. Written around communication and education, the ARG components written by Dr. Borden have been created, remixed, and reused several times over the years. Students work both alone and in groups through social media sites, textbooks, multi-modal content created by Dr. Borden, as well as both synchronously and asynchronously. The game has been played in a fully local environment, a hybrid environment, and fully online as well.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

The 150 person, 2 weekend class filled up within 30 minutes of registration opening by the time Dr. Borden (and a colleague) taught this for the final time at UNC. MSCD student surveys showed the highest recommendation scores for the Communication Dept. When used for the Master Teacher's training, one instructor at a mid-America, tier 2 institution crafted his entire class as an ARG in 2008 and has never gone back to traditional methods. Finally, student assessment scores, with standardized assessment elements have risen 5% points from non-ARG, traditional classes teaching the same concepts.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Learning effectiveness research suggests multi-nodal / multi-modal learning, through differentitation isa key to success for students. These ARG experiences are exactly that. They also illustrate much higher levels of critical thinking and creative thought as the problems are not defined for them and the assessments are not based on formulas or rote memorization. The problems are perplexing, the information is scattered throughout various fields, the work relies on both individual and group efforts, and the connection of concepts requires lateral thinking to a large degree. Student satisfaction has various measures such as retention, survey scores, etc. In this case, both retention has been upwards of 99% in each ARG related classroom and survey scores, while not the only measure for success, have been exceptional.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

The beauty of a true ARG is that the equipment will be different for every practitioner based on what they are comfortable with. If technollogy enabled, which I recommend, then Internet and a computer will be a must. Otherwise, the equipment can vary from completely virtual to completely physical.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

As described with the equipment, costs will vary greatly depending on the practitioner (or facilitator of the game). Costs can be expensive (such as needing an old car that can be used as "evidence") or can be only time intensive, which will vary from person to person with regard to cost. Typically in my personal ARG experiences, the cost is about $100-250 as I use invisible ink, lock boxes, a bomb timer, photos, etc.

References, supporting documents: 

The impetus for the technology based game came in 2007 when "Year Zero" was a huge success in the advertising world by the Nine Inch Nails. While Disney had some success in the 1980's with ARGs for their projects, "Year Zero" brought the concept to a new level with the inclusion of social media. As well, Mystery at MIT has been a good model for efficacy and ideas, although Dr. Borden's ARGs started long before that. (The first ARG was taught in 1996 at the University of Northern Colorado for the Communication in the Courtroom class that Spring.)

Other Comments: 

If you would like to get a taste for the social media elements used or even begin to play the game yourself, see the two links above to get started. A crime was committed and Nymon Lester is not happy about it. To succeed you will need to figure out who Nymon Lester is, what the crime was, and how it can be fixed. Do you want to play a game?

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Dr. Jeff Borden
Email this contact: 
jeffb@ecollege.com