Interactive pets motivate students

November 04, 2004, vol. 31, no. 5
By Terry Lavender

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When Monica Sturgess noticed that students in her first-year class were not doing the required course readings, she enlisted the help of some VIPs - not very important persons, but virtual interactive pets.

The virtual interactive pet is an online self-grading quiz that Sturgess developed with the help of the eLearning Innovation Centre (eLINC) at SFU Surrey.

Students in the TechOne foundations of teamwork and communications course complete the quiz and get graded instantly. Moreover, for every test they complete, they receive a reward - such as an online game or video clip.

“You don't know what you'll get, that's the fun part,” Sturgess says.

Peer pressure is another incentive to get a high mark in the quiz, she says. When students log on they see their score - and their classmates' scores - depicted as an icon whizzing around the screen. The higher the score, the larger the icon.

The icons were developed by SFU Surrey students. Agnes Misiurny developed the original icons, while Adam Bognar and Travis Kirton developed the current ones.

Sturgess says the name virtual interactive pet came about because initially, “the idea was to create a tamagotchi-like character that students had to take care of. (A tamagotchi is a virtual pet that originated in Japan.) This year it evolved instead to a different type of image, but I felt the pet name still fit with the new evolution of the ViP because it is still something that students have complete responsibility for scoring themselves. Their reward is to play with it - in this case, to play the game at each level they achieve.” ViP helps to motivate students to learn core course concepts, Sturgess says.

“They get to sharpen their academic writing practices and it encourages self-direction and responsibility, as it gives them 100 per cent control over a portion of their term grade (20 per cent). It is also self-grading, so instructors don't spend time in marking, but can oversee how students are doing on a weekly basis and easily identify any low-performing students in order to get them back on track.”

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