CyGaMEs, MoonWorld Earn Recognition

Some of the most groundbreaking research into videogame and virtual world learning and design is taking place at the Center for Educational Technologies. We started out with funding from NASA to determine how students could best learn NASA science through videogames. With that project we created the Selene videogame. Bolstered by new funding in 2009 from the National Science Foundation, we built on that initial research and are taking it to another level. First, we're rolling out a new version of Selene, which will feature an immersive environment, optimized gameplay and performance, enhanced graphics with 3-D effects, and great new sounds and animations. We hired Second Avenue Software of Pittsford, NY, to help bolster the game's performance and their work this year will be unveiled in the first quarter of 2010.

We've also used funding from NASA to create the MoonWorld island in the Second Life virtual world. The island went live in 2009, and we'll be adding to it and researching how people learn in it during 2010.

Educational research experts have taken note of the CyGaMEs project, which encompasses Selene and all of our videogame efforts. Larry Hedges, a nationally recognized statistician and professor at Northwestern University, joined CyGaMEs in 2009 because he found the project's research to be pioneering. "It is an example of how to do things that people in the abstract world have talked about for a long time," Hedges said, "but it is one thing to talk about it and one thing to create a working model that is doing it, and I think that is what Selene has done. It has broken new ground by actually doing a variety of things like embedded assessment, things like monitoring the motivation of students, so I think that is fascinating."

The CyGaMEs research is one of only four NSF projects invited to present at a symposium on the major accomplishments of the REESE program, which funds CyGaMEs, at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness conference in March 2010.

Here's a state of the union on where the videogame research has taken us so far, according to Dr. Debbie Denise Reese, senior educational researcher at the Center for Educational Technologies and principal investigator on CyGaMEs:

Over the initial years of the project, CyGaMEs researchers have accomplished a number of breakthroughs in gameplay data analysis. Recently, we triangulated videos of a player engaged in Selene gameplay with gameplay gestures collected as numerical data and the timed report assessment that measures player progress toward the game goal. We demonstrated that the video and the gameplay gesture identify the same moment of learning. In this case study, the prototypical learning moment concerns the concept of accretion: that large kinetic energy collisions fragment, while lower kinetic energy collisions accrete. Both gameplay data and the video identified the same learning moment, occurring at the same time. Then, we searched the corpus of Selene data to identify other cases, exemplars of the same accretion learning moment, and the exact time at which that learning occurred.

The third measure, the timed report, operationalizes player learning as progress toward the game goal, and is measured every 10 seconds of gameplay. Statistical analysis confirmed that the timed report was extremely sensitive to growth in learning, accounting for most of the variance in the model. This result demonstrates the validity and sensitivity of the timed report.

In addition to the triangulation, CyGaMEs researchers have demonstrated that an algorithm, programmed to duplicate hand identification of the learning moment, has produced statistical results that replicate those produced by the by-hand identified learning moment.

CyGaMEs analyses have also demonstrated that it is the game itself, and not the environment's video didactic instruction, that enhances player's early understanding of these fundamental planetary processes.

Player Experience: Learning and Flow: CyGaMEs designed a third embedded assessment, the flowometer, which measures self-reported self-perceptions of experience known as flow. Flow is a state of extreme concentration during which an individual's focus is so directed and invested that the individual may lose track of time and be unaware of distraction. Flow is a state of extreme productivity, and it is intrinsically rewarding. Optimal, balanced, and relative high levels of skill and challenge indicate a person is in the state of flow. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (developer of flow theory), during learning, challenge is higher than skill. Thus, by definition, people should not experience flow while learning. Flow theory defines seven other states of experience, also according to relative self-reported levels of skill and challenge: apathy, boredom, routine expertise [like a rock climber on a familiar cliff face, also labeled relaxation,], control, arousal, anxiety, and worry. Csikszentmihalyi suggested that people learn in a state of arousal. However, scholars have yet to establish the relationship between learning and the eight flow channels.

Using the flowometer and two phases of data collection, we have established baseline levels for the eight channels of flow during Selene gameplay, instruction, and animations, and other components of the environment. As our player population and database grow, we will combine flow, gesture, and timed report analyses. We hope to identify, for Selene at least, the correspondence between flow and game-based learning.

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