The Time Traveler's Journey: Re-Living Historical Events Through Immersive Scenarios - Part 2
Montri Thipsorn/

Experiencing Major Historical Events Through Immersive Scenarios

It is not often that I begin an article with a disclaimer but in the span of providence and its effects on our lives, sometimes the thoughts you are having are also being thought by someone else. The scenarios to be described in this article are ideas that I continue to explore and frame but it seems that Hollywood was having similar thoughts which frighten me and in the fall of 2016 introduced a TV series, titled: "Timeless". The series is about re-living historical events through the use of a time machine, and it explores how changing one event can drastically alter the timeline. One of the proposed scenarios deals with the Manhattan Project.

It is not my purpose in these articles to entertain you by way of speculation and 'loose' reflections on the quantum and Einstein theories of time. My purpose is to describe to you how using the means of designed branching scenarios coupled with VR technology can promote and encourage the types of thinking in learners that are needed if they are to become effective agents of change in our societies.

Using Immersive Scenarios For A Powerful Purpose

As I have mentioned in a previous article, my primary purpose in using the context of an online immersive interactive scenario tied to important world events has everything to do with a very powerful and relevant objective that is to encourage and nurture the growth of three levels of thinking in new learners. The paradigm shift in learning now focuses on the creation of new knowledge and skill sets and also on the necessary elements that need to be in place in order to encourage this new focus. The shift also plunges learners into the online world of the internet whose environment dictates that the necessary skill sets have to be focused on process skills. Learning how to learn and be thoughtfully engaged in this new environment requires 3 main levels of thinking:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Innovative Thinking
  • Design and Analytical Thinking

The purpose is powerful because it deals with skillsets that are at the core of the needs that we see played out in our societies, especially in regards to how we deal with complex real-world problems in our societies. We can observe events today in our societies where the failure to develop, nurture, and build these types of process skillsets has resulted in social engineering being used in our schools "where students are taught what to think instead of how to think by the very guardians employed to educate students". To compound this moral injustice, students are taught to use the tools and mantras of how to silence rather than discuss opinions that are contrary to their own thus excusing them from ever having to truly examine what they believe in the light of credible, verifiable evidence.

We see this failure in the leaders who rise in our societies who rather than encouraging thoughtful debate on issues that affect the quality of life for all people, resort to the tools of censorship, ad hominem argumentation, and the manipulation of conversations to make lies acceptable to a public who lack the critical thinking skills to separate fact from fiction. We need to ask ourselves an important question:

"Will the status quo provide our children with the type of enriched quality of life that we, as parents, business organizations, scientific disciplines and most importantly, the government want as the future for our societies or will it continue to entrench the worst qualities of humanity and even make them enforceable by law?"

Although the design of irresistibly engaging immersive scenarios as online learning experiences seem like a small step, the purpose is life changing and more importantly life-affirming.

The Nature Of Online Immersive Scenarios

Clark N. Quinn in his excellent book titled: "Engaging Learning"(2005) is a work that details not only how to design effective eLearning scenarios but also delves into the very core of what these scenarios must be about. He states:

"...At the core, let me be clear, is the need to put learners in situations where they need to make decisions. The goal is to have those decisions closely mimic the decisions they need to make after the learning experience."

These scenarios are not just contrived classroom experiments but clearly put the learner into the role of making decisions in a very real world simulation. In such a simulation, collaboration with other learners in a complementary and effective fashion tasked with an important problem is a skillset that is developed and encouraged. How the students think and make decisions must be transferable to them dealing with complex real-world problems in the world they live in and in the capacity that they find themselves in. Clark goes on to differentiate mini-scenarios from branching scenarios. In the mini-scenario, learners are placed in a setting with a situation in which they have to make a single decision and then receive feedback based on the decision made.

Michael Allen in his book titled: "Michael Allen's Guide to e-Learning"(2016) points out that effective eLearning design is made up of 4 essential components that are interlocked in an instructional purposefully manner. These 4 components are:

  1. Context--- this represents the framework and conditions
  2. Challenge--- this is a stimulus to action within the context
  3. Activity--- this is a physical response to the challenge
  4. Feedback--- this is the reflection of the effectiveness of the learner's action

Serious Gamification And Principles Of Deeper Learning

Before planning out a specific scenario, it is important to be aware of the fact that our storytelling for the scenario may be intriguing, our multimedia animations and visuals stunning and the flow very logical and smooth but it will all be for naught if we disregard the modern principles of how people learn in the 21st century where the disruptive influence of the web has impacted every level of our lives. This means that the methods of Instructional Design and training need to reflect and capitalize on the new realities that the web has brought to the way we learn. Clark N. Quinn in his new publication, "Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions"( ATD Press, 2018), gets to the heart of the dilemma that we face in designing irresistibly engaging learning experiences within the training culture and the formal higher education realm which is that too many organizational learning cultures still subscribe to erroneous principles of learning to base Instructional Design on. As an example, the concept of designing learning experiences to match the learning styles of employees or students is simply wrong. As Clark points out, quoting a survey of research done by Pashler et. al. 2008, that "...there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice."

Will Thalheimer in his work "Performance Focused Smile Sheets : A Radical Rethinking of a Dangerous Art Form" (2016) re-emphasizes how far we can go astray if we do not pay attention to the current thinking of learning science research and understand how it applies to our expectations of performance within the bounds of the organizational learning culture.

Ultimately, our goal is to design learning experiences that can demonstrate the acquiring of important skillsets in the learner and that we can see that the learning is entrenched in the learner's approach to problem-solving. Engagement will be reflected in the rise of intrinsic motivation and the decline for the need for extrinsic motivators.

This is precisely the potential found in immersive, interactive scenarios, and simulations.

The Manhattan Project Scenario

Using the CCAF framework proposed by Michael Allen, the following is a "What if" scenario which allows students of World History to explore a crucial moment in World History that in fact changed not only the United States but many of the global nations forever in regards to the development of the first atomic bomb. By taking on the roles of the major players in this dramatic event and re-enacting those very covert operations, students experience the very decision making that allowed the project to move forward and see the consequences of their decisions as events then play out. The main focus of the learning objectives is the development of such skillsets as:

  • The collaboration with other participants as a member of a team where each contributes to potential solutions through the coordination of the specific skills each bring to the task.
  • Critical thinking skills that emphasize the gathering, analyzing, evaluation of data gathered from a number of sources with an emphasis on establishing the credibility of information using identified tools of authentication.
  • Divergent thinking skills focusing on adaptability to changes introduced as a result of new data and the ability to innovate new solutions to tasks faced.
  • Calculated risk-taking when faced with making responses under the pressure of time limits and rapidly changing conditions.

The Context

In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to the president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt warning him of the intentions of Nazi Germany to develop a powerful weapon called an atomic bomb. Now, in creating the context, storytelling becomes a key engagement element that should create such a framework that students feel that they can relate to all or individual characters making up the scene to the point where they don't see the character(s) as "they" but instead see the character(s) as "I" which simply means that they take on the personas of the characters, and it is the learners who are making the decisions and see the consequences unfold as a result of their own actions. The main characters in the scenario are:

  • General Leslie Groves
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer
  • Enrico Fermi
  • Albert Einstein

There were many others that were part of the team such as Richard Feynman and Edward Teller but for this scenario, we would use 4 individuals.

Now, you are probably thinking so what! It is our intention to take this scenario beyond just text but to actually take this into a VR immersive interactive world where we will continue to the next step in laying out the challenge and the activity in the next article.