Schools are having a hard time adapting to remote life. For younger kids, it’s easy to get distracted, demotivated or depressed because of the lack of social interaction. Children rely on context cues and social interaction to succeed academically and socially, and the existing virtual education ecosystem leaves many students at a disadvantage. Our team proposes a solution to virtual learning for younger students that reduces anxiety, fosters a social environment, and engages students in an interactive virtual environment by using existing, popular, moddable online video games as a platform for education.​​​​​​​
Below you can find some excerpts from our final report and interactable prototypes of our solution.

One of our final prototypes to encourage participation and engagement with the platform.

Online multiplayer video games may provide a solution to the problems presented by our current work from home culture. >50% of gamers say that video games help them connect with friends, and ≈80% say that games provide mental stimulation, relaxation, and stress relief [1]. Rather than attempting to mimic the classroom environment, it may prove useful to change the education paradigm to something more suited to the students’ social and active learning needs.
There has been extensive research [2] into the utility of video games as an educational supplement (as well as many claims to its benefits and drawbacks), but using existing video game infrastructure to facilitate teaching in a social environment may strike a more healthy balance between education and socialization remotely. For example, Minecraft: Education Edition [3] uses a popular existing game (minecraft) to aid STEM teachers, rather than attempt to replace them.
A typical interaction starts when a student forms a goal (or is given a goal) to learn about a concept, attend an online class, or present to others. That goal can be planned, guided, and constrained by an instructor or planned by the student him or herself. For instance, a student may be constrained to use a particular platform, or he or she can choose a platform amongst the available options. After planning and specifying, the student starts executing the goal which may involve passive/active learning or interacting with others.
Although the learning process may seem simple on a conceptual level (encounter material -> learn material -> prove comprehension via test or presentation) , there can be gulfs of execution or evaluation from the student’s perspective. Interacting with online learning management systems or virtual class environments can prove challenging for various reasons, such as differing signifiers or incorrect automated feedback. 
Analysis of Existing Solutions

