By Ioana Literat, Yoo Kyung Chang and the LAMBOOZLED! research group at MASCLab
Could games serve as a key resource in our fight against misinformation?
Over the past four years, our interdisciplinary research team at the Media and Social Change Lab (MASCLab) at Teachers College, Columbia University has been driven (and excited!) by this question, exploring the promise of games as an avenue for media literacy education. With support from the Teachers College Provost Investment Fund, we recently developed LAMBOOZLED!, a card game aimed at middle and high school students, which was just published by Teachers College Press.
Grounded in current research on news literacy and learning sciences, LAMBOOZLED! is set in the fictional sheep town of Green Meadows, where, as the game’s tagline reads, “some news stories just want to pull the wool over your eyes!” Players must help the sheep citizens of Green Meadows figure out what’s true and what’s not, by using their best evidence to win them over.
The design process was iterative and collaborative, and we engaged diverse media literacy stakeholders—including researchers, educators, and students—as design partners in the development of this game. We went through 4 major iterations of the game design (and so many smaller iterations too!) as we gradually narrowed in on a design that was both educational and fun to play.
In terms of learning goals, we wanted the game to cultivate both declarative knowledge (such as identifying a missing byline, a strange URL, or a sensationalist title) and procedural knowledge (such as seeking out an expert opinion or checking alternative sources). This conceptualization informed the development of the four elements of the game: News Stories, Context Clues, Evidence Cards, and Action Cards.
An interesting dilemma that shaped our design process was the question of whether to include real news stories in the game, and make it more “true to life” or, conversely, go with a fictional approach. We worried about the potential of the political/politicized aspects of “fake news” to distract from the learning goals of the game and cause political tension, especially in educational contexts. After much deliberation, we therefore decided to make the setting and content of the game non-political by framing the game within the fictionalized setting of Green Meadows, populated with news-reading sheep. This allowed us to shift the focus of the game from the news itself to the strategies one would use to make that real versus fake determination.
We also spent a lot of time evaluating the multiple iterations of the game, as well as the final prototype. To understand the effectiveness of LAMBOOZLED! in terms of playability and learning goals, we evaluated the game with students in playtesting workshops, and with educators who tried out the game in their classrooms.
We found that LAMBOOZLED! successfully achieved its learning goals with middle school and high school students across grade levels and subjects, and in both formal and informal contexts of learning; additionally, we found that students were largely able to transfer news literacy strategies to real life contexts. The fictional narrative of the game was seen as appealing and functioned well in terms of encouraging participation in a safe non-political context. Our evaluation research also illuminated the crucial role of teachers in framing, implementing and facilitating the game in classroom contexts, and informed our development of support resources for educators. You can read more about these findings in our article in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review.
Building on LAMBOOZLED!
As next steps, we’re currently working on creating a digital version of the game, which would allow for a more personalized learning experience, support both single-player and multiplayer modes, and reach wider audiences. We’re currently seeking funding and/or collaboration opportunities for the development of this digital version of the game, so if you’re interested or have any leads, please get in touch!
Last but not least, we’re developing additional resources for educators, including activity ideas and facilitation support. And in doing so, we want to hear from you — the media literacy education community — about how we can best leverage the power of game-based learning and support you in your own unique contexts of instruction.
LAMBOOZLED! is published by Teachers College Press and released on October 9, 2020. For lesson plans and more information about the game and our team, please visit https://www.tcpress.com/lamboozled