Students from two departments at the University of Suffolk are working together in a unique example of interdisciplinary working.
Computer Games Design students have created an immersive game so that Psychologists can explore as to what methods are best for students’ learning, whether passive or interactive.
The game was aimed at first year Psychology students. Students had their traditional lecturer taught lecture supplemented with either a passive workshop or an opportunity to cover the same content using the game and a VR headset.
David Fryer, a third year psychology student, is using the project for his dissertation and said “The game has given us a way of looking at interactive learning. Traditionally people learn through lectures and passive information, being told. This gives us a way to look at how people learn through interaction with things, using their hands to learn, visualising things. So far people have enjoyed it, we have yet to see whether it works or not, that is going to be the important part to see whether it helps their learning. It’s an exploration of ‘does this help’, if it does then it is certainly something to take further as it is a brand new technology. The idea is that it would help develop a deeper understanding of material when compared to passive methods.”
“Psychology students, when trying to choose their dissertation topics, can feel quite limited sometimes. They think about their lecture content, what they have read and they think that is the boundary whereas this collaboration has opened up a whole new area so suddenly we can look at psychological theory mixed with game theory. It has created a whole new area to look at and I think if we can encourage more of this to happen it would give people some incredible ideas far beyond what we’ve seen before I think.”
David has been working with Mike Smuts who is in his third year of his Computer Games Design degree and like David is using the project for his dissertation. He said “We had to work within the Psychology department’s constraints so it was like being commissioned to work on a project, as we will do when we graduate. In order to make it valid we had to make sure the pilot was ready for the students at the right time. We adjusted what we did to work with their requirements.”
“We created an immersive environment so that the player feels and lives the subject matter rather than just sees it on a book and have to passively take it in. It’s very different being told the brain has four lobes than if you are suddenly presented with a brain that breaks apart and you can touch through the game and interact with. From our point of view it is a great success it.”
“Computer Games is now in all types of environment, for all types of people, all ages and abilities. That is another reason this exercise was useful for us as we had no control over the population, we had to make sure it was accessible for all those people.”
Fellow Computer Games Design student Viorel Dia said “I am really impressed with the available technology so we can use that to create this awesome project. It has opened up a new area to explore. I think we have done something unique and this interdepartmental working has given us plenty of opportunities.”
Steven Harris, Associate Professor of Computer Games Development at the University, said “Michiel and Viorel have developed a valuable educational tool which exploits the immersive qualities of virtual reality. Such ‘serious games’ can provide a valuable additional learning environment to explore and visualise concepts delivered through more traditional teaching methods.”
“Developing such a complex game, integrating virtual reality hardware and adhering to such tight educational constraints is a challenging task. Michiel and Viorel have approached this with a high level of professionalism. As a result they have demonstrated how valuable video game design principles, and technology, can be to other sectors.”
Dr Kulbir Birak, Psychology Co-ordinator and Senior Lecturer, at the University said “Michiel (Mike) and I started chatting last year as he was interested in the psychology of gaming, as we talked we discussed the importance of the game user incorporating the game to immerse themselves in to somebody else’s life, the character, and subsequently escape from their own, or to use the game as a form of cathartic relief. Michiel discussed as to how they had found this to especially be the case for the new Virtual Reality headsets and accompanying games which were working at a higher and more immersive levels compared to previous tech back in the 90’s and earlier.”
“We’ll hopefully find out whether the VR game has allowed students to better understand and apply their knowledge, or whether it’s simply a really interesting way of seeing the topic at work but little more than just a novel way of presenting the content.”
“All three students have worked hard, working together and autonomously on their own sections of the study, which was great to see and hopefully is the start of more inter-disciplinary working between the two departments.”
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