Multiverse Dragon Masters for Elementary Reading Literacy:
Evaluation of the Pilot Course
Designing Online Learning Environments
Professor Mark Lewis
Empire State College
April 28, 2017
Multiverse Dragon Masters, Evaluation:
Multiverse Dragon Masters is a 3d simulation and game based curriculum based in a virtually immersive learning environment. The pilot was designed for age groups with flexibility based on student level and ability, between 6-11 years olds (primary grades) for goal based learning. In addition the primary evaluation form was goal based evaluation (McNamara, 2008). This could be expanded to 12-15 (secondary grades) with evolving curriculum and for advance application with design tools for in world storybook and literary project creation. The pilot was tested by my two daughters, one age 9, and the other an adult home educator of preschool children, as well as two college associates.
My educational goals were to design projects and experiences that are personal and relevant to the learner. My 9 year old daughter whom is home instructed, is below her reading level for her age. The design of this pilot was with her special needs in mind, as well as to produce quality presentations through the use of technology that can be shared with the online community.
On both the website and in the virtual world graphics and text combine to increase the impact on learning. Using this principle the fact that the animation in virtual worlds is more engaging to children in an e-learning environment that a static text based or even interactive chat based website is supported(Clark & Mayer, 2016, p. 71) This is also based on the arousal that emotional attachment promotes learning. The virtual world environment allows for both synchronous and asynchronous learning, where the student can interact with the lesson plan independently or with the instructor, parent and/or other participants. One college associate commented that the title of “Multiverse Dragon Masters” created psychological engagement even before beginning the pilot project.
The supporting website also give additional asynchronous learning opportunities and lesson plan preparation. It allows for the application of the embodiment principle because the avatar programming mimics human gestures in line with live voice interactions, increasing stimulation contributing to learning (Clark & Mayer, 2016, p. 192). Virtual worlds can be individually designed to better adhere to the concurrency principle by avoiding streaming audio, music and ambient noises and using sounds only when beneficial for motivational engagement with the learning content. The individual avatar controls also allow for the content user to adjust sounds, movements and other features to align with personal preferences. In this the user can choose to eliminate ambient noise, sound effects, streaming music, etc. In a virtual world the importance of immersion is highlighted. It is a very specific platform with many possibilities but may not be appropriate for all learners. Deciding on an appropriate audience and content rating will also be essential in its development.
The redundancy principle is supported with this reduction in unnecessary audio when using visual text as the audio may reduce the knowledge absorbed from the lesson (Clark & Mayer, 2016, p. 139). Choosing only beneficial graphics and limiting the over use of graphic, as well as keeping word choice simple and concise are all conducive to learning according to the coherence principle (Clark & Mayer, 2016, p. 165) I can apply the contiguity principle in the virtual world environment by creating corresponding printed words with graphics or slide show with images and words, similar to an online storyboard. Points, tokes, prizes and awards through exploration, games and quizzes will instructors and parent gauge the success of the leaning platform.
Through my research one concern was that the personalizeation features in virtual worlds my become more of a distraction to learners and ultimately outweigh the educational benefits. (p.12, Dickey 2010) Allowing the 9 year old participant to make choices based upon limited selection, rather than teaching the technology tools of actual avatar design, I found that the pilot student was not distracted in the same way described by teachers in prior studies. In addition Personalization Principle, points out the benefits of these features in motivating students (Clark and Mayer, 2016). My adult daughter did report spending time working on her avatar and struggling with the technology aspect, in other words, she wanted to completely personalize her avatar but did not have the time to learn the technology. I ended up spending a few hours with her just to help her get her avatars appearance “just right”. With the two other college associates, I provided a ready made avatar and offered the options to adjust. I found with an avatar that was not “their own” they did not use the personalization features and simply continues with the lesson plan as laid out in the virtual world.
In this lesson plan the goal was to create a virtual world that encouraged reading in a game based environment. While working one on one with the 9 year old student she was motivated to read the story boards and read the quizzes for the opportunity to earn items she could then create her own story book scenes with. She enjoyed the idea of taking pictures of her creations with her own avatar as the main character. The one on one interaction in an online virtual world enhanced her motivation and interests in participating in reading chat and other required readings within the virtual platform in order to participate as she explored different areas and progressed through the game, learning to correctly identify words, and read simple to more advanced sentences throughout the virtual experience. The student was very interested in earning her own space to design in the virtual world, and kept asking me when I would be putting in more rewards, challenges and traps.
