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IES Contract

Title: vCoder with AI Assisted Learning
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Patterson, Angela Awardee: Beach Day Studios, LLC
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (05/01/2021 – 04/30/2023) Award Amount: $900,000
Type: Phase II Development Award Number: 91990021C0038

Project Website:

Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:

Purpose:  In this project, the research team  will fully develop and test vCoder, an immersive virtual reality (VR) game with an artificial intelligence component to customize pathways that optimize how individual middle school students learn to code. Computer Science is considered a fundamental program for education and workforce development, as computing occupations are growing faster than the average for all occupations.

Project Activities: During Phase I in 2020, the team developed a prototype of an artificial intelligence component that provides automated supports to middle school students learning to code using an immersive virtual reality (VR) coding game. At the end of Phase I, researchers completed a pilot study with 158 middle school students enrolled in computer science classes, as well as 30 middle school educators who teach computer science courses.  The researchers found that 84% of students agreed the prototype was easy to use, 92% agreed that they enjoyed playing the game prototype, and 78% reported an improved perception of computer science using the prototype. 92% of educators agreed that students could benefit from using a vCoder game that personalizes the gameplay experience. In a pre- to post-measure of learning outcomes using an assessment, 81% of students had a higher post-vCoder score when compared to their pre-vCoder computer science score on a researcher developed measure.

In Phase II, the team will fully develop the curricular modules, difficulty levels, the machine learning algorithms, add multiplayer functionality, and teacher professional development materials. After development is complete, the research team will conduct a pilot study to assess the feasibility and usability, fidelity of implementation, and the promise of vCoder to improve student learning. The study will include 20 middle school computer science classes, half randomly assigned to use vCoder and half to participate in business-as-usual instruction. Researchers will compare pre- and post-test scores for student learning over a 4-week period using items from the Computer Science Concept Inventory. The researchers will also determine a per student cost to implement the intervention in treatment classrooms.

Product: vCoder will be an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience for middle and high students to learn computer science skills through "hands-on" experiential learning. 2 years (05/01/2021 – 04/30/2023) vCoder will include beginner, intermediate, and advanced difficulty levels. Each level will include 36 modules covering fundamentals, such as loops, sequencing, debugging, functions, variables, conditionals, events, and troubleshooting. An artificial intelligence engine will support students in seeing adjustments in the VR world as they code in real time, in providing cues and support for students who are struggling, or more challenging tasks when needed. Teachers will serve as coaches and facilitators, guiding students when necessary, monitoring student progress, and offering just-in-time instruction to answer questions and reinforce key concepts and skills.

Related IES Project: vCoder and AI-Assisted Learning (91990020C0080)