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Pedegogical Research

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Active learning is a modernized set of teaching and learning practices that involve active participation of students in the classroom. This approach has been shown to generate higher levels of understanding when compared the traditional lecture-style teaching and learning. While "passive learning" simply involves listening and taking notes, active learning includes a wide array of hands-on and/or critical thinking activities that incorporate higher levels of thinking (e.g., role-playing, case studies, group projects, think-pair-share, clicker questions, flipped lecture, peer teaching or review, three step interviews, debate, and hands on activities, just to name a few). These higher levels of thinking are outlined in Bloom's Taxonomy as Application, Analysis, Evaluation, and Creation. Together, these lead to better retention of information and a greater ability to apply learned material.

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Mounting evidence that active learning greatly improves student preparedness after college has led to growing calls for science education reform at the college level. Many universities and colleges are now starting to encourage the incorporation of active learning techniques in the classroom by providing tools that help facilitate a hands-on learning experience. These tools can include things like monitors, individual white boards, clickers, mics and speakers, modular seating arrangements, and multiple projectors. The image to the left demonstrates one such active learning environment setup to facilitate group-oriented active learning lectures.

Some pioneering universities have heeded the calls for teaching reform and have begun investing in active learning through the construction of active learning environments. The University of Louisville is one such university leading the charge to incorporate active learning in their classrooms by building new education buildings, e.g., the Belknap Academic Building, outfitted entirely with active learning classrooms. These classrooms range in student capacity from 20-124 students!

With such a large level of investment into active learning, it is important that we understand the effect that these techniques can have on students from different demographics. Dr. Beckerson's DEBR research seeks to address this need by analyzing the effect that active learning, particularly group-based active learning activities, affects students of different personalities (e.g., introverts and extroverts). Differences in performance for group-related activities linked to an individuals level of extroversion is an important factor to consider when deciding what types of active learning techniques should be used in the classroom, as some fields are populated more heavily with introverts/extroverts. Furthermore, it is important to consider the work place environment that these students will be hired into when designing active learning classes in order to better prepare students for life after college.

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Virtual reality (VR) in particular has seen a recent resurgence in popularity due to the recent successful creation and implementation of stand-alone headsets. Unlike other video games, VR can invoke a sense of immersive presence in users and the strong association with visual objects through virtual interactions. These features offer unique opportunities to provide users with a new perspective that would otherwise be hard to accomplish in a typical classroom, like visualizing and manipulating the universe on galactical scales (e.g., Galactic Center VR) or interacting with life at the microscopic level (e.g., BloodBlast VR, the Body VR). The use of these tools in the classroom environment has already shown great pedagogical promise in STEM fields, motivating students, improving their understanding of material, and promoting cooperation. VR also offers many opportunities for visual learners and can provide opportunities to those with physical disabilities. In these ways, VR can bridge the inclusivity gaps in education.

Video games have become a wildly popular media around the world. At the most basic level, electronic games can be defined as a platform in which players generate visual feedback from a display device in response to interference through an input device, often resulting in the release of dopamine that reinforces behavior, making them incredibly fun. Along with several other forms of electronics, video games have become a staple in many of our lives, particularly those from Generation Z whom have been born into a world full of reward-driven flashing lights. While some view them in a negative light, video games present learning opportunities, including directly through incorporation of learning material into video games (e.g., typing or language skills), indirectly through development of new educational tools (e.g., Virtual Reality), or even simply through the adaptation of addicting video game reward systems.

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Zombie Ants VR

Zombie Ants VR

In collaboration with Dr. Charissa de Bekker, we have created an educational video game about zombie ants! The overall goal of our project is to use gamification to educate young adults about disease evolution and transmission. To do so, we have designed a VR video game to be engaging for all audience and to deliver important information about microbiology topics like disease evolution a fun and engaging way. By educating this target audience about how new diseases emerge and spread throughout communities, we are aiming to indirectly promote better societal health practices and build a foundational understanding about disease prevention for the future!

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Zombie Ants VR is an educational virtual reality video game designed by and for students! Adventure through life as an Ophiocordyceps spore with one goal in mind, survival. But be wary, there are many dangers in the world of small organisms, and the choices you make while infecting your Camponotus host will ultimately decide your fate!

The alpha stage of the game is now available for download on STEAM! Try it out!

   Project Creator: Dr. Charissa de Bekker - Logo art by Roel Fleuren from Science Transmitter

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