Research at CMSCE

Our Center staff, many of which are also education researchers, have published some exciting papers in recent times!  The topics range from student engagement in technology-rich learning environments, teacher transfer of systems thinking skills, and engagement, flow, and immersion in game-based learning.  Find out more about these topics by reading the abstracts and clicking on the paper links below:

"Student engagement as a function of environmental complexity in high school classrooms" in the journal, Learning and InstructionPDF

The purpose of this study was to investigate the linkage between the quality of the learning environment and the quality of students' experience in seven high school classrooms in six different subject areas. The quality of the learning environment was conceptualized in terms of environmental complexity, or the simultaneous presence of classroom challenge and classroom support. The students (N = 108) in each class participated in the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) measuring their engagement and related experiential variables. Concurrently, environmental complexity and its subdimensions were observed and rated from video with a new observational instrument, The Optimal Learning Environments – Observational Log and Assessment (OLE-OLA). Using two-level HLM regression models, ratings from the OLE-OLA were utilized to predict student engagement and experiential variables as measured by the ESM. Results showed that environmental complexity predicted student engagement and sense of classroom self-esteem. Implications for research, theory and practice are discussed.

"Challenging games help students learn: An empirical study on engagement, flow and immersion in game-based learning" in the journal, Computers in Human BehaviorPDF

Abstract: In this paper, we investigate the impact of flow (operationalized as heightened challenge and skill), engagement, and immersion on learning in game-based learning environments.  The data was gathered through a survey from players (N = 173) of two learning games (Quantum Spectre: N = 134 and Spumone: N = 40).  The results show that engagement in the game has a clear positive effect on learning, however, we did not find a significant effect between immersion in the game and learning.  Challenge of the game had a positive effect on learning both directly and via the increased engagement.  Being skilled in the game did not affect learning directly but by increasing engagement in the game.  Both the challenge of the game and being skilled in the game had a positive effect on both being engaged and immersed in the game.  The challenge in the game was an especially strong predictor of learning outcomes.  For the design of educational games, the results suggest that the challenge of the game should be able to keep up with the learners growing abilities and learning in order to endorse continued learning in game-based learning environments.

"Conceptual representations for transfer: A case study tracing back and looking forward" in the journal, Frontline Learning ResearchPDF

Abstract: A primary goal of instruction is to prepare learners to transfer their knowledge and skills to new contexts, but how far this transfer goes is an open question.  In the research reported here, we seek to explain a case of transwer through examining the processes by which a conceptual representation used to reason about complex systems was transferred from one natural system (an aquarium ecosystem) to another natural system (human cells and body systems).  In this case study, a teacher was motivated to generalize her understanding of the Structure, Behaviour, and Function (SBF) conceptual representation to modify her classroom instruction and teaching materials for another system.  This case of stranswer was unexpected and required that we trace back through the video and artefacts collected over several years of this teacher enacting a technology-rich classroom unit organized around this conceptual representation.  We provide evidence of transfer using three data sources: (1) artefacts that the teacher created (2) in-depth semi-structured interview data with the teacher about how her understanding of the representation changed over time and (3) video data over multiple years, covering units on the aquatic ecosystem and the new system that the teacher applied the SBF representation to, the cell and body.  Borrowing from interactive ethnography, we traced backward from where the teacher showed transfer to understand how she got there.  The use of the actor-oriented transfer and preparation for future learning perspectives provided lenses for understanding transfer.  Results of this study suggest that identifying similarities under the lens of SBF and using it as a conceptual tool are some primary factors that may have supported transfer.

"Collaborative group engagement in a computer-supported inquiry learning environment" in the International Journal of Computer Supported Collaborative LearningPDF

Abstract: Computer-supported collaborative learning environments provide opportunities for students to collaborate in inquiry-based practices to solve authentic problems, using technological tools as a resource.  However, we have limited understanding of the quality of engagement fostered in these contexts, in part due to the narrowness of engagement measures.  To help judge the quality of engagement, we extend existing engagement frameworks, which have studied this construct as a stable and decontextualized individual difference.  We conceptualize engagement as multi-faceted (including behavioral, social, cognitive and conceptual-to-consequential forms), dynamic, contextualized and collective.  Using our newly developed observational measure, we examine the variation of engagement quality for ten groups.  Subsequently, we differentiate low and high quality collaborative engagement through a close qualitative analysis of two groups.  Here, we explore the interrelationships among engagement facets and how these relations unfolded over the course of group activity during a lesson.  Our results suggest that the quality of behavioral and social engagement differentiated groups demonstrating low quality engagement, but cognitive and conceptual-to-consequential forms are required for explaining high quality engagement.  Examination of interrelations indicate that behavioral and social engagement fostered high quality cognitive engagement, which then facilitated consequential engagement.  Here, engagement is evidenced as highly interrelated and mutually influencing interactions among all four engagement facets.  These findings indicate the benefits of studying engagement as a multi-faceted phenomenon and extending existing conceptions to include consequential engagement, with implications for designing technologies that scaffold high quality cognitive and conceptual-to-consequential engagement in a computer-supported collaborative learning environment.