Ph.D. Research in ECT
Students in ECT conduct research and scholarship continuously through the program, beginning with the candidacy paper in the first year. Students participate in research labs and faculty projects, work under the supervision of faculty in research courses, and participate continuously in the doctoral colloquium as a research-supportive community. Over time, students publish journal articles and conference papers in addition to conducting the doctoral dissertation.
Recent Ph.D. Dissertations
Ralph Vacca, Ph.D. 2016Cultivating Situated Mindfulness in Everyday Life: A Design-Based Study of a Mobile Approach
Situated mobile learning is an expanding field that places computers as mediators of our relationship with the world around us, enabling an augmented experience that changes how we experience things and in turn make meaning out of those experiences. The dissertation asks the question, what does it mean for mobile devices that are always with us, to help us be more mindful throughout the day, especially within a context of urban living in the 21st century? The design-based research study involved three iterative design cycles of a mobile app with input from a group of adult users to explore how a mobile app can prompt mindfulness states throughout the day using surrounding context and mental events as the attentional focus, and end-of-day reflections incorporating forms of cognitive reappraisal and body awareness. Analysis involved self-report measures of mindfulness, behavior logs, and in-depth interview analysis, all mapped against conjectures that related design embodiments, to mediating processes, to outcomes of curiosity and decentering (two factors of a mindfulness state). I found that in augmenting our capacity to be vigilant and self-monitor mental events throughout the day as meditation objects, it is possible to cultivate mindfulness states. The experience allows for the enactment of the three characteristics of mental activity the Buddha described – impermanence, suffering, and not-self. However, it is important that we be critical of what we mean by mindfulness states in that the approach embodied through the app can be argued to be a diluted form of mindfulness that is excessively cognition-focused, and provides limited pathways to more non-conceptual understanding – insight. Ultimately, the dissertation posits a form of computer-supported mindfulness that makes use of situated context to induce mindfulness states, and provides a phenomenological understanding of the advantages and limitations of such an approach within the context of modern demands and traditional contemplative understandings of mindfulness.
Dixie Ching, Ph.D. 2016“Now I can actually do what I want”: Social learning ecologies supporting youth pathways in digital media making
This study examines how youth are able to pursue interest-driven learning and practice-linked identities connected to digital media making with the help of individuals in their lives. Engaging in digital media making is an important route to developing important 21st century skills, empowered civic identities, and lifelong learning; also reports indicate that individuals from non-dominant communities are less able to derive such benefits. While research in the learning sciences, community psychology, sociology and other related fields widely agree that learning and development is enhanced through social support stemming from both family and non-family individuals, most studies examining social support for digital media making have tended to focus on one context or one provider group—for example, researchers have defined specific learning roles played by either parents at home, online mentors that were part of a social networking site, or educators operating in a school-cum-out-of-school environment. Taken as a whole, these studies provide an adequate grounding concerning the types of support that youth may require for digital fluency and media making, but leave open an opportunity to more fully capture social support provision as a holistic, dynamic, learning context-spanning phenomenon. The present study seeks to address this gap by investigating how adolescents navigate relationships in a variety of settings—including their home, school, and afterschool environments—to recruit and leverage the kinds of support they need to further their digital media making interests. Through a qualitative, interview-based study of teenagers recruited from out-of-school technology-oriented programs in New York City, I provide descriptive and explanatory evidence to (1) characterize how youth conceptualize the array of resources and supportive adults and peers available to them—their social learning ecology, (2) identify signaling practices they have utilized to recruit and leverage this support, and (3) explain how youth’s support-generating signaling practices and aspects of their social learning ecologies may have implications for continued engagement in interest-driven learning activities. Such information may inform the design of more equitable learning environments that facilitate the development of long-term learning trajectories through involvement of a wider circle of potential resource providers.
Steve Yavner, Ph.D. 2016Stress, Fatigue, and Medical Students' Study Resource Selection: Implications for the Design of Educational Multimedia
Medical students are generally considered to be a unique group of experienced learners, functioning under high levels of stress and fatigue. The use of multimedia in digital environments has become a standard feature in most medical schools, but it has met with limited success. This study investigated the impact of stress and fatigue on general study resource selection, with particular interest in multimedia, and its limited uptake by medical students. A series of 58 focus groups with 107 third and fourth year medical students was conducted and a survey instrument was administered. Results produced a model of stress and fatigue for third-year medical students, and showed a statistically significant increase in multimedia usage under fatigue but not under stress alone. Further analysis of the qualitative data produced a series of 12 multimedia design and implementation factors. There may also be significant implications for the general learner population, which is also confronting increased stress and fatigue. In our media saturated world there may also be connections to the larger consumption of multimedia across society, such as in journalism and other media. With further research, we might also learn valuable information about how to more effectively communicate with each other through multimedia.
