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Virtually face to face by Bluemink


Virtually face to face: enriching collaborative learning through multiplayer games by Bluemink, Johanna.

  • Title and author(s) of the article – Virtually face to face: enriching collaborative learning through multiplayer games by Bluemink, Johanna.
  • APA reference (give it your best shot!) – Bluemink, J. (2011) Virtually face to face: enriching collaborative learning through multiplayer games Tampere: Juvenes Print
  • how you found the article and what keywords you used – Google Scholar Alerts, “Second Life”, “Language Teaching”, “multi-player games” 
  • what kind of article it is – PhD thesis
  • all the reasons that you think it is an academic and/or credible article – 
    • the title – Virtually face to face: enriching collaborative learning through multiplayer games 
    • the authors (usually with an email address and affiliation) – Johanna Bluemink, University of Oulu, Faculty of Education, P.O. Box 2000, FI-90014 University of Oulu, Finland Acta Univ. Oul. E 116, 2011Oulu, Finland
    • the abstract – 
“This study focused on enriching collaborative learning through pedagogically scripted multiplayer
games. Collaborative learning was examined in the synchronous discussions of small group
problem-solving activities in face-to-face and virtual game settings. The theoretical approach is
socio-cognitive and builds on the contextual and situated nature of learning. Interaction between
group members in social situations is a key mechanism fostering students’ learning. In the field of
Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning the underlying aim is to stimulate and structure
socially shared construction of knowledge and development of shared understanding among the
This thesis consisted of three empirical studies. The first study focused on analysing the macrolevel
elements of teacher education students’ face-to-face discussions in a context of an
international web-based course. The focus of the second and third empirical studies was on how
distributed collaboration can be enriched by scripting multiplayer game environments. The game
environments were developed and tailored as part of the empirical studies. The main aim was to
analyse small-group micro-level interactions and activities taking place during the game.
Moreover, the particulars of a 3D voice-enhanced multiplayer game context for small-group
shared collaborative activities were investigated. The focus of the last empirical study was on
aspects of collaborative game activity and shared problem solving described from the perspective
of individual players.
The results indicated that the synchronous small-group discussions, on the macro-level,
consisted of explaining, sharing knowledge, providing critiques, reflection, and joint engagement.
The micro-level elements of the players’ discussions during the game were questions, content
statements, social statements, suggestions, instructions or orders, encouragements, and responses.
Both macro and micro level elements varied in random order during the discussion, forming a base
for small-group discussion and joint problem-solving efforts. Not all problem-solving situations
in the game data were shared, indicating that if shared collaborative activity was pursued, the
scripting of the game tasks must require equal participation and teamwork during the game. The
3D game environment created a strong shared context for the distributed groups by engaging the
players and reinforcing individual participation through the avatar activity. The findings of this
thesis contribute to the future development of serious games and highlight the potential of
multiplayer games as tools for supporting the social aspects of distributed teamwork.
Keywords: 3D multiplayer games, computer-supported collaborative learning, scripting
collaboration, small-group discussion, socially shared cognition”
    • the introduction – is about 3 pages long but sets the scene appropriately:

