I focused my research on facilitating student interactions in online or virtual learning environments to support student learning. Most of the studies I read focused on a specific game design or management model used in virtual environments to support meaningful learning; the three overarching themes for design and management models were underlying theories, construction and interactions.
In setting a framework for the research studies, Online Collaborative Learning and Constructivist Learning Theories seem to be the prevalent foundational theories for learning environments where students have ownership (voice and choice) in their work. Behaviorist learning theory principles are also used when researchers focus on why students learn in online environments; in the studies I read, context is important in understanding student motivations and interactions within the virtual learning environment. Because of the virtual nature of student interactions and observations that teachers make during the virtual learning experience, behavior, interactions, and context within and outside of the game and even outside of the classroom were relevant in understanding and assessing an individual student’s “total” learning experience.
Student construction within a virtual learning environment was literal and figurative, including knowledge construction, construction of process, identity construction, conceptual construction, and product construction. Concepts, ideas, and values could be built with objects and structures within the virtual environment and individual and group identities were also constructed throughout the experiences. Scaffolding strategies were also discussed in several studies to support student construction in stages that foster student ownership of learning and intellectual independence.
Interactions were also a key theme in the research evident in the course designs or student objectives. Research focused on student interactions with the virtual environment, with the instructors and other students in and outside of the games, with the content or topic of study, and with the products created by others (or themselves).
There was not much discussion around behavior management within a virtual learning environment; it was only mentioned when identifying research gaps or to factor in the demographics and group dynamics of students in the study. Behavior management is an important aspect of any teaching and learning experience and this prompted me to begin thinking about a different focus for research, to examine behavior management strategies within and outside of the MinecraftEdu game.
For others who are considering projects on the use or impact of technology, some of my research could be relevant in understanding design and management of digital learning experiences. My research could also be relevant for others who are interested in student ownership over learning, student-student interactions or peer learning, and possibly student construction of knowledge and identity.