Christopher Egert is an assistant professor within the Information Technology Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is an active participant in the Interactive Media Group as well as Game Design and Development program within the department. Chris is interested in casual and educational gaming systems as well as collaborative environment design for work and play.
Learning by Playing Together: The Impact of Collaborative Virtual Environments on Student Interaction and Program Cohesiveness
Over the past several years, the authors have designed and implemented a work entitled the "Multi-User Programming Pedagogy for Enhancing Traditional Study" (M.U.P.P.E.T.S.). It is the goal of this system to address the "gulf of expectation" that faces the modern student of computing, namely that students now hail from a technologically-rich background where they might play and mod games, play lists, and portable devices, but are often presented with a text-based programming curricula that solves toy problems with little or no connection to student goals. To combat this issue of self-efficacy and perception, M.U.P.P.E.T.S. allows students to create original 3D content in a shared world from the first day of coursework, and this approach has received attention at several national educational conferences [1-6]. A second problem relating to the first is the concept that student in first-year technology courses are estranged from their upper-division peers, and thus draw little motivation through juniors and seniors that are implementing what first-year students aspire to create. When this project began, there was little to no involvement between lower- and upper-division students. M.U.P.P.E.T.S., however, is used at both the lower and upper division (albeit in different ways) by everyone from first-semester freshmen to our graduate students in games and graphics. By allowing these groups to interact in a collaborative virtual environment, the attempt is made to "bridge the gap" between these populations, with anecdotal success [2, 4, 5].
But a more interesting phenomenon is emerging that we would like to discuss with you, the social games researcher of our era: the effect that the use of this system has had on the social fabric of our student body. It is the authors belief that by moving the educational process into a self-extensible world, that this fosters not only self-exploration of technology, but that interesting effects of virtual world community involvement such as public perception, private backchannel, glory and shame metrics, etc. are transferred between the classroom, the laboratory, and the M.U.P.P.E.T.S. universe.
Please join us in an interactive discussion that details our experience in watching a new culture emerge around this project, and which encourages the audience to relate their own experiences of cultural shift within the classroom. It is the goal of this session to explore, together, the ways in which virtual worlds have changed the culture of our students and our programs. We offer our experiences at a technical institute teaching topics on game development, but hope to learn the experience of our colleagues in several disciplines.
 K. Bierre and A. Phelps, "The Use of MUPPETS in an Introductory
Java Programming Course," in Proceedings of the 5th Conference on
Information Technology Education, pp. 122-127, 2004