Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Ludicorp, is a pioneer and visionary when it comes to designing for and understanding the social structure of web-based environments and communities. In this 2003 Mindjack interview, Butterfield discusses how his multiplayer gaming environment, Game Neverending, was a "social space designed to facilitate and enable play."
As Butterfield explains:
"The secret is, even though it's called Game Neverending,it's not really a game at all. It's a social space designed to facilitate and enable play. The game-elements are here to provide both the constraints and the building blocks of interaction - since the thing you'll notice about the kind of play I'm talking about above is that it is the kind of thing that goes on between people."
In other words, a well-designed multiplayer gaming environment should provide users with the tools and leave it to them to construct their own meaning and level of interaction within the (virtual) community.
Moving beyond online gaming, this interview is important because Butterfield hits on a key element of online course design that is often overlooked: designing opportunities (both synchronous and asynchronous) for students to create social bonds (through interaction) is equally as important as the course content.
In short, it's about relationships. Not technology.
Whether it's an online game, or an online course, more attention has to be paid to the social interactions taking place in the online classroom.
Social interaction is at the heart of any effective constructivist-based learning environment. This is probably even more important in an online space, where students may have limited opportunities for face-to-face contact.
While Game Neverending is no longer an active product (Ludicorp, along with their photo social network product Flickr, were acquired by Yahoo! in March 2005), online instructors, course designers, and educators could learn a lot from Stewart Butterfield and should look to the world of online gaming for ways to improve the social architecture of online learning environments.
- Read the entire Stewart Butterfield interview on Mindjack.