Building Educational Environments of the Future

Speaker Name: 
Dominic Kao
Speaker Title: 
Ph.D. Graduate
Speaker Organization: 
Start Time: 
Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 11:30am
End Time: 
Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 12:30pm
Sri Kurniawan

With the current proliferation of educational games, MOOCs, and with the pervasive use of virtual identities such as avatars in systems ranging from online forums to virtual reality simulations, it is increasingly important to understand the impacts of avatars. Over two years, I led an initiative conducting experiments involving >10,000 participants to understand the impacts of virtual identities on users in virtual environments. Using a computer science learning platform and game of our own creation as an experimental setting, we have been studying the impacts of avatar use on users' performance and engagement in computer science learning environments. This is a topic of increasing importance in human-computer interaction. We systematically explored the impacts of different avatar types on users, beginning with distinctions between anthropomorphic vs. non-anthropomorphic avatars, user likeness vs. non-likeness avatars, and other conditions informed by insights from the learning sciences and sociology. Our studies have revealed that avatars can support, or harm, performance and engagement. Several notable trends are: 1) simple abstract avatars (such as geometric shapes) are especially effective when the player is experiencing failure, e.g., while debugging, 2) likeness avatars (avatars in a user's likeness) are not always effective, 3) role model avatars (in particular scientist avatars) are often effective, and 4) successful likeness avatars that are a user's likeness when doing well and otherwise abstract are effective. We discuss these findings in addition to others as well as a follow-up study on badges and avatar identification. Finally, we discuss a future project career game.

Dominic Kao is a Ph.D. Graduate (February, 2018) from MIT in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program. His research interests include human-computer interaction, games, and education. He has been awarded both the Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Postgraduate Scholarship. He has published in ACM, AAAI, and IEEE sponsored conferences, and in 2017 received the Emerging Virtual Scholar Award at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference.