How can multi-user virtual environments be designed for vocational education and training?
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Polytechnics in New Zealand and abroad are mainly concerned with vocational education and training (VET); it is their mission to have graduates work ready. However, this is challenging for economic and practical reasons. Employers may not be able to accept liability particularly when the workplace is dangerous. Virtual environments that simulate these contexts have been successfully designed for gaming, but can such environments be systematically designed for VET?
An authentic, vocational situation can be designed and coded into a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) to provide a simulated, immersive, vocational learning experience for a number of students. Using an avatar, each student can share their social presence in the MUVE, including voice communication and spatial movement. Within a MUVE, a student is able to practise without physical risk. In this way, MUVE-based learning could provide an opportunity to develop more work-ready graduates. However, there is little research into the design of MUVEs for VET. In addition, such virtual learning environments must continue to be updated and redesigned to fit the continual development of the vocation and the technology platforms. Therefore, there is a need for interdisciplinary educational and informatics research into the processes of designing MUVEs to fit education and training.
While a number of MUVEs have been created and their implementation has been researched and documented, the processes of their design have not been studied. For example, for children in middle school in the United States, the River City MUVE and its following generation EcoMUVE (Dede, Grotzer, Kamarainen, & Metcalf, 2017a) adopted design based research (DBR) to produce, at large scale, a MUVE that simulated an authentic situation. These and other studies of MUVEs have only gathered evidence from implementing the interventions, but have not presented any findings in relation to the design and coding processes. In addition, while specific theoretical perspectives were included for some MUVEs, the way in which educational theory informed the design and development of the MUVEs have not been studied or described.
The research presented in this thesis addresses the need to understand how educational theory can become intrinsic to the design and development of MUVEs and how it informs the design and development of the software for VET. Two case studies of MUVE design processes are presented in this thesis. Both vocational contexts involve some danger and risk: (1) temporary traffic management (TTM) and (2) communication on a ship’s bridge.
The three phase study was informed by two theoretical frameworks; the legitimate peripheral participation theory (LPP) (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and the technological and pedagogical content knowledge framework (TPACK) (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). The first case study is of a hybrid DBR Agile methodology that was enacted to produce a MUVE for TTM. The methodology was further refined in the development of a MUVE for maritime ship’s bridge communication training in the second case study. Techniques from research in information systems (IS) software design and Agile software engineering methods were systematically integrated with those in educational research, including the participant researcher who had the additional roles of software developer, designer of virtual environments, and technician. In addition to students, the participants in the case studies included tertiary educators and professionals, such as, a civil engineer and a Master of a maritime vessel.
Interviews and observations were recorded throughout the enactment of the hybrid DBR Agile software development process. The analysis included a novel swim approach that framed and reflected on the roles of participants in each MUVE project overall, and in the context of a particular classroom intervention. The swim framed the direct and indirect analyses of observations of the fit of the theoretical frameworks as they were applied. The swim narratives were complemented with recordings of the Agile tasks when they were added to backlogs for development.
In summary, this doctoral study discovered a hybrid DBR for Agile software development (hDAS) methodology that inculcates educational theory with DBR and participant research in requirements-gathering for Agile software development and feedback to the software development process. It also presents two case studies of this process. This methodology is relevant to the production and updating of MUVEs to improve the design and implementation for the purposes of VET. Further research is also recommended.