A Game-Based Approach to Support Social Presence and Awareness in Distributed Project-Based Learning

A Game-Based Approach to Support Social Presence and Awareness in Distributed Project-Based Learning

Björn Berg Marklund, Per Backlund, Carl-Johan Dahlin, Henrik Engström, Ulf Wilhelmsson
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2014010101
(Individual Articles)
No Current Special Offers


An important factor for success in project-based learning (PBL) is that the involved project groups establish an atmosphere of social interaction in their working environment. In PBL-scenarios situated in distributed environments, most of a group's work-processes are mediated through the use of production-focused tools that are unconcerned with the important informal and social aspects of a project. On the other hand, there are plenty of tools and platforms that focus on doing the opposite and mainly support informal bonding (e.g., Facebook), but these types of environments can be obtrusive and contain distractions that can be detrimental to a group's productivity and are thus often excluded from working environments. The aim of this paper is to examine how a game-based multi-user environment (MUVE) can be designed to support project-based learning by bridging the gap between productivity-focused and social software. To explore this, the authors developed a game-based MUVE which was evaluated in a PBL-scenario. The result of the study revealed several crucial design elements that are needed to make such a MUVE work effectively, and that the acceptance towards game-based MUVEs is high, even with a rudimentary execution.
Article Preview


At the University of Skövde, project-based learning (PBL) is used at the undergraduate and master programs in computer game development. During ten week long courses, students from different fields of expertise in the area of game development work together in teams to produce digital games. These project courses, which have been taught since 2002, have mainly been campus-based which gives teams the opportunity to create permanent physical areas where they sit closely together when developing their games. Independently of teacher involvement, the development teams seize these areas and start to personalize their working space through decorations and identity markers that grow increasingly elaborate and important to the team members as the project progresses. This personalization is an important part of the students’ sense of being in a team with shared ambition and creative direction, which begs the question: how can these informal acts of team-building be supported in distributed project environments?

This paper presents a pilot design study where we’ve developed and evaluated software for addressing this question and easing problems that arise when PBL scenarios are carried out in distributed environments. The implementation was tested during a ten week long game development project course, and the study included 33 participants out of the 100 students partaking in the course. The software developed for the study is a game-based multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) titled Project Office (PO), shown in Figure 1. In the remainder of the paper, we will use MUVE to refer to the general concept of multi-user virtual environments, and PO denotes our specific software application. During the development and research of PO we identified means of providing groups of students the opportunity to bond and feel connected to each other, which we summarized in a design rationale explaining the implemented solutions and their respective problems. Our intent with the design rationale is to provide basic guidelines for the design of project support software to be used in educational or other organizational contexts. Shortly summarized, the aim of this paper is to examine how a MUVE can be designed to support PBL by facilitating social presence within project groups.

Figure 1.

Project Office's main screen, the office overview. There are six people currently in the office, and the office is yet to be decorated by the members and only contains default items.


PO is a virtual office environment shared among the members of a project team. The office serves two general purposes: supporting awareness of colleagues’ activity in real-time and facilitating socialization and team-building. In practice, having a “shared virtual office environment” means that the members of the working team can log in to their office using a user-specific profile, which gets them into a virtual office together with their co-workers. Every team member has their own desk, and their own character (or avatar) in the office, and can communicate with their colleagues through a chat, or let them know that they’re busy by setting specific status messages such as “On the phone”, or “Do not disturb”. Beyond the user-controlled statuses, PO also has automatic statuses such as “Away from keyboard” that activates if the computer doesn’t receive any input in ten minutes. PO can also recognize several software applications and show what program the users are currently working in. With these functions, PO aims to make it easy for the user to know what their colleagues are up to in real-time. Furthermore, a large part of PO is also the methods of informal socialization, progress indicators, and team-building it provides the group. There is a multiplayer mini-game, achievements the users can get, and the group has the ability to spend in-game credits they get from working and completing tasks to furnish their office with different types of furniture and decorations to give it a personal touch.

Complete Article List

Search this Journal:
Volume 13: 1 Issue (2023)
Volume 12: 4 Issues (2022): 1 Released, 3 Forthcoming
Volume 11: 4 Issues (2021)
Volume 10: 4 Issues (2020)
Volume 9: 4 Issues (2019)
Volume 8: 4 Issues (2018)
Volume 7: 4 Issues (2017)
Volume 6: 4 Issues (2016)
Volume 5: 4 Issues (2015)
Volume 4: 4 Issues (2014)
Volume 3: 4 Issues (2013)
Volume 2: 4 Issues (2012)
Volume 1: 4 Issues (2011)
View Complete Journal Contents Listing