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Embodiment, Collaboration, and Challenge in Educational Programming Games: Exploring Use of Tangibles and Mouse

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While there are common design decisions in existing games for teaching Computer Science (single player puzzle based games for the touchpad/keyboard and mouse), recent work has suggested that alternative approaches such as collaborative play and physically embodied designs may also provide important benefits to learners. In order to explore how making interactions with an educational programming game more physically embodied could impact collaborative play, we created an educational programming game called Bots & (Main)Frames. We then conducted a preliminary study to examine if the level designs achieved desired challenge and explore how two versions of the game with different forms of physical embodiment/input (e.g., mouse vs. tangible programming blocks) impacted player interactions underlying collaboration. We found that game levels seem to provide desired increasing challenge, and that players often used the mouse and tangible programming blocks to aid communication/collaboration in distinctly different ways.
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Embodiment, Collaboration, and Challenge in Educational
Programming Games: Exploring Use of Tangibles and Mouse
Edward Melcer
New York University
Brooklyn, NY, 11201
eddie.melcer@nyu.edu
Katherine Isbister
University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA, 95064
katherine.isbister@ucsc.edu
ABSTRACT
While there are common design decisions in existing games for
teaching Computer Science (single player puzzle based games for
the touchpad/keyboard and mouse), recent work has suggested
that alternative approaches such as collaborative play and
physically embodied designs may also provide important
benefits to learners. In order to explore how making interactions
with an educational programming game more physically
embodied could impact collaborative play, we created an
educational programming game called Bots & (Main)Frames. We
then conducted a preliminary study to examine if the level
designs achieved desired challenge and explore how two
versions of the game with different forms of physical
embodiment/input (e.g., mouse vs. tangible programming blocks)
impacted player interactions underlying collaboration. We found
that game levels seem to provide desired increasing challenge,
and that players often used the mouse and tangible
programming blocks to aid communication/collaboration in
distinctly different ways.
1
CCS CONCEPTS
Human-centered computingUser studies;
KEYWORDS
Educational Programming Game, Physical Embodiment,
Tangibles, Embodied Interaction, Collaborative Play
ACM Reference format:
Edward Melcer and Katherine Isbister. 2017. Toward Understanding
Disciplinary Divides within Games Research. In Proceedings of FDG’17,
Hyannis, MA, USA, August 14-17, 2017, 6 pages.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3102071.3116222
1 INTRODUCTION
In a recent survey examining the designs of existing games
teaching Computer Science (CS) [9], Harteveld et al. found that
the majority of existing games feature a number of similar
design decisions such as: 1) similar playable characters (robot); 2)
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FDG’17, August 14-17, 2017, Hyannis, MA, USA
© 2017 Copyright held by the owner/author(s).
ACM 978-1-4503-5319-9/17/08…$15.00
https://doi.org/10.1145/3102071.3116222
genre (puzzle); 3) number of players (single player); and 4) form
of interaction (touchpad/mouse and keyboard).
Conversely to some of these frequent design decisions,
there is notable work advocating for the importance of learning
through collaboration [6] and physical embodiment/interactions
with the body [15, 16]. In the context of CS education, pair
programming (two programmers working collaboratively at a
shared computer on the same task [3]) has been shown to
improve self-sufficiency, performance, and overall grades for
students in an introductory CS course [18]. Similarly, more
physically embodied approaches to teaching programmingsuch
as the use of tangibles and manipulativeshave been found to
increase enjoyment and programming self-beliefs [17] as well as
help learners with syntax [28].
In this paper, we present the design of an educational
programming game we created called Bots & (Main)Frames. We
also provide preliminary work examining 1) incorporating
challenge into the design of its levels, and 2) how utilizing
different design decisions in educational programming games
i.e., making interaction physically embodiedcould impact
interactions underlying player collaboration. Bots &
(Main)Frames is designed to incorporate common design
characteristics (i.e., players program a virtual robot to solve
puzzles), as well as provide a comparison point to systematically
examine the impacts that different forms of physical
embodiment have on learning programming. This is achieved by
differing game design only in the form of interaction (e.g., use of
tangible programming blocks vs. mouse input), which allows us
to isolate the impact of tangible and mouse designs when all
other mechanics, aesthetics, etc. are identical.
