EcoJourneys is a collaborative game-based learning environment where groups of up to four students engage in problem-based learning and work together to solve ecosystem problems. Within the computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environment, students are active, intentional learners who collaboratively negotiate meaning while solving ill-defined problems.
EcoJourneys affords groups of students agency within a virtual world that allows for more engaging problem-solving scenarios and interactions. Players participate by traveling to locations and talking to in-game characters by making dialogue choices in these conversations to advance the narrative. The EcoJourneys narrative tells the story of four students who are visiting Buglas Island in the Philippines as part of a cultural exchange program. While on the island, the local residents are alarmed to discover the tilapia in their fish farms are getting sick. Since fish farming is critical to the residents’ way of life, the islanders ask the exchange students to conduct investigations into why the fish are getting sick. Students’ parallel investigations are seen as necessary to corroborate the residents’ investigations and to apprentice students into how to engage in collaborative problem solving. This interactive narrative reveals the problem scenario that four students are asked to address together as a group. Each student will experience a unique narrative within the context of the larger story as they visit different locations, have conversations with various characters, and interact with devices as they attempt to explain the mystery.
In addition to text-based chat, EcoJourneys leverages a problem-based learning inquiry cycle, engaging students in specific inquiry acts of Observing, Analyzing, Reasoning, and Communicating with their group members throughout these processes. As part of the inquiry cycle students engage in collaborative activities by using a virtual app that supports collaborative analysis and a virtual whiteboard to support collaborative reasoning. As part of the collaborative analysis activity, students must first gather data and engage in self-directed learning, analyzing, and reviewing patterns based on the collected data. After analyzing the data, students must collaboratively review their individual analyses and come to consensus on the observed patterns. Then, students are asked to go to a virtual conference room in the storyworld. Students place sticky notes containing information on the virtual whiteboard that were collected while each student explored the island. The sticky notes can be associated with particular ideas in order to support or rule out these ideas as the students discuss their findings. Ultimately, students collaboratively decide on an idea that is both supported by the evidence and that explains why the fish are getting sick. The virtual whiteboard was designed to support the following collaborative interactions between small groups of students:
- Sharing information
- Selecting information to be used as evidence
- Evaluating whether the evidence supports or does not support, or might support a specific idea
Furthermore, to support sensemaking, students can vote on a sticky note, which will cause it to change color. The colors indicate agreement (green) or disagreement (red) of whether the information on the note supports the idea represented. If students disagree on the placement of a sticky note, they must negotiate using the text-based chat to resolve their disagreement. This provides students with sense-making agency, since they are allowed the freedom to make mistakes as they collaborate and reason about the evidence and how it relates to the hypotheses.
The following video presents a walkthrough of the EcoJourneys collaborative game-based learning environment.