Interactive Media

Using games to teach technical writing

From Terra Nova.

Amanda Linder, a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, now uses Anarchy Online to teach Technical Writing. While past teachers had students read a sci-fi novel as the context for all the writing assignments (reports, instructions, memos, and the like), Amanda has students play – and write from the context of – Anarchy Online. All technical writing assignments and class discussions are now based on in-game content, typically written from the perspective of employees of Omni-Tek, the mega-corporate power in the game.

And from the course outline

This course emphasizes the interpretative and problem-solving processes associated with producing effective technical documents as a part of a community of practice. Students will study the practices, genres, audiences, and situations related to professional settings, the contexts in which writing occurs, the processes involved in individual and collaborative projects, and the production of technical documents.

To simulate the interpretative and problem-solving process involved in workplace contexts, we will adopt a communities of practice model. In its broadest sense, community of practice refers to a group of people who share particular practices in a particular context. Within these communities, members mutually negotiate their ways of working, the expectations for belonging, and the rules for negotiating meaning. Although all communities of practice share some similarities in relation to technical documents (e.g., most communities use memos to communicate within an organization), each community is characterized by the practices around which it evolves. The genres each community creates are an outcome of those practices. Member interaction determines to a large extent what constitutes competent performance within each community of practice. In other words, members negotiate with each other in defining what things mean within that community.

No matter which community of practice you enter after graduate, the criteria used to evaluate competent performance are shared with new member through the stories told about the practices in that community. To demonstrate competency within that community, you will need to be able to identify, analyze, interpret, and demonstrate your understanding of how to belong to that community.

Given this premise, the aim of this course is to help students develop the ability to identify communities of practice, recognize expectations for belonging, and the rules for negotiating meaning. For this class, we will establish a community of practice in the classroom through the massively-multiplayer online role-play game (MMORPG), Anarchy Online. All assignments will be connected to this game world.