We conducted a preliminary exploratory study with 36
novice programmers (having less than 6 months of programming
exposure) randomly assigned to play one version of the game
collaboratively in pairs. We examine how different design
principles in puzzle-based levels can present increasing
challenge to players, and how physically embodied interaction
with tangible blocks differs from use of a mouse in supporting
collaborative learning and play.
2 RELATED WORK
2.1 Tangibles and Computational Concepts
The tangible and embodied interaction (TEI) community has
done some work on the creation of tangibles to teach computing
concepts. For instance, in roBlocks [24] and Electronic Blocks
[28] learners connect tangible blocks with embedded sensors,
FDG’17, August 14-17, 2017, Hyannis, MA, USA
Edward Melcer and Katherine Isbister
actuators, and logic blocks to explore programming and physical
computing concepts. Tools such as Note Code [14] have used
music as a metaphor for learners to program and connect
buttons on “noteboxes” to play musical sequences. Thingy
Oriented Programming [7] was designed for prototyping simple
electronics applications and systems that involve networks of
sensors and actuators, where users program wirelessly
connected objects by recording sequences of actions and
reactions using tangible objects. Additionally, TanProRobot 2.0
[27] allows children to use physical blocks to program a toy car.
Notably, concepts covered by these tools focus more on physical
computing, electronics, and music than explicit use of
programming or games.
In a closer vein, Strawbies [10] utilizes wooden tiles to
program a game character to solve mazes, but has only been
evaluated through qualitative descriptions of play sessions at
local schools. Melcer et al. [17] created a similar type of
programming game that uses wooden blocks instead of tiles, and
compared the blocks to use of a mouse for impacts on
programming self-beliefs and enjoyment. However, they did not
explore complexity in the level design or impacts on player
collaboration.
2.2 Computational Thinking
Computational Thinking (CT) is a construct around the
formulation of problems and expression of solutions in a
computational way. It is thought to underlie computation related
activities such as programming, but is complicated by the
absence of a concrete definition. Consequently, many papers
have attempted to define CT independently, resulting in a wide
variety of definitions for the construct and a lack of satisfactory
operationalization or guidance for identifying real interactions as
expressions of CT [4]. However, [2, 4] have identified a core set
of CT skills commonly found in existing literature as: 1)
Conditional Logic the use of an “if-then-else” construct; 2)
Algorithm Building a data “recipe” or set of instructions; 3)
Simulation modeling or testing of algorithms or logic; 4)
Debugging the act of determining problems in order to fix rules
that are malfunctioning; 5) Abstraction use of procedures to
identify patterns and encapsulate a set of often repeated
commands; and 6) Distributed Computation the social aspect of
CT where different pieces of information or logic are contributed
by different players during other CT processes, e.g., simulation,
debugging, etc.
2.3 Physical Embodiment in Games
There has been a variety of different approaches, designs, and
theories around the application of physical embodiment to
learning in educational games. In a meta-review comparing and
taxonomizing embodiment strategies, Melcer and Isbister [15, 16]
identified five forms of physical embodiment commonly utilized
in educational games: Direct Embodied, Enacted, Manipulated,
Surrogate, and Augmented. In the Manipulated form of
embodiment, use of physical objects (e.g., tangibles and
manipulatives) allow for learning concepts to be embedded
Figure 1: The Bots & (Main)Frames game. The UI is
identical for all versions of the game and only differs on
physical embodiment and interaction using 1) the mouse
and 2) tangible programming blocks.
directly into the physical material and design of the object, as
well as through the embodied interactions learners have by
manipulating these objects [19, 20]. We similarly employ these
affordances in the design of the programming blocks for our
tangibles version of Bots & (Main)Frames.
