How about this fun twist on a summer camp program at the science center? Imagine you are in a small group of science camp participants and you have access to a digital assistant. You collaboratively act as research rangers to explore a virtual world ecosystem and its fantastic creatures, accessing the personal assistant for help. Afterwards, you share what you discovered about the creatures and how you used the technology. Sounds like fun!
That was the scenario that 23 science campers recently found themselves immersed in during SIM Quest Camp at the Orlando Science Center (OSC), where each workshop of the camp was focused on a different use of simulation. The session run by the ADL Next Generation Learner research team allowed the campers to discover how to use the virtual environment to simulate certain aspects of human behavior interaction with a simulated personal assistant for learning (PAL). The team installed their Imaginarium virtual world environment at OSC to introduce 5th and 6th grade students to the use of modeling and simulation in social science careers. According to reports, the campers were thoroughly engaged in the workshop and had fun exploring the environment.
The OSC staff and ADL research team are keen to find out how learners can become better critical thinkers who adapt successfully to unfamiliar and changing situations, a research area called adaptability, or adaptive thinking. The researchers want to know not only how a learner’s interactions with digital media such as a PAL affects that individual’s learning, but also how it affects collaborative activities and learning within groups. Using the Imaginarium environment as a tool, the researchers have created an immersive experience to facilitate interactions with a simulated PAL. This allows them to understand human/digital interactions in a safe, creative environment.
Lead social scientist and principal investigator on the project, ADL’s Dr. Elaine Raybourn, points out how this research could help fill in some gaps between the tutoring provided by intelligent tutoring systems and the personal, nuanced mentoring of a skilled human tutor. She says, “How learners interact with and learn from future digital media may be fundamentally different than how they learn from human teachers and tutoring systems today. This research will help us understand the role of distributed cognition in problem solving when the participants negotiate knowledge generation by drawing on each other as well as asking for help from simulated PALs.” She notes that there are four key attributes of the ultimate interactive PAL: personalized, persistent, transparent, and ubiquitous. Dr. Raybourn says, “Our vision is that a PAL should help learners become curious, reflective, adaptive and independent thinkers, and not dependent on technology for answers.”
The planned research project will encompass aspects of learning theories and social science research as well as leveraging the technologies of intelligent tutoring systems. The selected ecosystem subject matter was chosen as it relates to enhancement of STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) through the use of digital technologies. ADL’s Next Generation Learner Imaginarium team includes a 5th grade gamer, a social scientist, an artist and 3-D modeler, an instructional designer and software engineers. “Our workshop at the Orlando Science Center would not have been so successful had it not been for the efforts of Jeff Mills, Peter Berking, Alan Workman, Kent Weeks, and Steven Vergenz,” says Dr. Raybourn. “We all have a lot of passion and energy around the research and working directly with kids.”
For more information, contact Dr. Raybourn.
Images provided by Dr. Raybourn with permission of the Orlando Science Center.