C-OLiVE: Impact of group interaction on learning in VEs

C-OLiVE stands for Collaborative Orchestrated Learning in Virtual Environments, and is a testbed for assessing the impact of (large) group collaboration on learning, mainly in museum spaces. We have designed collabortive learning activities for three people co-located in front of a large-scale display, who have to orchestrate their actions in order to maintain the operation of an olive oil production factory. The game is addressed to middle school students, as the main audience of informal learning settings. We have also integrated game elements to increase motivation and engagement, which are the secondary outcomes we are measuring besides learning. The basic motivation behind this research is to find out if groups of school age students visiting museums with similar installations could benefit from their simultaneous collaboration and acquire more knowledge, compared to being passive recipients of information, as is the case in most similar settings. Our hypothesis is that greater opportunites for social interactions and collaboration will improve game experience and facilitate learning.

We have conducted two studies already, using groups of three students in varying levels of interaction between each other and the game: Auto, where students watch someone else palying the game; 1P, where one player interacts directly with the game and they all suggets and negotiate plans of action; and 3P, where every students has direct agency in the game using a game controller (see a clip of this condition below). The first study was a controlled experiment with middle school students in schools and summer camps in the US (Virginia), from June 2013 to November 2013. We found that tripartite co-located collaboration was associated with improved learning benefits over passively watching someone play a game.The second study took place in a museum in Greece, where the passive (Auto) condition was replaced with a facilitator interacting with the game and prompting students to respond to questions. We found that facilitated students by an expert guide revealed greater learning gains as compared to students playing alone, with one or three simultaneous game controllers. We also compared these results with the previous controlled experiment and besides learning, measures of game experience and social presence where significantly higher in the interactive conditions. Drawing ideas from sociocultural and cognitive theories we interpreted the contradictory findings, identifying the impact of prior knowledge and culture on the game experience, and eventually learning, in these spaces.

Our next step was to investigate how involving a whole classroom with the gaming experince affects engagement, entertainment, and eventually learning. Thus, we have revised the game to include a whole classroom (up to 24 students) in the game play. Our main goal is to evaluate how different levels of audience involvement affect their game experience and learning benefit. For this reason we are comparing these variables among two conditions: Low Involvement (LI), where audience members are attending the game (performed by two of their peers) and have to provide responses in a timely manner, mainly for motivational purposes; and High Involvement (HI), where audience members are active participants in the game and need to either provide their assistance to players (by majority rule) or actually perform specific tasks as a group (by aggregating their input). We hypothesize that the HI group, by affording greater opportunities for interaction, will increase the sense of interconnectedness between players and audience (social presence), improve their game experience overall (i.e., immersion in the story, flow, competence, challenge), and eventually the learning outcome. We conducted this study in collaboration with the Montgomery County Public Schools (Virginia), during Fall 2016. We had 507 students complete all three stages of the experiment occuring on different days (i.e., intro & pre-test, game, post-test). Findings from this study indicated a higher retention of information over a period of two days for the students who were more involved in the game, compared to no difference when the post-test was taken the day after the game. Additionally, students with direct agency in the game (using XBox controllers) revealed greater learning gains and improved game experience compared to the audience (using iPads). Socioeconomic status, affecting academic performance, also impacted the capacity of students to successfully follow a less involved participation scenario.

Our final step would be to revise the game design once more, based on the most significant findings so far, in order to draw some design guidelines that can be used by other researchers and/or museologist in developing large group collabotive games for informal learning. In order to assess the ecological effectiveness of the proposed instructional approach for large groups, we will conduct an informal case study inside an actual museum. The museum will be in charge of recruiting the school groups for their own purposes, giving us permission to use some of their time and space for running the case study. Ideally, the subject of the exhibition will be pertinent to olive oil production; possible examples include food production, complex engineering processes, or Greek heritage. The three main goals of the case study are:

·       Make the game part of a museum visit: gaining ecologically valid data was set as one of our main objectives since the beginning.

·       Get exposure to large number of students: testing the game in a museum with large throughput will enable gathering more generalizable observations.

·       Test the design guidelines: the observations gathered from the previous studies will be tested and refined in an ecological setting.