3 Design of Bots & (Main)Frames
Bots & (Main)Frames is designed to incorporate common design
characteristics of existing educational programming games (i.e.,
players program a virtual robot to solve puzzles [9]), and
provides a comparison point for differing forms of physical
embodiment and interactions as input (see Fig. 1). The objective
of the game is to program a virtual robot to reach all of the red
tiles in a maze from a given starting point. Players are presented
with 10 levels and have a limited number of actions available to
solve each level. As players progress through the levels, they are
presented with a variety of programming commands to control
the robot consisting of: moving/translating forward in the
direction the robot is facing (introduced in level 1); rotating the
robot 90 degrees left or right (introduced in level 2); using a loop
to repeat one command a specified number of times (introduced
in level 4); and using a function to abstract and reuse patterns
(introduced in level 7).
3.1 Design of Mouse and Tangible Versions
For both the mouse and tangible programming block versions of
Bots & (Main)Frames, the graphics and gameplay are identical;
differing only in the way players are able to program code. In the
version of Bots & (Main)Frames, players click UI buttons to
program. As players progress, new commands become available
in the form of additional buttons that are shown when needed to
solve a level (see Fig. 2).
Embodiment, Collaboration, and Challenge in Educational
Programming Games: Exploring Use of Tangibles and Mouse
FDG’17, August 14-17, 2017, Hyannis, MA, USA
Figure 2: The Bots & (Main)Frames game. The UI is
identical for all versions of the game and only differs on
physical embodiment and interaction using 1) the mouse
and 2) tangible programming blocks.
For the tangibles version of Bots & (Main)Frames, players
instead physically connect wooden blocks to program commands
(a similar design approach to [10, 14, 27, 28]; see Fig. 3). The
design is centered on the metaphor of “following the chain of
execution”, and as a result each block has a metal hook on one
side and eye on the other that is used to physically chain them
together. The UI and gameplay are identical to the mouse
version, except that buttons are disabled and programming
commands that appear on screen are instead created by
configurations and connections of the tangible programming
blocks. Fiducial tracking from the ReacTIVision framework [12]
is utilized in order to detect which blocks are connected and
program the virtual robot in game accordingly. Additionally, the
Loop and Use Function commands are designed to further utilize
the affordances of the Manipulated form of physical embodiment
where physical form of and interactions with the blocks
represent corresponding programming concepts (see Fig. 4). E.g.,
loop blocks have an additional slot for players to slide in the
command that will be looped. This design physically illustrates
how the in-game loops only take a single non-loop command to
repeat. Furthermore, the Function/Use Function blocks are
connected by a longer chain to better illustrate how code
execution transitions from one function to another.
3.2 Level Design: Complexity and Challenge
Bots & (Main)Frames consists of 10 levels that are broken into
coverage of three conceptual topics (see Fig. 5). Levels 1 3
address basic algorithm building using translation/rotation of the
robot; levels 4 6 address the use of loops; and levels 7 10
address the abstraction and reuse of patterns with functions. The
first level of each grouping is designed to introduce the player to
the concept and corresponding game/programming mechanic,
Figure 3: The tangible programming blocks version of Bots
& (Main)Frames. Players must physically chain the blocks
together in order to program.
Figure 4: Left: the Loop programming block where players
insert a command that will be repeated a specified number
of times. Right: the Function and corresponding Use
Function programming blocks connected by a chain.
while the remaining levels are intended to introduce additional
challenge through harder puzzles and incorporating earlier
concepts. Therefore, the overall challenge and complexity of
each level is intended to be more difficult than the previous level
in its respective conceptual topic.
Challenge is notably important in educational games for
enhancing the enjoyment and intrinsic motivation of goal-
directed activities [1, 8], as well as generating flow for optimal
learning experiences [11, 13]. In order to design challenge in
levels appropriately, we used three guiding design principles:
breadth (the number of unique solution commands needed for
the optimal path), depth (the total number of solution commands
needed for the optimal path), and obfuscation of the optimal
solution path (presenting unique additional potential paths that
appear correct but are incorrect). For instance, level 3 should be
more challenging than level 2 to solve since both need the same
number of unique solution commands (same breadth: forward,
left, right), but level 3 also requires two more commands to
optimally solve (greater depth) and obfuscates the solution path
with two additional paths that appear correct but aren’t possible.
