80Days' Results and Achievements

Computer games have become a very successful and important part of today’s entertainment landscape. With increasing time people spend on computer games, the idea of utilizing the motivational and didactic potential of those games for educational purposes is getting more and more popular and fascinating. The European research project 80Days is inspired by Jules Verne’s novel “Around the world in eighty days”. The project ran from April 2008 to September 2010 and aimed at developing psycho-pedagogical and technological foundations for successful digital educational games – successful in terms of educational effectiveness as well as financial turnovers. In the focus of psycho-pedagogical research efforts was a scientifically sound framework for a non-invasive assessment of knowledge and learning progress embedded in a game and a subsequent comprehensive adaptation to the learner on micro and macro levels. The micro level refers to subtle educational interventions such as feedback or hinting within specific learning situations. The macro level, on the other hand, refers to an educationally appropriate sequencing and pacing of learning situations tailored to the individual learner.

During the project, the consortium could make significant progress by elaborating a joint formal model of cognitive assessment of learning progress (on the basis of Competence-based Knowledge Space Theory) on a probabilistic and non-invasive level, the provision of suitable support and interventions, and open interactive adaptive storytelling. From a technical point of view, an accurate analysis of learning and game design requirements has been carried out and the results have constituted the starting point for the study on system architectures and software modules that best could have fulfilled the requirements. Research in the area of open, interactive storytelling achieved a technical realization of the developed formal model in form of a story engine, which implements the psycho-pedagogical model and which drives and adapts the game. Overall, psycho-pedagogical and technical efforts lead to a compelling demonstrator game teaching geography. Significantly, this demonstrator also represents the substantial steps towards achieving a multi-adaptive system that not only adapts discrete elements of the game towards educational purposes, but also adapts the story to accommodate larger educational objectives.

The demonstrator game is teaching geography for a target audience of 12 to 14 year olds and follows European curricula; therefore an adventure game was realized within which the learner takes the role of an Earth kid. The game starts when a UFO is landing in the backyard and an alien named Feon is contacting the player. Feon is an alien scout who has to collect information about Earth. The player assists the alien to explore the planet and to create a report about the Earth and its geographical features. This is accomplished by the player by means of flying to different destinations on Earth, exploring them, and collecting and acquiring geographical knowledge.

The demonstrator game was subject of in-depth evaluation activities. The evaluation work has been geared towards its objectives of defining an evaluation framework and of implementing an array of evaluative activities. In close collaboration of different disciplines, the game design concepts were validated in schools in England and Austria. Multi-method approaches have been applied to analyse the empirical data thus collected.

Empirical findings yielded beneficial effect of playing the game, as evident and an overall satisfying usability and user experience. Implications for the future development of the game prototypes and the design of evaluative activities have been drawn. In particular, the theoretical knowledge and practical experience thus gained will contribute to advancing the research area of evaluating usability and user experience in digital educational games.