Research & Technology

LabCrystal Island: Uncharted Discovery is a game-based learning environment leveraging the inferential capabilities of intelligent tutoring systems and the compelling immersive worlds of commercial game engines. With a curricular focus of upper elementary science education emphasizing landforms, maps, and models, research in this game-based learning environment is used to investigate the central issues of learning outcomes and engagement.

The Crystal Island: Uncharted Discovery project addresses the challenge of assuring that all students have the opportunity to learn significant science content by investigating the following research question: How can intelligent game-based environments promote problem solving and engagement in science learning for upper elementary students? The project investigates problem solving, engagement, and science learning by targeting the following two objectives:

  1. Design a suite of intelligent game-based learning environment technologies for elementary science education. To promote effective science learning, we have developed intelligent game-based learning environment technologies that leverage the rich interactive 3D game environments provided by commercial game engines and the inferential capabilities of intelligent tutoring systems.
  2. Implement an empirically-based research program to provide a comprehensive account of elementary students’ problem-solving processes and engagement with STEM content as they interact with intelligent game-based learning environments. To understand the cognitive mechanisms by which learning occurs, we have taken a mixed method approach to investigating science learning with an intelligent game-based learning environment for upper elementary grade science. These studies investigate the central issues of problem solving (strategy use, divergent thinking, and collaboration), and engagement (motivation, situational interest, presence) with respect to achievement as measured by both science content knowledge and transfer. With diverse student populations drawn from both urban and rural settings, the studies help determine precisely which technologies and conditions contribute most effectively to learning processes and outcomes.

To support large-scale deployments, the Crystal Island: Uncharted Discovery learning environment was designed as a cloud-based application. Its functionalities are decomposed into those running on its Browser-based Client Runtime Environment (running on the Unity 3D Game Engine) and those running on its Cloud-based Server Runtime Environment (running on the Google App Engine). The Browser-based Runtime Environment consists of the following components: the Narrative Director, which structures narrative episodes; the Quest Manager, which oversees a student’s quest progress; the NPC Manager, which directs the behavior and dialog of the virtual characters; the Inventory Manager, which tracks each student’s inventory; the Quiz Manager, which determines which quizzes to issue and in which contexts; the Virtual Tablet Manager and Level Manager, which track students’ tablet and level activities; the Camera Controller, which manages the virtual camera that “films” all of the actions in the virtual world; the Photo Journal Manager, which manages students’ notes and photos; the User Game Settings, which manages graphics and audio settings; and the Trace Data Connector and Game Save Connector, which collectively log and store trace data and game states and supervise all data management and client-server communication.

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