The notion of breadth and depth come from an existing model of
skill progression utilized for programmers in Scratch [23].
However, since Scratch is an animation programming
environment [21] rather than puzzle game, we also found it
necessary to incorporate obfuscation in the design of levels since
it is a vital aspect of challenge in puzzle design [25].
4 Methodology
4.1 Experimental Design and Procedure
For our exploratory study, we wanted to 1) determine whether
level designs achieved the desired increasing challenge for each
conceptual topic; and 2) explore how the physically embodied
design of the tangible programming blocks version and mouse
version of Bots & (Main)Frames supported interactions
underlying player collaboration. In order to address these
questions, we used a between-group study design where
participants were randomly assigned to pairs in a mouse or
tangibles condition. In the pretest survey, participants completed
a demographic questionnaire (collecting age, gender, academic
major, years of prior video game experience, and years of prior
programming experience). After submitting the pretest survey,
participants were randomized into either the mouse or tangibles
FDG’17, August 14-17, 2017, Hyannis, MA, USA
Edward Melcer and Katherine Isbister
Figure 5: The levels of Bots & (Main)Frames organized by conceptual topic covered. The challenge and complexity of each
level is expected to be more difficult than the previous level in its respective conceptual topic.
condition and played all 10 levels collaboratively in pairs. We
used video recordings of participants playing the game in order
to determine the time taken to complete each level and visually
code/analyze collaborative actions.
4.2 Participants
A total of 36 university participants (ages 17-35, median: 18)
were randomly allocated into pairs for one of two conditions.
The mouse game condition consisted of 18 (5 male) participants
and the tangibles game condition consisted of 18 (8 male)
participants. Only two pairs knew each other before the study.
All participants had 6 months or less of programming experience
and worked collaboratively in pairs to play the game. The pair
programming approach was used to examine collaborative
interaction differences between conditions.
5 Results and Discussion
5.1 Challenge of Levels
In our analysis, we operationalize the challenge of a level as the
total amount of time taken to complete it. This seems reasonable
since more conceptually and programmatically difficult levels
will take novice programmers longer to solve. The average
duration players spent on a level (in seconds) for both the mouse
and tangible block versions of Bots & (Main)Frames is shown in
Table 1. Due to small sample size as well as inability to control
for inherent differences in manipulation speed between the two
conditions (the blocks are substantially slower to
manipulate/program with), we cannot compare completion
speeds between the two conditions. However, for both
conditions, the durations for time taken to complete a level does
appear to increase substantially for each successive level in the
three different conceptual topic groupings. This matches our
design intentions to incorporate increasing challenge for each
level in its respective conceptual topic. This also suggests that
the usage of depth, breadth, and obfuscation to guide the design
for levels in puzzle-based educational programming games may
be a reasonable approach.
Level
Tangibles Condition
Mean
Duration
SD
Mean
Duration
SD
Algorithm
Building
1
19.26
6.80
24.76
16.67
2
60.52
38.12
55.43
20.15
3
121.38
107.68
132.57
65.68
Loops
4
15.70
6.70
19.96
4.40
5
45.85
26.83
35.70
6.26
6
72.99
38.08
79.10
14.91
Functions
7
59.94
44.97
55.27
32.23
8
102.95
66.82
126.67
63.62
9
171.86
107.55
130.07
32.83
10
224.36
143.01
312.44
138.06
Table 1: Frequency of Special Characters of challenge for
levels in puzzle-based educational programming games
may be a reasonable approach.
5.2 Supporting Collaboration
Prior studies have shown that collaborative programming
activitiessuch as pair programmingare a tightly coupled,
synchronous, and communication-intensive process [3, 5] that
requires a high level of shared understanding [26]. In order to
better understand how use of tangibles and mouse could aid in
these collaborative processes and understanding for learners, we
performed process coding [22] on the video recordings to
identify common physical instances of interaction underlying
collaboration. As a result, we found that the mouse and tangible
programming blocks versions of Bots & (Main)Frames appear to
support collaborative interaction in some distinctly similar and
different ways. For both conditions, players in every pair would
physically point to part of the level or programming commands
on screen to illustrate what they were discussing (Fig. 6).