“It has been asserted that people have an intrinsic need for collaboration as well as
for mutual knowledge and ‘sharing meaning’ (Stahl, 2006). When interacting with
others, we may notice the perspectives of others and discover something new. In
working together, we may feel that many challenges are easier to solve, and
afterwards we may notice that we know more and think differently. In other
words, we have learnt. In the field of learning sciences, many studies have been
conducted to investigate the essence of collaboration, which also is referred as
joint meaning making (e.g., Dillenbourg, 1999; Barron, 2003; Stahl, 2006;
Sawyer, 2006). Studies have shown that in collaborative situations, the key to
learning is building and maintaining a shared conception of a problem or task.
Therefore, in any successful collaborative situation, there is a constant effort to
coordinate language and activity in order to reach a shared understanding
(Teasley & Roschelle, 1993; Dillenbourg, 1999). This effort matters in
collaboration because it places individual in situations where the key mechanisms
of learning can take place (Schwartz, 1999).
Despite extensive research on collaboration, in practise we are not always
satisfied with the outcome of our joint efforts. It is difficult to understand the
thoughts of others who might have hidden agendas. Most of us have come to
realise that in practise that collaborative learning is indeed not a recipe or
mechanistic formula that would automatically lead to better results (Dillenbourg,
1999). It takes time, effort, and patience to explain, listen, and decide together so
that everyone is satisfied. Sometimes we choose to carry out tasks alone since we
feel that the efforts of collaborating would be greater than the benefits. Studies on
collaborative learning in small groups have pointed out that the secret behind
successful group activities seems to lie specifically in the way of listening to
others and echoing the contributions of others in a reciprocal manner (Barron,
2003). Therefore, the ways that individuals participate in collaborative activities
have a great impact on the quality of social interaction in groups, which in turn
has a crucial influence on groups’ problem-solving processes (Gresalfi, Martin,
Hand, & Greeno, 2009). Currently, researchers seem to agree that the interaction
between group members is a mechanism that fosters students’ learning in
collaborative situations, whether in face-to-face or technology-supported contexts
(Sawyer, 2006; Kreijns, Kirschner & Jochems, 2003).
The various contexts and situations of collaboration provide challenges
requiring great abilities from the collaborators to adjust to new people and tasks
in both face-to-face and virtual environments. All communication takes place in
context (Clark, 2003), forming ever changing scenes for learning scientists to
both investigate and support intelligent human activities as situated activity
(Greeno, 2006b). During the past 15 years, hand in hand with the accelerating
development of technology and the internet, the field of Computer Supported
Collaborative learning (CSCL) has become an established branch in learning
sciences and focuses on learning in various technologically mediated contexts
(Koschmann, 1996). Because interaction is the core of collaborative learning (CL),
computer supported (CS) environments have been designed and built to
specifically support the efforts of fruitful collaboration (Littleton & Miell, 2004).
Numerous studies on different virtual learning environments have been conducted
to find out what kind of design and structuring best encourages learning and
working together (e.g., Dillenbourg, 2002; Kreijns, Kirschner & Jochems, 2003;
Stegmann, Weinberger, & Fischer, 2007). Interaction processes in CSCL
environments can be structured to tempt participants to work together or make it
impossible to solve tasks without the collaboration of participants (Weinberger,
2003; Hämäläinen, Manninen, Järvelä & Häkkinen, 2006).
To clarify the focus of this doctoral thesis to the reader, it should be noted that
the empirical studies of this thesis have focused precisely on the interaction
processes of small groups in CSCL environments. The thesis consists of three
separate empirical studies carried out during the past ten years in higher education
and workplace contexts of multidisciplinary settings. Therefore, the thesis also
reflects the maturity and scope of the CSCL field.
The first study (Article I) was a part of the Networked Interaction (NINTER,
1999) research project funded by the Academy of Finland, the main aim of which
was to analyse the macro-level elements of teacher-education students’ face-toface
discussions. Face-to-face work was seen as contextual support in an
international web-based course where the web activities were text-based
discussions in the learning platform discussion area. As a typical feature of the
studies at this time, the collaborative interaction was structured with the help of
pedagogical model developed as a part of the research project. In the second
empirical study (Articles II and III), a virtual voice-enhanced multiplayer game
eScape was developed and studied to see how a social action adventure game
could support distributed collaboration. The study was part of the Ecology of
Collaboration (ECOL, 2003) research project belonging to the Life as Learning
Research programme of the Academy of Finland. The players solved tasks
together by acting through avatars and discussing through headsets in the 3D
game. The main aim was to investigate the micro-level elements of collaborative
discussions. The third study (Article IV) continued the efforts to support
distributed collaboration in the 3D game context and was conducted in the Gate
for Collaboration (GATE, 2007) research project funded by the Finnish Work
Environment Fund. The central aim was to examine the particulars of
collaborative game activity from the individual’s perspective when collaborating
in a voice-enhanced multiplayer game. The game design was based on the
findings of the eScape study, indicating that emphasis should be on scripting tasks
that would lead to the participation of all players in the collaborative problemsolving
The overarching aim of this doctoral thesis is on enriching collaborative
learning through pedagogically scripted multiplayer games. Collaborative
learning is examined as it appears in the synchronous discussions of small-group
problem-solving activities in both face-to-face and virtual game settings. The
approach is socio-cognitive, building on the understanding that social and
cognitive involvement cannot be studied as separate issues since the social
context in which the individual’s cognitive activity takes place is an integral part
of the activity. Social and individual aspects intertwine in social interactions,
which at their best lead to collaborative and individual learning (Resnick, 1991;
Dai & Sternberg, 2004).
Although a large number of studies have been conducted on social
interactions and collaboration in CSCL environments (e.g., Hausmann, Chi &
Roy, 2004; Dillenbourg & Traum, 2006, Sawyer, 2006), so far very few have
reported empirical results from small-group collaboration in a voice-enhanced
multiplayer game context. The phenomenon of sharing understanding in human
collaboration has interested researchers for decades (e.g., Dewey 1958, Bruner,
1990; Thompson & Fine, 1999). However, in recent years, multiplayer game
environments have provided a novel context for collaboration, and their effects
remain to be explored because not only do people make spaces but also spaces
make people (Sundholm, 2007; Benwell & Stokoe, 2006). Therefore, the
particulars of the multiplayer game context for small-group collaborative activity
are investigated here. This thesis also aims to contribute to existing research on
the kind of scripting of game environments that can enrich collaboration. In
addition, as the field is new, there is no generally established set of methods for
studying learning in game contexts, so methodological explorations are included
in this thesis.
This work consists of two parts. The first part includes the introduction, the
theoretical framework, the aims and methods of the study, and the main findings,
which are followed by a general discussion. The second part consists of four
international peer-reviewed journal articles, which report the empirical results of
this doctoral thesis.”