Tsu-Ting Huang, Ph.D. 2016The effects of types of reflective scaffolding and language proficiency on the acquisition of physics knowledge in a game-based learning environment
With the capability of creating a situated and engaging learning environment, video games have been considered as a powerful tool to enhance students’ learning outcomes and interest in learning. Yet, little empirical evidence exists to support the effectiveness of video games in learning. Particularly, little attention has been given to the design of specific game elements. Focusing on middle school students, the goal of this study was to investigate the effects of two types of representations of reflective scaffolds (verbal and visual) on students’ learning outcomes, game performance, and level of engagement in a video game for physics learning. In addition, the role of students’ level of English proficiency was examined to understand whether the effects of reflective scaffolds were influenced by students’ language proficiency. Two studies were conducted. Study 1 playtested the game with target players and led to game modification for its use in Study 2, which focused on the effects of different types of reflective scaffolds and level of English proficiency. The results of Study 2 showed that students who received both verbal and visual reflective scaffolds completed the most levels compared to the other groups in the given time. No significant effect of type of reflective scaffolds were found on learning outcomes despite the fact that the pattern of the learning outcomes across conditions was close to prediction. Participants’ engagement in gameplay was high regardless of the type of scaffolds they received, their interest in learning physics, and their prior knowledge of physics. The results of video analysis also showed that the game used in this study was able to engage students not only in gameplay but also in learning physics. Finally, English proficiency functioned as a significant factor moderating the effects of scaffolds, learning outcomes and game performance. Students with limited English proficiency benefited more from visual reflective scaffolds than verbal ones.
Jonathan Belman, Ph.D. 2016A Study of Empathetic Play in Serious Games
This work explores some key questions associated with designing games to foster empathy. First, how can design practice build on the understandings of empathy that have been developed in a variety of disciplines? Although empathy has been thoroughly studied in many fields, the lack of standardized nomenclature makes it difficult to apply knowledge from one to the next. Here, I present a theoretical framework that helps organize and explain research on empathy across disciplines. I also use the framework to propose heuristic best practices for designing games to foster empathy. Second, what does “empathetic play” look and feel like, and how does it impact the player? In the research presented here, 81 participants played the game Layoff. Some were prompted to play “empathetically,” while others received no prompting. Both quantitative and qualitative findings suggest that the experience of empathetic play is distinct from that of entertainment-focused play, and that empathetic play produces distinct attitudinal and behavioral consequences. Specific findings include the following: 1. Empathetic players approached in-game decisions as moral dilemmas, while entertainment-focused players were much less likely to engage with the game on moral terms. 2. Empathetic players were much more likely to experience emotional states that have been associated with empathy in prior research, i.e., empathetic concern and personal distress. 3. Empathetic players were more likely to associate their own histories with people represented in the game. 4. Once the game was over, players who had been prompted to engage empathetically donated more of their remuneration to a charity serving victims of economic hardship. Overall, these results suggest that (a) players will not reliably adopt an empathetic (as opposed to entertainment-focused) posture without some form of prompting, and that (b) empathetic engagement inside of a game can encourage altruistic behavior in the world outside the game.
Gabriela Richard, Ph.D. 2014Understanding Gender, Context and Game Culture for the Development of Equitable Digital Games as Learning Environments
The study proposes that in order to design educational games that address equitable learning outcomes, we need to understand contextual factors that can have differential effects on achievement across gender, ethnicity, culture and sexuality. Research on social identity formation, stereotype threat, school climate and the digital identity divide all underscore the importance of social context in shaping identification with, as well as confidence and performance in learning content areas, particularly math, science and technology (which includes computers and gaming). Past literature highlights that females and ethnic minorities are the most vulnerable to bias and negative stereotypes in these domains. Gender and its intersections with ethnicity and sexuality were investigated in game culture through an exploratory mixed-methods study. It consisted of a multi-year ethnography of online gaming activities in the greater gaming culture and a female-supportive online gaming community (with members across gender), as well as surveys developed from ethnographic themes. Ethnographic findings confirm that harassment is a pervasive gatekeeping practice that particularly targets and affects females and ethnic minorities in game culture and leads to silencing and marginalizing female game play; female gamers continuously wrestle with competing gendered expectations that undermined their play, particularly in co-ed environments, though also in female-supportive ones; and the female-oriented "clan" creates learning opportunities and access to female role models (that defy stereotypes) in ways that help level the playing field. Survey results demonstrate that stereotype threat, which has implications for learning and long-term outcomes through lowered confidence, performance and interest in a domain, can occur in game culture, and that females and ethnic minorities are statistically significantly more vulnerable to it. However, latent internalized gender schema (or one's internalized sense of masculinity or femininity) significantly interacts with vulnerability. Male and female members of a female-supportive clan scored significantly higher in their gaming identification and self-concept, and females of that clan were more likely to play frequently online, helping to demonstrate the positive role of supportive communities in mitigating the potential negative effects of bias and stereotype threat. The dissertation further makes recommendations for the design of efficacious and equitable educational games and learning environments.