For this pilot program I planned a 30 minute walk through with 30 minutes of individual exploration. I had intended this to simulate the one on one goal of instruction. The college associate participants and myself were unable to coordinate schedules to meet online for this walk through. This impacted and lessened the affect of the pilot. Though I offered resources to aid in understanding the technology platform, time was a barrier and these resources were not utilized due to the learners time constraints. Instead I relied on the website resource and written support as an overall presentation of the game features and curriculum.
My adult daughter was able to meet with me one on one and this made her transition to a new technology format easier, thus enabling individual exploration. I will be creating an individualized pdf with visual screen shots as an improvement to the course as well as more training resources for new avatars within the virtual world. This will include a virtual orientation center that will teach movement controls and other aspects of the technology needed for success.
A parent teacher guide is also useful and I was able to implement many of these concepts into the starting point in the virtual world. Having these resources in world is essential and I will be developing PDFs of the same resources when applicable that specifically address subject matter concerning virtual worlds and the educational use of them for children on the companion website. Other parent guides resources include the user agreement both in world and on the website explaining the open access of virtual worlds and the responsibility of the parent and educator to supervise the sue of the virtual world. Help documentation such as how to create a child avatar and other useful tips and directions will also be available.
The subject content used in this virtual pilot began with reading and comprehension. In addition to reading literacy, digital literacy is also expanded though not a direct part of the lesson plan. Through observation I have seen improvement in the 9 year old student with technology use and in vocabulary recognition. The lack of technology skills with this new platform did surface as a barrier more so with the adult learners that the child learner in this pilot course. This supports the research that compared to the often problematic adaptation to new technologies experience by adults, children “…easily adapt to graphic and conceptual abstraction…often have extensive experience in navigating 3D spaces and discovering and exercising interface affordances” (p. 1 Roussou).
I was able to design the world then export it to a private server which is ideal for individual families who need added security and have privacy and safety concerns with online access. I then started from scratch, rebuilding the aspects I found most useful and continue with my experimentation in the online version. I have been exploring Sim on a Stick or “Simonastic” and other ready made servers such as Dreamworld and virtual world venues that do not require internet connections. Eventually I may want to move to a stand-alone platform such as can be found at www.Simonastick.com . In the future I can design and distribute an Oar file for download as an open source educational resource.
As an educator, creating a help sheet to assist learners in finding and setting controls for security and privacy would also be appropriate. This can be done real-time through virtual sessions using video, audio, or text. It can be done through the creation of PDFs that also have accessibility features built in, or it can be done by instructional video. Though the videos I have on my companion website were not specific to the pilot in terms of orientation, the college associate participants commented that the found the videos which addressed the ethics of using online virtual worlds with youth, aided them in their comfort level in taking the pilot course.
Through the first phase of this lesson plan students were able to explore the island, collect items for points, and take quizzes that rewarded for correct answers. The collection of “butterflies” awarded tokens and were accompanied by a notecard that provided instructions. The college associate participants expressed confusion at how to collect these tokens even with the written instructions. My adult daughter and 9 year old daughter benefited from a one on one demonstration. This reinforces the benefit of video tutorials in future designs. Story boards introduced the students to an underlying story plot. Students were also be able to create their own story line using screen shots, adding text and future participants could creating their own story boards that could be placed in world. Though these instructions were in world the college associate participants responded better to the pdf outline on the accompanying website than the in world resources. This identified that though students may find the virtual world a sufficient platform for information, the website and more traditional forms of content delivery may be essential for parent and teacher support. Students and parents can access the lesson plan online, again with parent supervision, will find resources and information will be presented on my current website Wopoli.com and eventually the option of my Facebook page. Future exploration of programs will also allow for quizzes to be saved or even emailed to the instructor. According to quality standards creating additional resources such as a netiquette guide (Quality Matters, 2014).
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