Embodiment, Collaboration, and Challenge in Educational
Programming Games: Exploring Use of Tangibles and Mouse
FDG’17, August 14-17, 2017, Hyannis, MA, USA
Figure 6: Participants would point to a part of the level
(left) or programming commands displayed on screen
(right) in order to illustrate discussion. This was a
common interaction to aid collaboration for participants
in both conditions.
For the mouse version, all pairs of players commonly
interacted collaboratively in two specific ways. First, players
would share/pass the mouse to let the other player modify their
program (see Fig. 7). In this way, direct access to the shared code
was treated as exclusive with explicit transfers of control that
only allowed one participant to manipulate the program at a
time. Second, players would also use the mouse to virtually point
to and circle parts of the level or programming commands they
were discussing. This provided participants with a visual aid
when conversing around more abstract concepts such as the
structure of their algorithm and execution of their code.
On the other hand, players appear to have used the
tangible programming blocks to help externalize cognition and
algorithm building in ways that allowed them to interact more
dynamically. One interaction approach to aid collaboration with
tangibles was externalization of the algorithm and player
knowledge to physical space using the blocks (see Fig. 8). Players
would habitually point to blocks on the table in order to
physically aid them in simulation, debugging, and discussion of
their algorithm and its execution. This also assisted participants
in physically illustrating how certain programming
blocks/concepts worked, and they would often use the physical
properties of the blocks (i.e., pointing to the additional slot on
the loop block or tracing the chains on the function blocks) to
help convey their points.
Figure 7: In the mouse version, one participant would
often share/pass the mouse to let the other modify their
code. Here, participant M3A passes the mouse to
participant M3B to give her access to the program once she
figures out a potential solution.
Figure 8: In the tangible blocks version, participants would
use physical aspects of the blocks to aid in their discussion
of the algorithm and convey how different programming
concepts worked. Here, participant T1A is explaining how
loops work to T1B using the extra slot in the loop block to
demonstrate how a single command is looped.
Another frequently used collaborative interaction
approach that almost all pairs utilized often was the
modularization of algorithm construction, where both players
would simultaneously assemble parts of the solution to a level
(see Fig. 9). These allowed players to more fluidly discuss and
manipulate their program, with both participants often
anticipating and articulating the next command(s) that their
partner would need/use when constructing a solution.
Overall, our results suggest that while both tangibles and
mouse allow learners to cooperatively code and solve
programming puzzles in distinctly different but helpful ways, the
tangibles can provide deeper and more nuanced forms of
interaction and communication. Particularly, by providing
players with a physical means to externalize their cognition and
discuss understanding as well as allowing them to concurrently
create a program solution, tangibles may better address the
synchronous, communication-intensive, and high level shared
understanding needed in collaborative programming activities
[3, 5, 26].
Figure 9: In the tangible blocks version, participants would
also consistently modularize the building of their
algorithm by working on the same or separate chunks of
code simultaneously. Here, participant T6A attaches a
command to the algorithm while T6B prepares to attach
the next one.
FDG’17, August 14-17, 2017, Hyannis, MA, USA
Edward Melcer and Katherine Isbister
6 Conclusion, Limitations, and Future Work
This paper presents the design of an educational programming
game called Bots & (Main)Frames. We also report preliminary
work examining the use of breadth, depth, and obfuscation as
principles for designing challenge in levels, as well as analyzing
how the use of physical embodiment in the form of tangibles can
impact interactions underlying player collaboration when
compared to the mouse. Our results found that there were
substantial increases in time taken to complete successive levels
for a conceptual topic, suggesting that usage of depth, breadth,
and obfuscation as design principles for challenge in puzzle-
based educational programming games may be a reasonable
approach. Additionally, we found that while both tangibles and
mouse allow learners to cooperatively code in distinctly different
but helpful ways, tangibles can provide deeper forms of
interaction and communication that may better address the
needs of collaborative programming activities.
