Research Projects

Courtroom 600

Courtroom 600 is an immersive learning experience to be developed using virtual reality (VR) technology, game design and public history methodologies, and archival materials from executive trial counsel Thomas J. Dodd’s papers at the University of Connecticut’s Archives and Special Collections (ASC). The narrative-driven VR exploration will provide an interactive means of engaging learners in the history of the Holocaust as interrogated by the International Military Tribunal (IMT) held in Courtroom 600 of the Justizpalast in Nuremberg, Germany. The trials, which held Nazi military and political leaders accountable for war and other crimes, represented a first successful effort to forge standards for international criminal law in support of universal human rights. The finished research project will place learners in a three-dimensional, human-scale reproduction of Courtroom 600, where they can interact with the historical participants as well as pause the courtroom action to delve into contextual information and archival materials related to the people, places, and events central to the trials. VR technology, with its use of visual, audio, and psychosomatic stimuli, will heighten the learner’s sense not only of being a witness to history but of being a participant in it. Game mechanics will enable learners to hear testimony, interrogate witnesses and defendants, query prosecuting attorneys about strategy, and interact in real time with archival documents from the ASC’s online digital repository. Throughout the Courtroom 600 experience, the game-derived structure will foreground decision points. This will foster participants’ historical awareness, underscoring that the IMT trials were not simply a sequence of events but the outcome of contingent processes occurring not only in the drama of the courtroom but, as revealed through the Dodd papers, behind the scenes as well.

Associated Grants

  • PI: Courtroom 600: A New Approach to 3D Modelling of Historical Sites for the Creation of Educational Virtual Reality Experiences | $4,500 Deans Grant | $2,000 Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs | $1,000 Digital Archives; Dodd Center

Virtual Transportation: E-Cigarette Graphic Health Warnings in Adolescents and Young Adults

Most adult smokers initiate tobacco use before age 18, with considerable increases in initiation and the higher rates of use observed between the ages of 18 and 29. Although conventional cigarette use is declining somewhat, use of e-cigarettes that can promote future nicotine addiction is on the rise, particularly for youth. These statistics speak to the need to identify new methods of delivering messages designed to reduce both cigarette and e-cigarette (e-cig) use to younger Americans (I.e., adolescents and young adults). One promising approach involves delivery of graphic health warnings that communicate the risks associated with these products. The proposed research explores graphic health warnings that communicate the risks associated with these products. The proposed research explores delivery of graphic health warnings from within virtual gaming environments. Previous research indicates that videogames can be used effectively to deliver smoking-prevention messages, but past efforts have focused on videogames designed around health-education themes (what are called “serious” games). With surveys indicating that 97% of adolescents and 80% of young adults play videogames for entertainment, use of entertainment videogames as a tool for delivering graphic warnings has tremendous potential to influence youth cigarette and e-cig rates. However, before such an approach can be pursued, researchers need to better understand health communication dynamics in computer-mediated, virtual gaming worlds. The current project addresses this need and tests the viability of The Virtual Transportation Model of Health Communication. This Model posits that, as gamers become psychologically immersed (or “transported”) into virtual reality, their tendency to resist persuasive messages they encounter in these worlds is disrupted. The model further posits that such disruption will typically be strongest amongst individuals who are most likely to resist or reject “real-world” interventions. Support for predictions come from pilot research conducted by our research team. In this research, graphic health warnings against alcohol-impaired driving and cigarette smoking were embedded in background scenes of entertaining, interactive 3D virtual gaming worlds. Such messages were shown to reduce willingness to engage in these behaviors in the future, particularly among higher-risk individuals who reported feeling psychologically “transported” during game play. The proposed research will build on this work by testing the viability of videogame-based interventions. In Phase 1 (Years 1&2) we will refine two existing videogames and develop two new ones while simultaneously empirically evaluating the best methods of delivering in-game health communications and the mechanisms by which transportation heightens in-game influence. In Phase 2 (year 3&4) we will conduct randomized field trials of game-based interventions with two groups, a probability sample of adolescents (13-18) and an at-risk sample of young adults (18-24). In Phase 3 (Year 5) we will aggregate data across studies to create health campaign recommendations and to launch an interactive gaming server that will permit broad distribution of empirically validated games, for use by independent health communication researchers.

Associated Grants

  • CO-PI: National Institute of Health; Virtual Transportation as a Strategy to Reduce Resistance to Cigarette and e-Cigarette Graphic Health Warnings in Adolescents and Young Adults; $1,895,668, 2017-2022

Independent Science Learning through Serious Games with Expert Avatars and Complementary Stories

This project will develop and test a learning platform to facilitate independent, personal and enjoyable science education. The platform combines an engaging book, whose characters employ a fictional virtual environment to solve a mystery, with a complimentary computer-based virtual environment to support games, explorations, and interviews with Expert Avatars (XAs), such as Albert Einstein and Henrietta Leavitt, that appear in the book. The goal is to increase the interest in science for children in grades 5-8. The first installment of this game is entitled “Mission KT,” where four explorers adventure back to the extinction event during the Cretaceous Era, where they will collect photographs, 3D scans, and other artifacts to install into the Mystery Museum back at home. This cooperative multiplayer game challenges players to explore the environment, interact with STEM based learning content such as carbon dating or the carbon cycle. Successful players must problem solve and collaborate with their team members, seeking the answer to the overall question

“What is STARDUST? Where, when and how did it form? How did it get into Einstein and from him to you?”

Specifically, the Stardust mystery explains the concept that, statistically, every human on earth shares a number of carbon particles that were once in other people, such as Albert Einstein. And to carry this theory forward, a number of those carbon particles were also in the body of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. This is an important reminder that we are all connected on this planet, not only today, but we are connected to everyone who has ever come before us and everyone who will come after.

Patent

As a result of the work on this project, the Beamer LLC has filed for a Patent “EDUCATIONAL TEACHING METHOD AND SYSTEM UTILIZING VIRTUAL MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENTS IN GAMES AND COMPUTER LESSONS.” of which I am a co-author.

Associated Grants

  • CO-PI -National Science Foundation, Phase II: Independent Science Learning through Serious Games with Expert Avatars and Complementary Stories Recommended for Funding, $750,000, 2017-2019
  • CO-PI -National Science Foundation, Phase I: Independent Science Learning through Serious Games with Expert Avatars and Complementary Stories, Award number: 1549522, $224,980
  • CO-PI –Connecticut Small Business Acceleration and Commercialization Program – Phase I State Support $100,00,
  • Developer: Phase I: Independent Science Learning through Serious Games with Expert Avatars and Complementary Stories, Award number: 1549522, $224,980