Evaluating Group Interaction and Engagement using Virtual Environments and Serious Games for Student Audiences in Informal Learning Settings
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Museums are rich and complex learning experiences, using a variety of interactive approaches to engage their audiences. However, the largely unstructured nature of free-choice learning calls for alternative approaches that can effectively engage groups of school age students with diverse cultural backgrounds. In these informal learning spaces employing digital content, classroom-size student groups do not get adequate exposure to content and if they do, it is either through individual interactions with digital exhibits or in a passive style instruction offered by a museum docent to the whole group. This research aims to identify which elements of collocated 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 (John H. Falk and Dierking, 2000) and the most effective educational elements of Virtual Environments (VEs) and Serious Games, in order to increase engagement and social presence and facilitate learning. We then developed C-OLiVE (Collaborative Orchestrated Learning in Virtual Environments), an interactive virtual learning environment supporting group collaboration, which we used as a testbed to respond to our research questions. Our overall hypothesis is that synchronous, collocated, group collaboration will afford greater learning and an improved game experience compared to the conventional approaches used in these spaces so far. We ran three experiments and a case study with 790 students in private and public middle schools, summer camps, and museums both in the US and in Greece. Findings partly supported our hypothesis, mainly during our small group interaction experiments, in which simultaneous interaction of students was found to be associated with increased learning. Guidance of a passive experience was effective in facilitating the more cognitively challenged group of students in a Greek museum. Our audience interaction studies revealed increased retention of information two days after the game. Agency was found to significantly predict learning in all our studies. Engagement and social presence were mostly correlated with higher levels of involvement and agency in the game.
- Doctoral Dissertations