However, there are also some notable limitations to
this work. Due to the exploratory nature and small sample size
of our preliminary study and analysis, we cannot make definitive
claims about the effectiveness of challenge in our level designs
or the impact of different interaction methods on aiding
collaboration. We instead provide descriptive overviews of
apparent collaborative interaction methods used by players for
this paper, and plan to conduct a larger study in the future that
more systematically analyzes embodiment, collaboration, and
challenge.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We thank Connor Harada for his help running studies.
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... However, since Scratch is an animation programming environment [215] rather than puzzle game, I also found it necessary to incorporate obfuscation in the design of levels since it is a vital aspect of challenge in puzzle design [240] and encourages mental simulation. My prior work [174] has identified these as effective principles for designing challenge into puzzle-based programming levels, and is discussed in more detail in research Phase II. ...
... Specifically, was the overall challenge and complexity of each level more difficult than the previous level in its respective conceptual topic? This research phase examines these questions through analysis of gameplay during a pilot study, with results published at the 2017 Foundations of Digital Games conference [174]. ...
... This research phase presents a pilot study conducted to explore the impact of tangible and mouse-based input methods on key affective factors for learning and interactions underlying collaborative play. Results from this work were published at the 2017 CHI conference [170] and 2017 Foundations of Digital Games conference [174]. ...
Thesis
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Embodiment is a concept that has gained widespread usage within the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) community in recent years. In a general sense, embodiment is the notion that cognition arises not just from the mind, but also through our bodies‘ physical and social interactions with the world around us. HCI has employed this body-centric approach to the design of technology in a variety of domains, including interaction design, robotics, music systems, and education. However, due to the broad number of academic domains that define and operationalize embodiment within HCI (e.g., cognitive science, social science, learning science, neuroscience, AI, robotics, and so forth), it has become a remarkably fuzzy term with little understood about what designs result in desired outcomes. Essentially, HCI researchers and practitioners often employ a black box of design decisions when creating their embodied systems. Notably, the inconsistent framing and application of embodiment within HCI is a substantial drawback when trying to design embodied technology to support particular use cases such as learning, where understanding the 'why' of outcomes is essential. In this dissertation, I contribute work towards opening up the black box of embodied design to develop a more precise understanding of its proper application for the development of learning technology. This was done through the creation of a taxonomical design framework that outlines key methods for incorporating embodiment into the design of educational games and simulations. In order to create the design framework, I collected over 60 exemplars of embodied learning games and simulations, followed by the application of a bottom up, open coding method to distill seven core design dimensions. I then demonstrated the design framework‘s importance for a variety of HCI use cases including 1) categorizing existing embodied educational technologies, 2) identifying problematic design spaces, and 3) identifying design gaps for the generation of novel embodied learning systems. I also further employed the design framework to develop my own embodied learning system, Bots & (Main)Frames, which teaches basic programming and computational thinking skills through the use of tangibles. In order to better understand when and how embodied tangible technology can aid learning, I built two versions of Bots & (Main)Frames that only differed in input method (non-embodied mouse vs. embodied tangible programming blocks), while keeping all other game mechanics, aesthetics, and so forth identical. I then conducted two controlled experimental studies to compare differences between the two versions of Bots & (Main)Frames. My results show that an embodied tangible design had far greater positive impact for a number of key learning factors including programming self-beliefs, situational interest, enjoyment, and overall learning/performance outcomes. The quantitative and qualitative findings from these studies make key advances toward understanding when and how embodied tangible technology can aid in learning computational thinking skills.
... However, this was only evaluated through qualitative descriptions of play sessions at local schools. Melcer et al. created a similar type of programming game that uses wooden blocks with hooks instead of tiles to qualitatively explore differences between tangibles and mouse on interactions underlying player collaboration [52], as well as explore collaborative impacts of tangibles on enjoyment and some dimensions of programming self-beliefs [49]. However, they did not compare the efficacy of tangible and collaborative designs against individual designs. ...
