May 8, 2019

Frame Work: Building Context into Quests

Quests need to be able to stand on their own, providing mentors and students with the information and context they need to safely and critically complete them. Designing quests is a nuanced, complex process, which requires designers to be thoughtful and alert in their work. For quest design, context is key. Context is especially important when the material is sensitive, potentially risky, or offensive. In such cases, quest designers must incorporate precautions to ensure the material is framed appropriately so that students are kept safe, mentors are prepared to engage in difficult conversations, and everyone using quests understands why the material in a quest exists.

An example of sensitive material that requires contextualizing might be a quest that addresses the history of racial segregation in the American South. Since the quest deals with historical content, it would rely upon resources specific to that time period that do not align with current values. The quest designer would need to alert mentors and students to language and beliefs that may have been common during the time period in question, but which are no longer acceptable today. By offering notes or suggesting opportunities for thoughtful discussions around the historical significance of such vocabulary and beliefs, and what effects their legacies may have left behind, quest designers are able to create a safe place for dealing with sensitive topics that naturally arise.

Quest designers must also exert caution when writing quests, focusing on using an informative, generally objective tone and being aware of their own biases. In situations where a quest could involve potentially polarizing material, designers have to make sure that their own writing does not misrepresent the content or risk having students and mentors misinterpret bias within the quest. In the example of racial segregation in the American South, the quest activities and fields need to reflect current attitudes and norms, to counterbalance any historically accurate language or beliefs in resources that are unacceptable to modern audiences.

Sometimes, quest material contains some element that could involve potential risk to students, such as outdoor experiments/excursions or science labs. In quests that ask students to use materials or conduct exercises that require a degree of physical risk, quest designers have to provide both students and mentors with all the information they need to complete quests safely. Designers can provide warnings and recommendations, alerting mentors to materials that require mentor oversight, safety equipment, or sufficient, hands-on instruction. In these instances, designers must clearly articulate steps, including the use of protective gear, in a separate description or supplementary document. For example, if students are completing an experiment that may expose them to chemicals, students should be directed to put on goggles and gloves, or to wear long sleeves  or face masks, etc., on the day they conduct the experiment.

Besides always ensuring absolute safety and awareness, designers are tasked with clarifying and building safety information into a quest’s narrative, activity descriptions, and Just for Mentors sections. Some quests and activities must be conducted with the constant oversight of a mentor (e.g., while handling dangerous chemicals). Designers need to identify these from the very beginning, stating to students that before they embark on a quest or activity they should check in with their mentor. When quest designers have concerns about students attempting to do something without the required supervision, they need to include all information for the activity within the Just for Mentors section only and mark the activity as a check-in, which alerts mentors that they should confer with students.

Because quest designers cannot be in the classroom with students and mentors to see how they interact with quests, they must exert caution when writing them. If there’s a chance that quest material might be sensitive, offensive, or dangerous, it should come with a healthy dose of framing by the quest designer. Contextualizing material not only makes it clear to students why they’re interacting with the given content, what it means, and how to stay safe, but will also help them develop critical thinking skills along the way they will carry for the rest of their lives.

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