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How we learn in virtual worlds: new award for research work from Passau

How do people learn in virtual worlds? This question is at the centre of the research field ‘immersive learning’. Dr. Andreas Dengel (University of Würzburg) and Professor Jutta Mägdefrau (University of Passau) have been occupying themselves scientifically with such learning processes and, in particular, investigating the interplay of technological and subjective factors in the learning process and the influence they have on learning outcome. Dengel and Mägdefrau received the IEEE TALE Best Full Paper Award for their article about their theoretical framework model for the investigation of these interrelations as long ago as 2018. Now, in the summer of 2020, they have also won the Best Full Paper Award at the Immersive Learning Research Network Conference (iLRN 2020).

Andreas Dengel mit VR-Brille bei der Präsentation der virtuellen Umgebungen im Rahmen einer Ausstellung im Didaktischen Labor der Universität Passau.

Dr. Andreas Dengel in the University of Passau’s Didactic Laboratory (DiLab) with a virtual reality headset from the study. Photo: University of Passau

‘Winning another award has made us very happy, and it is of course a great honour for us too. We hope that, in these times particularly, our research can contribute to a better understanding of the complex processes of teaching and learning in virtual worlds’, says Dr. Andreas Dengel, who completed his doctorate at the University of Passau and works as a graduate research assistant at the Chair of School Pedagogy with the emphasis on Digital Media at the University of Würzburg. Long before the upturn in on-line learning occasioned by Corona, Dengel and Mägdefrau were tackling the topic of immersive learning and underpinning their work with relevant studies. ‘Immersion’ in this context refers mainly to three-dimensional technology-aided learning environments, for example virtual reality (VR) headsets. It often gives rise to a ‘presence experience’, a feeling of ‘being there’.

The article that has won the award is based on a study conducted in February 2019 at a secondary school in Schärding. 78 pupils in the eighth and ninth grades tested three virtual educational environments developed by Dengel and his students relating to various topics in computer science tuition. The girls and boys were allowed to test one learning environment on a laptop, one on a mobile VR headset (headset with smartphone) and one on a professional head-mounted display, the HTC Vive. 
 

The presence experience itself was influenced by the technology used, but also—and just as much—by the emotions of the girls and boys prior to the study, whilst the cognitive skills and the results of the pretest were connected with their motivation, which tended either to be more intrinsic or more extrinsic

Dr. Andreas Dengel

‘These virtual experiences were designed as brief games in which the players had to seek the treasure of a penguin pirate using simple abstract machine models, conquer the heart of a lady dragon by encrypting and decrypting letters, or shrink themselves and repair their computer from inside’, says Dengel, explaining the design. 

The results of the study show that it was not only the pupils’ previous experience and their cognitive skills that determined their learning success in these virtual learning environments, but also the intensity of their presence experience. ‘The presence experience itself was influenced by the technology used, but also—and just as much—by the emotions of the girls and boys prior to the study, whilst the cognitive skills and the results of the pretest were connected with their motivation, which tended either to be more intrinsic or more extrinsic’, says Dengel, summing up. 

With 177 entries and some 3700 registered guests this year, iLRN 2020 is currently one of the largest conferences in the field of immersive learning worldwide. Dengel and Mägdefrau received the Best Full Paper Award for their full paper entitled ‘Immersive Learning Predicted: Presence, Prior Knowledge, and School Performance Influence Learning Outcomes in Immersive Educational Virtual Environments’. 

About the authors

Dr. Andreas Dengel studied to be a teacher at gymnasium level (economics, computer science) at the University of Passau and additionally gained a Bachelor of Education to acquire the educational qualifications to work as a teacher at realschule secondary schools. In 2017, he commenced doctoral study at the Chair of Educational Science at the University of Passau, which culminated in his thesis on ‘Effects of Immersion and Presence on Learning Outcomes in Immersive Educational Virtual Environments for Computer Science Education’. He successfully completed his doctorate on 21 August 2020 with viva voce examination. Until 2019 he was affiliated to the University of Passau as a graduate research assistant in the model project SKILL; since 2019 he has been working as a graduate research assistant at the Chair of School Pedagogy with the emphasis on Digital Media at the University of Würzburg.

Professor Jutta Mägdefrau studied to be a teacher at secondary level I (music, German) at the University of Bielefeld and also gained a Diplom degree in educational science at Ludwigsburg University of Education. Following positions as a teacher at a secondary modern school and as a lecturer in adult education, she earned her doctorate in 1999 and completed her post-doctoral thesis at the Freiburg University of Education in 2005. From 2005 to 2007 she was Professor of General Didactics and Teaching Research at the University of Paderborn. In April 2007 she accepted an offer from the University of Passau, initially holding the Professorship of Secondary Modern School Pedagogy, and then—since October 2014—the Chair of Educational Science with a focus on Empirical Research on Teaching and Learning. Among other things, she is in charge of the model project SKILL for the further development of teacher education.

Literature:

A. Dengel and J. Mägdefrau, "Immersive Learning Explored: Subjective and Objective Factors Influencing Learning Outcomes in Immersive Educational Virtual Environments," 2018 IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE), Wollongong, NSW, 2018, pp. 608-615, doi: 10.1109/TALE.2018.8615281.

A. Dengel and J. Mägdefrau, "Immersive Learning Predicted: Presence, Prior Knowledge, and School Performance Influence Learning Outcomes in Immersive Educational Virtual Environments," 2020 6th International Conference of the Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN), San Luis Obispo, CA, USA, 2020, pp. 163-170, doi: 10.23919/iLRN47897.2020.9155084.
 
Dissertation: Andreas Dengel. 2020. Effects of Immersion and Presence on Learning Outcomes in Immersive Educational Virtual Environments for Computer Science Education. Ph.D. Dissertation. Universität Passau.