    • a review of other papers relevant to the topic ( a literature review) – very comprehensive
    • a description of what the research was – “The detailed aims of the current thesis were the following:
      1. The first aim was to analyse the nature of synchronous small-group
      discussion in technology-supported settings of collaborative learning
      (Articles I, II, III).
      2. The second aim was to explore the particulars of a 3D voice-enhanced
      multiplayer game context for small group collaborative activity (Articles II,
      III, and IV).
      3. The third aim was to experiment the kind of scripting of multiplayer games
      that can enrich collaborative learning (Articles II, III, IV).
      4. The fourth aim was to discuss the methodological issues for studying social
      interaction and collaborative learning in 3D voice-enhanced multiplayer
      games (Articles II, III, and IV).”and what the researchers did-

      “4 Methods of the study
      4.1 Research design of the empirical studies
      This thesis consists of three empirical studies that have been carried out as part of
      larger research projects at the Learning and Educational Technology Research
      Unit at the University of Oulu. The first empirical study was a part of NINTER
      (Networked Interaction), a research project funded by the Academy of Finland.
      The second empirical study, “eScape,” was a sub study of an Ecology of
      Collaboration (ECOL) research project also funded by the Academy of Finland.
      The third empirical study was carried out in the Gate for Collaboration research
      project funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund. The main goal of these
      empirical studies was to support collaborative learning processes through
      pedagogical structuring of computer-supported learning environments (see Figure
      1). Because the first empirical study was carried out about ten years ago, a
      historical perspective of CSCL field also is discussed.”

    • the results of what they did  and a discussion about what the results mean – is outlined in the Table of Contents6 Main findings and general discussion 55
      6.1 The elements of synchronous small-group discussion ………………………. 56
      6.2 Through equal participation to shared collaborative activity ……………… 57
      6.3 Structuring collaborative learning environments and serious
      games ………………………………………………………………………………………… 60
      6.4 Methodological perspectives of studying social interaction in
      small-groups ……………………………………………………………………………….. 62
      6.5 Practical implications and aspects for further research ……………………… 64
    • a conclusion –itself is about 3 pages long but the last paragraph is a good indication of the overall message:

“To conclude, the findings of this thesis showed that pedagogically scripted
3D multiplayer games provide a fruitful context for team training by stimulating
the active participation and engagement of the participants. In the future, the
individual’s ability to be metacognitive about social engagement will be more
important than ever before (O’Donnell, 2006). Therefore, pedagogically scripted
game environments combined with sufficient prompts for reflection will be
prominent technological tools, raising the awareness of the importance of small
group and interpersonal skills in an attractive manner.”

    • a list of references – is impressively long and comprehensive
  • how well it fits the ‘structure of an academic article’ – perfectly! It clearly provides the outline of the paper, with all the aims of the research laid out. The signposting is academically structured, i.e. the reader knows what each section and/or paragraph is about. Put another way, the reader knows what to expect from each section. It was a pleasure to read the Table of Contents, and find my way around to  summarise the points above. (I didn’t have to read the whole thesis, but I certainly would like to).
  • how many references it has – 10 pages long
  • how many citations it has (if you can find out) – this task proves to be difficult
  • for articles that you found online,  the url of the article
  • say whether you are interested in properly reading the article or not (and give some reasons!) – Yes, definitely! It’s a long article but that’s expected of a PhD research. It’s comprehensive and laid out perfectly in terms of meeting the requirements of an academic/credible article (see the 5th point above). I also liked the following extract from the author (in acknowledgements):

“When you are a fish, you don’t see the water, you just live in it every day”. If I were a fish I could say there has been an ocean around me in the last decade that I have worked for this Doctoral thesis. From time to time the ocean has been so deep that if I weren’t a fish, I could have drowned in the amount of information and impressions that a PhD candidate may experience. Only by going away, you can learn to see the water you live in. This, I think is one of the core mechanisms of learning, the essence of perspective-taking. To be able to take a perspective, we need others “to show the other”.

The above statement confirms what I had said in one of my earlier postings, that the best way to learn anything is to teach it to others. When we’re immersed in something, especially something that we like, it’s easy to take for granted that it may not make any sense to others at all. Academic research, such as the one above, successfully takes it (the research thesis) apart and puts it back again, whilst adding to the pool of knowledge out there.

In a nutshell, I knew a lot more after I’ve read the article than I could have ever known without it 🙂 (And I haven’t read the article fully!) Thank you Johanna for enlightening me.


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