... Level progression was also designed to either introduce a new concept or reiterate a previous one using a more challenging puzzle. Designing the complexity of each level was based on the notions of depth (the total number of solution commands needed for the optimal path), breadth (the number of unique solution commands needed for the optimal path), and obfuscation (presenting unique additional potential paths that appear correct but are incorrect)-which [52] identified as effective principles for designing challenge into puzzle-based programming levels. ...
Conference Paper
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While recent work has begun to evaluate the efficacy of educational programming games, many common design decisions in these games (e.g., single player gameplay using touchpad or mouse) have not been explored for learning outcomes. For instance, alternative design approaches such as collaborative play and embodied interaction with tangibles may also provide important benefits to learners. To better understand how these design decisions impact learning and related factors, we created an educational programming game that allows for systematically varying input method and mode of play. In this paper, we describe design rationale for mouse and tangible versions of our game, and report a 2x2 factorial experiment comparing efficacy of mouse and tangible input methods with individual and collaborative modes of play. Results indicate tangibles have a greater positive impact on learning, situational interest, enjoyment, and programming self-beliefs. We also found collaborative play helps further reduce programming anxiety over individual play.
... When a tangible space allows users to interact with the environment and each other in flexible ways, it affords users opportunities to perform the same activity using vastly different interpersonal strategies (e.g., collaborative versus competitive play styles) [20], [23], [31]. Conversely, a tangible space can employ embodied facilitation (i.e., by guiding or restricting user actions) to encourage a more specific interactive experience [14], [21], [34]. A prime example of embodied facilitation is when objects are spread far apart across a tangible environment, forcibly limiting players' physical interactions to nearby sub-spaces [32]. ...
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Tangible games afford an engaging and often unique form of hybrid play (i.e., physical-digital elements), but there is currently limited work explicitly exploring how these games can be designed to provide spatial affordances that implicitly encourage collaboration. In this paper, we present a novel col-laborative tangible game, titled Mad Mixologist, and investigate how making a simple change in the location of game objects within the tangible play space can lead to significantly different collaborative interaction strategies. The results from our group comparison study indicate that 1) players with exclusively direct access to multiple relevant resources (i.e., a digital instruction and a physical object) were more likely to assume responsibility for completing tasks in a shared play space and 2) distributing these same task-relevant resources across multiple players created ambiguity over whether the player with the digital or physical resource should engage with the shared play space. This study demonstrates one possible way in which the physical design of a tangible game can be arranged to implicitly encourage players to develop more collaborative interaction strategies, specifically by distributing exclusive resources across players. Overall, this study highlights and reinforces the connection between spatial affordances and social interactions via embodied facilitation within the context of collaborative tangible games.
Conference Paper
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Computer Science (CS) and related skills such as programming and Computational Thinking (CT) have recently become topics of global interest, with a large number of programming games created to engage and educate players. However, there has been relatively limited work to assess 1) the efficacy of such games with respect to critical educational factors such as enjoyment and programming self-beliefs; and 2) whether there are advantages to alternative, physically embodied design approaches (e.g., tangibles as input). To better explore the benefits of a tangible approach, we built and tested two versions of an educational programming game that were identical in design except for the form of interaction (tangible programming blocks vs. mouse input). After testing 34 participants, results showed that while both game versions were successful at improving programming self-beliefs, the tangible version corresponded to higher self-reports of player enjoyment. Overall, this paper presents a comparison between the efficacy of tangible and mouse design approaches for improving key learning factors in educational programming games.
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We introduce the concept of Thingy Oriented Programming (TOP), which is an experimental and alternative approach to prototyping simple electronics applications and systems that involve networks of sensors and actuators. TOP enables the users to define or 'program' (wirelessly) connected objects. While this approach allows powerful physical and interactive applications, no professional skills are needed since TOP-programs are defined by recording sequences of tangible interactions (i.e., interaction macros). Our primary target groups are designers who want to augment their physical prototypes with interactivity in little time, as well as end-users who are interested in enhancing specific tasks in their (smart) homes (e.g., creating a switch which turns on/off the lights by clapping twice the hands). A third target group is comprised of children and their educators in computer science and electronics. We describe the TOP concept including use scenarios, demonstrate a proof-of-concept prototype and explain our next intended steps.
