Audience interaction during collaborative game play using virtual environments in informal learning contexts
We presented six mini-course sessions at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, over the course of two months. The goal of the course was to teach junior high-school students the olive oil production process and the engineering concepts involved. We used a combination of a custom multiuser digital game and some after-game activities to help students understand concepts such as hydraulic power and centrifugal force. Students initially played our 3d game using Xbox controllers and iPad devices and then used 3d-printed models of the machines and real artifacts (e.g., olives, pipes, belt, etc.) to reproduce the production process. We then exhibited the operation of the machines using everyday artifacts, such as a salad bowl for centrifuge power, and miniature models of actual machines, such as a centrifuge and a steam engine. The mini-course was experienced by 80 students from the Science Leadership Academy, a magnet school of the museum. We observed and documented student interactions both during the game but especially during the activities. Our interpretations helped as test and finalize a list of design guidelines for developing virtual environments and simulation games for informal learning spaces. This was the last step in the five-year long dissertation research by the former CS graduate student Panagiotis Apostolellis and hopefully the first step in investigating effective ways to engage large student audiences with interactive experiences during museum visits and other informal learning activities.