Exploring Student Engagement in an Augmented Reality Learning Game

Exploring Student Engagement in an Augmented Reality Learning Game

Nicolaas VanMeerten (University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, MN, USA) and Keisha Varma (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJGCMS.2017100103


This article investigates the behaviors of middle school students during their participation in an AR game called Play the Past. The findings of this study show that engagement differed during discrete activities in the game environment and that there was a relationship between the roles that students were assigned and their engagement.
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Augmented Reality (AR) games integrate virtual activities with real life environments using technologies like handheld computers and mobile devices to allow players to engage in authentic, meaningful, and engaging activities. AR games are utilized in both formal and informal learning environments to create rich learning experiences and increase student motivation. When students participate in these AR activities they are able to immerse themselves into more complex scenarios and participate in activities in a more personalized manner.

AR games in museums should encourage students to be more active learners, make connections between exhibits, and generally have more engaging experiences in the museum setting. Students visiting museums often move through the exhibits at their own pace and interact with the exhibits in a number of ways. Researchers and educators interested in supporting these types of informal learning experiences are striving to understand students’ experiences and to ultimately link them with learning outcomes. This involves understanding how students are participating in the activities and understanding which design features support specific behaviors.

This paper presents a study focusing on the behaviors of students playing an AR game that is embedded in an exhibit at the Minnesota History Center called Play the Past. The game bridges the real context of the museum exhibits with AR games that students can engage with through mobile devices. Using situated cognition as a theoretical framework, we focus on how different game design features affect students’ behaviors during gameplay. Examining these actions allows us to make inferences about engagement, an important aspect of learning.

Situated Cognition

AR games allow players to participate in authentic activities and engage in social interactions. They include tasks that require players to engage in shared tasks, participate in discussions, share ideas, and collaboratively solve problems. Situated cognition is a theoretical framework that emphasizes that learning involves an interactive relationship between the activities, environment and social processes that individuals experience as they learn new information (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1991). Therefore, the situated cognition framework is ideal for thinking about the educational value of AR games. Situated cognition research considers the context that learners experience and describes the interaction of knowing and doing that occurs as they complete cognitive tasks. Studies of situated cognition focus on thinking about the social dynamics and practices that learners engage in and how the environment guides those interactions (Brown, Collins, & Duguid). Finally, theories of situated cognition highlight the social aspects of learning in authentic environments and explore the processes present at multiple levels of engagement (Lave & Wenger, 1991). It is this focus on engagement that makes situated cognition an especially useful framework for the work presented in this paper.

Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) argue that approaches to education should embed learning in activities that reflect the social and physical environments in which the knowledge is relevant. They focus on how learners experience concepts and ideas as tools that are best understood as interconnected experiences that include social dynamics and can be supported via scaffolding activities incorporating cognitive apprenticeship practices. Technology offers multiple mechanisms to support these types of learning experiences. It enables researchers, educators, curriculum, and game designers to situate students’ educational activities in their physical environment. Technology can also support interactions and direct learner behaviors so that students are able to participate in activities individually and collaboratively. Technology based games are incorporating AR to support authentic learning experiences.

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