By: Crystle Martin
Published: March 3, 2014
As I’ve described in a previous post focusing on the professional wrestling community, the Wrestling Boards, help and feedback are key ingredients to an active peer-supported community. Peer-support is one of the three main spheres of the connected learning framework. But what enables help and feedback? Analysis of the Leveling Up case studies suggests two major supports for help and feedback: community design and community culture. Community design refers to the way in which online communities intentionally design for and encourage help and feedback. For example, the game designers for LittleBigPlanet 2 want to create an online community that encourages participants to share their levels and expertise. Community culture refers to the values and encouraged behavior of a community which support help and feedback. For example, in the Wrestling Boards community, help and feedback are community values that are encouraged by members and administrators alike. The Leveling Up cases span a variety of interests and communities, from the Hogwarts at Ravelry fibercrafting group, to the online forums of fans of LittleBigPlanet 2, to the fanfiction writers of the OneDirection fandom, to the Wrestling Boards professional wrestling fan forum, to the active community of StarCraft 2 players, to the Cali Design fashion camp, and game designers for both LittleBigPlanet 2 and StarCraft 2. This group of interest-based cases are all peer-supported; all show that help and feedback are integral parts of the community; and all were collectively analyzed to determine what these communities did to support help and feedback.
In the LittleBigPlanet 2 case, we see community design as an important support for help and feedback for players of the game. Players of the game have the opportunity to design levels which can require a large range of skills and a lot of support for each player to be successful. One designer of the game describes the desire to create a community:
We really want to build an online community where people can put themselves out there, get comments on what they’re doing, get ratings on what they’re doing, and just kind of tap into that community because that’s always been super effective for us. Its great if you can share with your friends, but your friends can only tell you so much. … I think that’s just a really great way to learn about what you’re good at, where you need to grow, how you grow, and then pulling from other people to become better at what you’re doing.
Here you can see that the game designer wants an online community that supports the participants, where they can get help and feedback on the levels they create within the game. One participant of Sackboy Planet, a LittleBigPlanet 2 fan community,describes what he sees as the best attributes of the community in supporting help and feedback.
I mostly like to meet and greet new people and show them around if they have questions. Usually in the intro forum they say, “Hi, my name is this and I have some really great levels.” I’ll say, “You really should stick them in the level showcase.” If they’re wanting helping getting prizes I’ll point them to the Find Happy Gatters forum so they can play online and meet other people. Besides the creator spotlights I also ran a contest called the caption contest. … Basically we would have a blank scene that would be kind of funny and everyone would enter and put their caption on. We would judge to see who’s was the funniest and most captured the essence of the scene and what we felt would be the winner.
Here we see both activities being created as well as directing new members to existing activities that allow participants to seek feedback on their level designs and ask for help when they need it.
Similar to the LittleBigPlanet 2 case, the game designers behind the game StarCraft 2 also look for ways to support help and feedback among players. Sixen, owner of the website Sc2mapster.com, said, talking about the game designers of StarCraft2 creating the level editor:
That’s actually a really good question. Blizzard’s actively promoting and updating the editor. So they’re – Blizzard wants to support the editor. They’re, like I said, they’re actively working on it. They’re making it better. They’ve been talking to me. Some of the developers have been talking to me. They’ve been talking to some of my moderators on Mapster. They’ve been talking to other big name map authors trying to figure out, hey, what are some problems you have; how can we make this better? I mean Blizzard’s just really being dedicated as opposed to Staredit where they were like, hey, this is our editor. Have fun.
Here, the designers are actually seeking feedback from the members of the community in order to design a better product for the community.
Day, a live match commentator for the StarCraft 2 competitive scene, also describes how he tweaks his commentary and help videos based on feedback from his viewers.
For me in this sort of space I rarely feel like I’m transitioning from something to something. I would say I’m constantly experimenting. That’s definitely where I feel I’m at right now. Starting fourteen or fifteen months ago there was explicit experimentation on the structure of content. … The structure used to be I would pick a random game and talk about it. That used to be the structure. But then I started doing something like Funday Monday which is a really mess around day. Newbie Tuesday is geared for lower level players. And all of a sudden for the other days people were like, “Why won’t you give us more structure for high level stuff? Why don’t you do high level Thursdays?” I want to be like, “Excuse me. Every day is a high level.”