Helen Kwah, Ph.D. 2013Coming to See Objects of Knowledge: Guiding Student Conceptualization Through Teacher Embodied Instruction in a Robotics Programming Class
This thesis explores the questions of how a teacher guides students to see concepts, and the role of gesture and gesture viewpoints in mediating the process of guidance. To examine these questions, two sociocultural theoretical frameworks--Radford's cultural-semiotic theory of knowledge objectification (e.g., 2003), and Goldman's Points of Viewing theory (e.g., 2007)--were applied to conduct a microanalytic, explanatory case study of the instructional activity of an exemplary teacher and his students in a middle school robotics programming class.
According to Radford, students acquire concepts as they draw upon semiotic resources such as language and gesture to generalize and objectify initially concrete perceptions and actions. I applied Radford's framework to explain the mediations that a teacher might enact in guiding students to objectify and see concepts. Furthermore, I focused on gesture as semiotic means because of emergent research on gesture's role in communicating the visuospatial imagery that underlies math/ scientific concepts. I extended the view of gestures to the viewpoints constructed in gesture, and applied Goldman's theory to explain how perspectives might be actively constructed and shared in the process of guiding student conceptualization.
Data was collected over a semester through participant observation, field notes, teacher and student interviews, and reviews of artifacts. Multimodal microanalyses were conducted on video data from eight class sessions.
The findings provide confirmations and some disconfirmations about the applicability of Radford's and Goldman's theories for explaining a teacher's process of guiding student conceptualization. Notably, some of Radford's notions about de-contextualization and symbolic generalizations were not confirmed. Overall, the findings are summarized through three themes including, grounding, and perceptual organizers as two ways that gesture and other means served to both index and identify action-perception schemes for bridging to the symbolic level of programming concepts and conceptual structures. A third theme of iteration, shifting, and layering described the quality of the teacher's process, and the importance of constructing shifting and multiple viewpoints in gesture and speech, as Goldman's theory proposed. Finally, implications for designing educational applications that draw upon gesture as mediational means are discussed.
Jonathan Frye, Ph.D. 2013Video Game Player Profiles: Bridging Industry, Game Studies and Social Science Perspectives
For decades, game designers and game studies experts have largely sought to understand video game players through a lens of experience and observation. Meanwhile, social science research has focused on the empirical understanding of video game players using a variety of psychological constructs. This study focuses on the creation and evaluation of Player Profiles, a theoretical framework which builds upon both the experience and knowledge of game designers and game studies academics with the empirical research of social scientists. This bridge establishes seven different Player Profiles: Competitor, Explorer, Socializer, Challenger/ Achiever, Escaper, and Stimulation Seeker. Two studies are presented, investigating the validity of the Player Profile Framework and examining its potential use in game design to increase learning and engagement in educational games for adolescents. A large scale survey of adults and small scale survey of adolescents were conducted. Participants completed validated measures of goal orientation, personality aspects, and video game uses and gratification. Additional questionnaires included the Player Profile Questionnaire (PPQ) and a measure of preferred video game features. A model-based cluster analysis of the adult sample revealed implications for cultural differences in player profiles as well as indications that players exhibit multiple player profiles. Analysis of the PPQ establishes the first significant empirical link between game design experience and the psychological constructs examined, also revealing a consistency between adolescents and adults. A second study asked adolescents from study 1 to play two learning games, each featuring prominent game design features intended for a specific profile, Competitor or Fantasizer. Although results were mixed, players who met the criteria for the Fantasizer profile scored significantly higher on the posttest of the Force Fantasy game than those who did not. Results establish the potential of the Player Profile Framework and create a foundation for future research.