S. Mystakidis1, E. Berki2, J. Valtanen3

1University of Patras (GREECE) / University of Jyväskylä (FINLAND)
2University of Tampere / University of Jyväskylä (FINLAND)
3University of Tampere (FINLAND)
Social virtual reality environments, also known as 3D virtual immersive environments, are three-dimensional computer-generated virtual spaces that are increasingly used in attendance-based and distance education. Thanks to their unique characteristics that separate them from two-dimensional virtual learning environments, social virtual reality environments can enhance distance education efficacy when used in combination with applying instructional methodologies such as situated learning, experiential learning and game-based learning.

The authors of this paper describe the design and findings of a research study on game-based learning in social virtual immersive environments. The research methodology of the study incorporated a mixed approach for evaluation; the participants answered to a survey and participated in semi-structured interviews.

More specifically, the paper exposes the design and the implementation of two mini serious games as proof of concept for the supplement of a postgraduate course on Cybersecurity in the University of Washington, USA. These social learning experiences were constructed taking into account various game mechanics and components designed to increase their appeal to most game player types. The games featured narrative, rules, team collaboration, competition, challenges, achievements, surprises, levels, rewards, choice, feedback, scoring, time-pressure, exploration.

The findings of the study showed that the participants in distance education programmes i) think that playful experiences in 3d social virtual reality are beneficial for their learning and ii) they value learning activities based on active participation and social interaction. The findings from the study also confirmed that the steep learning curve of new users in 3d virtual immersive environments is an obstacle for learning that needs to be addressed meticulously.

The paper authors illustrate how social virtual reality environments enable educators to create interactive exhibits and 3d content as well as entertaining social experiences of learning value in order to illustrate and visualize real Cybersecurity practices. In addition, it is explained how programming in virtual reality environments helps participants to experience intangible notions such as malware and behavioral patterns with the help of storytelling and visual metaphors. Overall, the authors offer recommendations on the effective use of game-based instructional approaches such as serious games, gamification and play in virtual immersive environments for educational purposes. Game-based learning experiences should be crafted in close conjunction with the course’s learning outcomes. A course-wide narrative can help overall participants’ engagement and content retention. The thinking styles of the participants and their learning preferences should also influence rapid tweaking of game parameters in programming and general curricula design decisions in order to accommodate epistemological needs and particular knowledge desires.