An analysis of narrative-based educational software
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Instructional designers often rely on stories to structure interactive learning environments. There is little evidence that they bring contemporary critical theory to these designs, especially as it pertains to the narratological implications of a hypermedia environment. The use of stories in these designs raises issues about the relationship between learning, interactivity, and story. Interactivity undermines traditional narrative structures, diminishing their power as structural agents. However, it also creates constructivist affordances for the instructional designer. How are designers resolving this conflict? How are they using story? This research study examines the use of story and instructional design in selected educational CD-ROMs. The works of Propp, Campbell, and Gagne are used as models for the analysis of the stories and instructional events. The results indicate that instructional presentation in narrative environments is usually sequestered from the main narrative, though there is some relation between story elements and instructional design. The designers do use story to engage learner attention, though there is little consistent correlation with the story models chosen for this research. Character transformation, important in narrative, is not addressed in the software. Simulations offer the most integrated approach to story and instruction, but at the cost of traditional story models. I conclude that story and instruction are largely incommensurable when instantiated within a hypermedia environment. Instruction is transparent in the sense that we go to it in order to get something else: learning. On the other hand, story is opaque in the sense that it is an end in itself. Though we learn from stories, they are in the end too powerful and mysterious in their effects to be entirely harnessed to the horses of instruction. Though instruction can be entertainingly crafted, its didactic nature can never allow it to be only entertainment. The use of story in interactive instruction must necessarily be a balancing act.