Day’s critical analysis of his product based on feedback from his viewers shows his interest in creating a community based on feedback. From both the StarCraft 2 case and the LittleBigPlanet 2 case, we’ve seen that the intention of community design is an important support for the flourishing of help and feedback
The second phenomenon we’ve seen that supports help and feedback in interest-powered, peer-supported communities is the community culture. Community culture refers to the values and encouraged behavior of a community which support help and feedback. The community culture of both Hogwarts at Ravelry and the Wrestling Boards support help and feedback through the culture of the community. Andie, a member of Hogwarts at Ravelry, describes her experience with the community: “Not necessarily a new technique, but my aunt in New York sent me some really gorgeous wool that I had no idea what to do with and being part of an online knitting community helped me figure out what to do with it. People were really helpful with ideas. I’d say in general any time I’ve seen someone come forward with questions everyone has been very helpful and supportive.” Below is an exchange from the Hogwarts at Ravelry message boards where Joyfrog makes a statement about her ability to participate, and Thyme gives her feedback on her decision and offers suggestions on how she can still participate without have the exact yarn color she needs.
Joyfrog says she doesn’t have a “true red” (you can do red/black of Hogwarts too) yarn and has to sit it out:
“Don’t own 1 inch of true red yarn, can’t come up with train stuff. Looks like I may sit out this week & take a rest working on other backlogged projects; ‘tis fine though, I will survive.”
Thyme tries to help her think of other ways to fit things in:
“surely you can find something. train tracks, wheels, the steam coming out of the engine. maybe a stretch for king’s cross station or the scenery flying by? something from the food trolley. neville did lose track of trevor on the train at least once.”
Holly, another Hogwarts at Ravelry member, also describes the community in terms of help and feedback: “Oh yes, and Ravelry’s a great place for that, too, because there’s always somebody you can ask questions to or, you know, or somewhere that you can look.”
Amazon reiterates the importance of supporting help and feedback to the Hogwarts at Ravelry community: “Of course and I’ve given feedback. That’s part of the point of Hogwarts. It’s not enough to sign on. It’s about sharing what you’ve done and seeing what other students come up with. The feedback is always positive. The point is to encourage each other to keep crafting.” Here, we see that the community values help and feedback and that the culture of the community is to give positive help and feedback to all community members.
The community members of the Wrestling Boards also describe a culture which supports help and feedback. Cloud, a member of the community, describes the interaction between the participants this way: “I enjoy the debates and arguments we can all have about the latest happenings. It’s interesting to say the different age ranges of people and talk with like minded people about the subject. We all try and help each other on here it’s a friendly community and we constantly give feedback and advice to each other and I know a lot of us give feedback and advice to Crayo about the site and things we would like to see.”
Danny, another member of the community, talks about the community’s educational mission. “Everyone in our community has general understanding of the product and knows the terms. The ones that are misinformed are usually taught the ins and outs of the business by more knowledgable users. It’s great.”
Here is an example of the community in action. They are just about to start a new iteration of their fantasy wrestling text-based roleplaying game:
Marcus: @[James] We don’t mention the old universe. It doesn’t exist anymore.
Tyler: Out of character: that universe never existed.. apparently.
James: Ignoring the history of your own company is a bad idea, but fine.
Marcus: @[James] It becomes easier for us in creative to write this new universe without all the backstory of the old one clogging it down
Jose: To be honest, I did not quote anything in that post.
Tyler: Out of character: Btw Marcus, can you have a character that’s a tweener?
James: Out of character: Alright forget everything that I’ve mentioned about that company today then.
Marcus: out of character: I’d say it is possible but it would have to be taken up with Sackfist since I only write now instead of both write and book.
James: Out of character: It actually would be better to ignore the past, since this will be completely revamped.
Here the community is giving feedback on the new design of the fantasy wrestling federation to Marcus, who is a very long term and active member, and who works with Sackfist, the person who runs the game. The values of feedback and help run from those in leadership positions to those who are members. Crayo, the founder and top administrator of the Wrestling Boards, gives his rationale for help and feedback: “I discuss almost everything with the members, I help the members if they need it, I educate the “marks” about the business and how professional wrestling works, as it’s near-impossible to participate in the IWC [Internet Wrestling Community] if you don’t know about the business, as everyone around you is more in the know.” Again, we see that the community values help and feedback and that the leader of the community models helping as an example to the other members.
In active peer-supported communities, all members can give and receive help and feedback, and are encouraged by the design and culture of the community. These peer and community dynamics differ in fundamental ways from the kind of feedback young people receive in traditional classrooms. In school, feedback generally comes only from the teacher at the end of the project, and help comes from the teacher during designated hours. By contrast, in online communities feedback and help come from a variety of sources and at varied times. The opportunity for youth to both give and get help and feedback makes online communities transformative, offering youth agency that they may not be able to access in more formal learning environments.