The Impact of a Multi-user Virtual Environment on Teacher Instructional Time, Voluntary Student Writing Practice, and Student Writing Achievement

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[Bloomington, Ind.] : Indiana University
Two major obstacles to using PBL methods in K-12 classrooms are the time it takes to design the rich learning environment and the time required for students to interact at their own pace with ill-structured problems. The focus of this study was to determine whether game-design design principles can be used to both compliment a digital PBL environment and improve student learning. Further, this study sought to determine whether such a design could allow teachers to act as a challenger of poorly developed knowledge constructs instead of as a font of directional and procedural knowledge for students To answer these questions a digital learning environment was designed that used embedded scaffolds, nested goals, clue trails, narrative context, and explicit rules to improve student writing. This unit was part of a larger multi-user virtual environment, but was designed to be a self-contained unit that leveraged advanced technologies to establish an immersive experience for learning writing skills. The unit was designed to be two-times per week for four weeks in total length which included student training on the active role of a reporter who investigated mysteries taking place in a virtual town. The learner then composed feature stories relating their understanding of the mystery. A comparison class was recruited and the teacher was observed teaching the same content and skill standards but through more didactic methods of instruction. The results of this study showed that the treatment condition had decreases in teacher time spent answering procedural and directional questions, increases in the amount of voluntary student writing activity, and improvements in standardized achievement scores on prompts that consisted of writing tasks similar to those that students participated in during the treatment. Students engaged fully with the learning environment although several tensions emerged. These included tensions between student perceptions of teacher rules versus system rules, student play versus completion of learning tasks, and whether they should learn through the system by reading versus being told what to do. Student disabilities were also encountered during the study which placed the system under a different kind of test than it was designed for, though it successfully engaged these students as well. A final tension arose in the result of the research methods themselves, bringing home the point that a need to capture data may interfere with the learner's experience, possibly reducing or improving the impact of the treatment itself.
Thesis (PhD) - Indiana University, School of Education, 2006
Technology, Educational, Writing, Game, Learning Environment, Achievement
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Doctoral Dissertation