This research is motivated from my personal experience working for an "interactive museum," where classroom-size student groups were observed to have inadequate or passive exposure to the digital content (i.e., interactive exhibits and installations). I felt that the largely unstructured nature of free-choice learning, in spaces such as museums and science centers, calls for alternative approaches that can effectively engage groups of school age students.
This research aims to identify which elements of co-located group collaboration, virtual environments, and serious games can be leveraged for an enhanced learning experience for small and large groups of middle school students. We created a conceptual framework based on the Contextual Model of Learning in museums (Falk & Dierking, 2000) and the most effective educational elements of Virtual Environments (VEs) and Serious Games, in order to increase engagement and social presence, which have been shown to contribute to increased learning. Our overall hypothesis is that synchronous, co-located, group collaboration will afford greater learning and an improved game experience compared to the conventional approaches used in these spaces so far.
In order to test this hypothesis, we developed C-OLiVE (Collaborative Orchestrated Learning in Virtual Environments), an interactive virtual learning environment supporting group collaboration. C-OLiVE is a simulation 3D game about the process of making olive oil; it immerses the players in a virtual olive oil production factory used in Mediterranean countries. The choice of the domain was because it both ensures an almost equal, low level of prior knowledge among middle school students in the US, and also allows the manipulation of machines and tools involved in the manual process followed in this region of the world.
The game is designed to offer one to three individual viewpoints in (and uncon-strained navigation within) the virtual world and players must follow on-screen prompts and feedback message to produce olive oil. The process involves starting up the factory by starting a steam boiler and engine, and then producing olive oil by operating the factory machinery, such as mills, presses, and pumps.
Study I: Evaluating the Effects of Orchestrated, Game-based Learning in Virtual Environments for Informal Education
The aim of the first study was to understand the impact of interactivity on the game experience and learning of a small group of students playing a game. We were also interested in the interplay between the level of interaction (IV) and the learning (pre/post-test design), game experience, social presence, and presence (i.e., the sense of being inside a virtual environment) of the participating students.
Study II: Implications of Culture and Prior Knowledge for a Collaborative Learning Game in a Museum Context
The second study had the same goals as the first one, but also some additional ones. More specifically, we run the study in an actual museum in Greece to increase ecological validity and also assess how the museum visit expectations might affect learning. Recruiting students from a different culture, with traditionally more exposure to the knowledge domain, allowed us to assess the effects of prior knowledge and interests on the outcomes, but also compare results between cultures. Finally, we substituted the totally passive condition of the first study with a museum guide playing the game and facilitating students’ learning, in order to assess the impact of guided instruction in discovery learning settings.
Study III: Audience Interaction for Increased Student Involvement and Learning, using Games and Virtual Environments
The third experiment was designed to involve a larger group of students in the game and eventually the learning process, mainly addressing our initial motivation to engage a full classroom. In this study we were investigating how learning and game experience are affected by the level of involvement of the audience in the interactive experience.
Case Study: Audience Participation during Collaborative Game Play in Informal Learning Contexts
This fourth and last experiment of our research encompasses the lessons learned during the previous studies, delivering a real-world experience to visitors of a museum. We are specifically visiting The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and delivering a series of mini-courses to their magnet high school, the Science Leadership Academy. The main objective of this case study is to increase the ecological validity of our work and gain further insights in developing a list of design guideling for effective audience engagement and learning in informal learning contexts.
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