Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy

Use the motivational effects of robotics to excite students about STEM

P3G: Player-Programmed Partner Games for Low-Resource Learners



Player-Programmed Partner Games (P3G) for Low-Resource Learners is an Innovations in Development project that seeks to increase access to informal STEM education in out-of-school time (OST) settings, while simultaneously bringing the human-robotics interaction paradigms of robotics education up to date. It addresses gaps in existing robotics STEM education programs through Design-Based Research (DBR) into a video game-based OST learning experience that teaches coding and computational thinking in a natural co-robotics context.

P3Gs utilize a novel hybrid interactivity approach in which players both control an on-screen avatar in real time, but also program one or more computational agents to actively assist in accomplishing in-game objectives. This strategy allows designers to leverage benefits of games-based instruction such as the ability to act in unfamiliar roles (role-taking), lowered psychological costs of failure, and natural scaffolding through progression. As use of the game is situated within OST spaces, an additional layer of social interaction design utilizes the affordances of out-of-school learning spaces in low-resource neighborhoods to promote long-term re-engagement by learners.

A number of variations (e.g. different themes) and extensions (e.g. adding digital badges) are planned in addition to continuous iteration on the core P3G design. Data collection methods include automated in-game telemetry and archiving of student source code, in-game surveys, qualitative observation, co-design with students and providers, and focus groups.

A small subsample of participants are given pre-post computational thinking knowledge tests. Research products include documentation of design features that are effective in low-resource OST contexts at producing increases in learner engagement, competency beliefs, and proficiency in coding, computational thinking skills around algorithms, and career interest in STEM fields.

The end goal is to build both design theory and exemplar products that allow OST learners who cannot afford robot kits and have never thought of themselves as robot programmers to adopt that role, learn and apply the computational thinking skills therein, and perhaps come to see themselves as co-robot developers.

Intellectual Merit

We use design-based research methods to provide ecologically valid answers on central issues of design for low-resource learners in informal education settings. Specifically, how games can be best designed to achieve STEM learning and motivational outcomes for populations with low initial awareness and motivation toward STEM, in out-of-school time spaces where trained adult facilitators and mentors cannot be assumed. Organic and planned variation in the design of the game, combined with analysis of differential learner responses to the intervention by age, sex, race, prior interest, and other factors may also advance our understanding of OST interventions more generally. Further, exploration of the design of games in a novel genre based around real-time cooperative interactions between human players and computational agents they program themselves represents a contribution to the field of games-based learning. Additionally, a planned set of P3G extensions test diverse hypotheses across numerous disciplines.

For example, the Online Asynchronous Social Interactions extension asks whether the situation of P3G participation within broader online social event structures (e.g. online competitions) affects learner engagement, whether effects vary based on competitive vs. celebratory vs. collaborative framings of that broader structure, and whether agency to choose a framing has an independent effect. This work contributes to research on learning motivation. Other extensions test adaptive tasks (intelligent tutoring systems, games-based learning) and digital badges (motivation, microcredentials). Finally, the project employs novel large-scale data collection and formative analytics methods that are of interest to their respective fields.

Broader Impacts

We anticipate that a successful implementation will give other researchers and commercial developers a basis for developing games within the new P3G genre; as the genre is inherently based on principles of co-robotics and coding, such follow-on activity should also increase exposure to these concepts and opportunities to learn STEM skills in the general population. Additionally, the work is intended to become self-sustaining after the period of grant support. While the game and online event structure will remain free for informal education, successful uptake will attract demand from formal educators who are able to access school funding to purchase classroom-adapted versions (e.g. for intramurals), expanded topic coverage, accompanying formal lessons, professional development, and so on.