• Designing an engaging learning universe for situated interactions in virtual environments

      Christopoulos, Athanasios (University of BedfordshireUniversity of Bedfordshire, 2018-07)
      Studies related to the Virtual Learning approach are conducted almost exclusively in Distance Learning contexts, and focus on the development of frameworks or taxonomies that classify the different ways of teaching and learning. Researchers may be dealing with the topic of interactivity (avatars and immersion are key components), yet they do so they mainly focusing on the interactions that take place within the virtual world. It is the virtual world that consists the primary medium for communication and interplay. However, the lines are hard to be drawn when it comes to examining and taxonomising the impact of interactions on motivation and engagement as a synergy of learners’ concurrent presence. This study covers this gap and sheds light on this lack—or, at least, inadequacy—of literature and research on the interactions that take place both in the physical and the virtual environment at the same time. In addition, it explores the impact of the instructional design decisions on increasing the learners’ incentives for interplay when trying to make sense of the virtual world, thus leading them to attain higher levels of engagement. To evaluate the potential of interactions holistically and not just unilaterally, a series of experiments were conducted in the context of different Hybrid Virtual Learning units, with the participation of Computer Science & Technology students. One of the goals was to examine the learners’ thoughts and preconceptions regarding the use of virtual worlds as an educational tool. Then, during the practical sessions, the focus was placed on monitoring students’ actions and interactions in both the physical and the virtual environment. Consequently, students were asked as a feedback to report their overall opinion on these actions and interactions undertaken. The study draws a new research direction, beyond the idea of immersion and the development of subject-specific educational interventions. The conclusions provide suggestions and guidelines to educators and instructional designers who wish to offer interactive and engaging learning activities to their students, as well as a taxonomy of the different types of interactions that take place in Hybrid Virtual Learning contexts.