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Due to a broad conceptual usage of the term embodiment across a diverse variety of research domains, existing embodied learning games and simulations utilize a large breadth of design approaches that often result in seemingly unrelated systems. This becomes problematic when trying to critically evaluate the usage and effectiveness of embodiment within existing designs, as well as when trying to utilize embodiment in the design of new games and simulations. In this paper, we present our work on combining differing conceptual and design approaches for embodied learning systems into a unified design framework. We describe the creation process for the framework, explain its dimensions, and provide examples of its use. Our design framework will benefit educational game researchers by providing a unifying foundation for the description, categorization, and evaluation of designs for embodied learning games and simulations.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Existing embodied learning games and simulations utilize a large breadth of design approaches that often result in the creation of seemingly unrelated systems. This becomes problematic when trying to critically evaluate the usage and effectiveness of embodiment within embodied learning designs. In this paper, we present our work on combining differing conceptual and design approaches for embodied learning systems into a unified design framework. We describe the creation process for the framework, explain its dimensions, and provide two examples of its use. Our embodied learning games and simulations framework will benefit HCI researchers by providing a unifying foundation for the description, categorization, and evaluation of embodied learning systems and designs.
Conference Paper
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We present the design of Note Code -- a music programming puzzle game designed as a tangible device coupled with a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Tapping patterns and placing boxes in proximity enables programming these "note-boxes" to store sets of notes, play them back and activate different sub-components or neighboring boxes. This system provides users the opportunity to learn a variety of computational concepts, including functions, function calling and recursion, conditionals, as well as engage in composing music. The GUI adds a dimension of viewing the created programs and interacting with a set of puzzles that help discover the various computational concepts in the pursuit of creating target tunes, and optimizing the program made.
Conference Paper
Remote collaboration can be more difficult than collocated collaboration for a number of reasons, including the inability to easily determine what your collaborator is looking at. This impedes a pair's ability to efficiently communicate about on-screen locations and makes synchronous coordination difficult. We designed a novel gaze visualization for remote pair programmers which shows where in the code their partner is currently looking, and changes color when they are looking at the same thing. Our design is unobtrusive, and transparently depicts the imprecision inherent in eye tracking technology. We evaluated our design with an experiment in which pair programmers worked remotely on code refactoring tasks. Our results show that with the visualization, pairs spent a greater proportion of their time concurrently looking at the same code locations. Pairs communicated using a larger ratio of implicit to explicit references, and were faster and more successful at responding to those references.
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Learning programming has positive effect on children's development, and Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) is a convenient way for teaching young children programming. TanProRobot 2.0 is a tangible system as well as a small-scale distributed embedded system designed for children at grades 1-2 to learn programming concepts. The system consists of three parts: tangible programming blocks, a robot car and several manipulatives. The input and output of the system are both tangible. Children can program the robot car to act certain actions by arranging the programming blocks. Also, children can interact with the car with manipulatives. TanProRobot 2.0 aims to introduce event handling concept and sensors to children. Through a user study with 11 children, we found that TanProRobot 2.0 is an interesting programming system for children, and it is easy to learn and to use. Furthermore, it could help children get a preliminary understanding of event handling concepts.
Conference Paper
In this demo we present Strawbies, a realtime tangible programming game designed for children ages 5 to 10. Strawbies is played by constructing physical programs out of wooden tiles in front of an iPad. This interaction is made possible with the use of an Osmo play system that includes a mirror to reflect images in front of the iPad through the front-facing camera. We combined this system with the TopCodes computer vision library for fast and reliable image recognition. Here we describe a set of principles that guided our iterative design process along with an overview of testing sessions with children that informed our most recent instantiation of Strawbies.