Kinect sensor helps facilitate learning

We all know that children can learn from videos. But many educators have questioned the effectiveness of such learning when compared to the understanding that young children derive from working with tangible objects. In a recent paper, researchers Nesra Yannier, Ken Koedinger, and Scott Hudson at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University tested the instructional effectiveness of what they call mixed-reality games, which combine the virtual and real-world modes of teaching, where the Kinect sensor played an important role.

In a series of experiments, the researchers compared the effectiveness of virtual lessons to those that used a mixed-reality of virtual plus real-world interactions. The lessons involved teaching 92 children, ages six to eight, some basic physical principles via a game the researchers called EarthShake. The experiment asked the children to draw conclusions after seeing the effects of a simulated earthquake on structures made of building blocks, which stood on a motorized table that shook when triggered. In addition, the children received real-time, interactive feedback synchronized to the fate of the real-world towers, to help them understand the physics principles behind the physical phenomena.

The Kinect-enabled mixed-reality game achieved significantly better learning outcomes than the video version.

All of the children witnessed how the real-world towers fared during the table shaking. They also saw a projected image of the shaken towers, but this is where it varied. Some of the children viewed a pre-taped video of the shaking effects on the building-block towers, integrated into a screen-based computer game, while a different subset of the children experienced a Kinect-enabled, synchronized image of the real-time fate of the very towers on the table in front of them. This version relied on the Kinect sensor’s depth camera, whose data was processed via a customized algorithm.

The results were startling: on tests comparing the childrens’ understanding of structural stability and balance before and after EarthShake, the youngsters who had experienced the Kinect-enabled version showed nearly five times greater improvement in comprehension. This led the researchers to conclude that mixed-reality instruction is more effective than teaching with only videos. They aim to extend their patent-pending method and technology to create a new educational system that bridges the advantages of the physical and virtual worlds via Kinect, with a goal of improving children’s science learning, understanding, and enjoyment.

The Kinect for Windows Team

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