Minecraft: Education Edition

Minecraft: Education Edition
Minecraft: Education Edition (MEE) is a digital game-based learning that engages learners to solve problems, learn about new concepts, and interact with others in a virtual world made of blocks [6]. MEE contains designed lessons and functionalities for educators and learners. For instance, players can use the code builder to learn about programming concepts, such as loops, in a context of adding dolphins to an aquarium. MEE facilitates social and emotional interaction between players. Such a game also provides a venue for social interactions among players beyond the face-to-face interaction which may be challenging for some individuals, such as individuals with autism [7].
Crystal Island
Crystal Island provides a narrative-centered learning environment that engages students in story-based interactive experiences [9]. It combines and uses commercial video games, intelligent tutoring systems, and narratives. The story-based narratives provide and open new opportunities for learning by increasing learners’ motivation and engagement. The narratives support and facilitate encoding of information in the episodic memories. The narrative-centered environment also facilitates social and emotional interaction. Crystal Island involves a science mystery narrative-based learning environment that engages students to explore a solution to an infectious disease on an island.
Structuring Synchronous Interactions
In addition to the previous two examples, there is also recent research on how to structure peer interactions on large-scale online learning systems. Coetzee et al [10] believe that Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) lack a social component where it is hard for students to reach out and interact with instructors of the online courses. Such learning systems lack the support for students to collaborate with each other to explore concepts or understand topics with their peers. Although such systems have online forums enabling questions and answering, they suffer from retaining students over time. Students are better situated to interact and learn from each other in an environment that facilitates peer learning. Coetzee et al mentioned that recent research proposed peer grading where students review each other’s work. However, this process is anonymous and asynchronous where students do not have opportunities to interact with others. To mitigate this, Coetzee et al introduced a new design of structured chat rooms where learners can work together to discuss and solve some problems related to learning materials. 
Proposed Solution
We propose a virtual classroom environment system built on top of popular, moddable video games. Existing video games are familiar to kids, well designed, and often have dedicated communities to supporting modification and extension. While existing solutions are readily available, and there has been extensive research into the topic of virtual education, the use of existing multiplayer games in the classroom is a solution that could potentially provide a compromise between in-person education and virtual education.
The three main goals of this solution are to reduce anxiety, foster a social environment, and engage students in an interactive virtual environment.
We brainstormed 15-20 use cases and created 2 alternative low-fidelity designs for each use case. These are some scrapped designs.
Design Sprints
Due to the broad scope of the problem, our team decided to drill down and focus on only the most relevant use cases.  For example, all of our teacher user stories were dropped from use in the final prototype. This is due to the fact that we chose to focus on designing the program exclusively from the perspective of the students. This choice was made to create a more coherent narrative through which to design our prototype and further increase the coherence of our program. Additionally, this makes it much simpler to create a functional prototype of our program.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
After meeting and discussing our ideas, we identified the lowest priority use cases and only kept the most relevant to our solution. 
Gamified assignments
Interactivity between classmates
Avatar Creation
Nickname Creation
Testing Protocols
Our research question could simply be: “Is our education program effective in helping student users learn?” However, as we are using a gamified experience to drive engagement, enjoyment is an important factor in the value of our tool. Ergo, our full research question would be: “Is our education program effective in helping student users learn in an enjoyable way.”
         The most effective way to test this is to use a focus group. This allows us to collect feedback directly from potential student users. Additionally, we should have an exit survey for focus group members to complete to gauge their satisfaction with our program. Ergo, we would use a mixed testing protocol between focus groups and surveys.
         The main design for our focus group will have 4 parts. First, the user will be given a pre-test to gauge what knowledge they have on a predetermined subject, such as the topic of trees. After that, the users will be asked to complete a short, one-hour course using our learning software in the preselected subject. After a period of 24 hours, they will be given a follow-up test on the subject to gauge how much knowledge was gained and how well it was retained. Finally, they will be given a short survey to gauge how well they felt they learned the subject, and how much they enjoyed using the software, as well as any ways the user feels we may improve our program.
         This is not an experiment. Blinding of any kind is not necessary, thus, information can be shared freely. Before agreeing to participate in the focus group, focus group members will be told exactly what will be asked of them, full details will be shared about the nature of the two tests, the program, and the exit survey. Additionally, focus group participants may exit at any time for any reason.
         We intend to collect four points of data; one from each of the tests, and two from the exit survey. From the pretest, we wish to gauge the incoming knowledge of the student users. From the exit test, we will gauge how much the student learned and how well they retained that knowledge over a week. From the exit survey, we will learn about the user’s enjoyment, and anything the users feel we could do to improve the program. We will analyze the difference between the pre- and post-tests to see how well the students learn from our program. From the user enjoyment data, we will see how fun the program is. And, from all the surveys, common suggestions or complaints will help us learn how to improve the program in general.
         Our program is specifically designed to be used during social distancing. The entire point of our program is for students to stay safe and have fun while learning. Thus, it is important for our research to be done as safely as possible. We will only interact with our focus group student users via the internet. Our pre-test, virtual course, post-test, and exit survey can and will all be administered over the internet.​​​​​​​
While our class ran out of time and were unable to interview our team, I learned a lot during these deliverables and meetings with my group members.
Prototype Showcase (Interactive)
Group Game
Avatar Creation
Nickname Creation
Interactive Questions
[1] 2020 Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry. (2020, July 28). Retrieved October 04, 2020, from
[2] Mitchell, A., & Savill-Smith, C. (n.d.). The use of computer and video games for learning. Retrieved from
[3] Homepage: Minecraft: Education Edition. (2020, October 03). Retrieved October 04, 2020, from
[4] Schunk, D. H. (1996). Learning theories. Printice Hall Inc., New Jersey, 53.
[5] Prensky, M. (2003). Digital game-based learning. Computers in Entertainment (CIE), 1(1), 21-21.
[6] Bar-El, D., & E. Ringland, K. (2020, September). Crafting Game-Based Learning: An Analysis of Lessons for Minecraft Education Edition. In International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (pp. 1-4).
[7] Ringland, K. E., Wolf, C. T., Faucett, H., Dombrowski, L., & Hayes, G. R. (2016, May). “ Will I always be not social?” Re-Conceptualizing Sociality in the Context of a Minecraft Community for Autism. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1256-1269).
[8] What’s New in EDU: Minecraft: Education Edition gets Code Builder and launches new Hour of Code. (2018, November 15). Retrieved September 26, 2020, from
[9] Rowe, J., Mott, B., McQuiggan, S., Robison, J., Lee, S., & Lester, J. (2009). Crystal island: A narrative-centered learning environment for eighth grade microbiology. In workshop on intelligent educational games at the 14th international conference on artificial intelligence in education, Brighton, UK (pp. 11-20).
[10] Coetzee, D., Lim, S., Fox, A., Hartmann, B., & Hearst, M. A. (2015, February). Structuring interactions for large-scale synchronous peer learning. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 1139-1152).

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