Towards a Collaborative Virtual Cloud Campus: Ireland-China

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Thesis Title: Towards a Collaborative Virtual Cloud Campus: Ireland-China’

Thesis Subtitle: The design, build, testing and evaluating of a new Virtual Cloud Campus

Platform for Irish and Chinese collaboration, incorporating Cross-cultural Collaborative Game within the bespoke virtual world

Abstract

This thesis, and the research project upon which it is based, was inspired by the desire to create a productive collaborative learning tool for Chinese students coming to Ireland; a desire underpinned, in large part, by the researcher’s own previous challenging experiences in preparing to make this cultural transition.

The main research question explores, to what extent can virtual 3D collaborative platforms, informed by the theory of Gamification, help to alleviate the difficulties and challenges experienced by Chinese international students in Ireland, who are engaged in cross-cultural collaborative learning, including addressing issues such as language barriers and cultural understanding. In response to this question, the thesis sought the creation of a customised bilingually-designed virtual world on a new 3D virtual cloud platform, integrating an original Cross-cultural Collaborative Game (CCG), designed to enable Chinese students to easily approach a variety of resources about the contexts of UCD, Dublin and Ireland more generally, and also to enhance communication and collaboration with Western students (Irish students), through game co-play. The process of research includes how to design, build, test, and evaluate the Cross-cultural Collaborative Game (CCG) (also referred to as Context-specific Collaborative Game (CSCG)) based on a virtual cloud platform.

The thesis employs a mixed methods approach, combining quantitative and qualitative analysis of results of two online questionnaires (Q1 and Q2), and an Email questionnaire (EQ) and a Use Case (focus group) associated with a questionnaire (Q3), with analysis on the impact of using bespoke virtual collaboration tools.

Overall, the thesis studies the potential effectiveness of a unique virtual world platform (Terf, using the Virtual World in a Backpack model created by Hao2 for SMARTlab), integrated with bespoke mobile context-specific collaborative learning games, which, together, comprise the platform for a new Collaborative Virtual Cloud Campus, to link students in China and Ireland. The researcher’s own original contribution to this evolving platform is the new, shared Cross-cultural Collaborative Game (CCG). The aim in developing this CCG is to make a “bridge” between Chinese students and Irish students, to assist future Chinese students in addressing language barriers and cultural issues.

The research plan for the virtual cloud platform, integrated with the CCG, has been informed by the mechanics of ‘gamification’. Overall, the research provides an original and effective tool to enhance communication and collaboration between groups collaborating at a physical distance and across a cultural divide.

Table of Contents

Abstract……………………………………………………….

Statement of Original Authorship………………………………………

Acknowledgements………………………………………………..

Table of Contents…………………………………………………

List of Figures……………………………………………………

List of Tables…………………………………………………….

Key terms in this research……………………………………………

Timeline of this Research……………………………………………

Chapter 1: Introduction…………………………………………….

1.1 Context…………………………………………………….

1.2 Setting the Scene: Policy Analysis on Educational Modernisation- the 20 Year Plan for China Education

1.3 Comparative Reports on European Educational Modernisation using new Technologies and Policies on Irish International Education Strategy (2012-2015)

1.4 Environment Scan: Chinese and Irish Population Overall Compared to Overseas Student Mobility

1.4.1 China and Ireland: Population Comparison………………………….

1.4.2 China and Ireland: Overseas Students Data………………………….

1.5 The Population of Total International Students and Chinese students in Ireland………

1.6 Statement of Research…………………………………………..

1.7 The Purpose of the Research……………………………………….

1.8 The Research Questions………………………………………….

1.9 Methodology: Structuring an Evidence-based Framework for Analysis Survey Research..

1.10 Research Rationale…………………………………………….

1.10.1 The Main and Cognate Fields of Study……………………………

1.10.2 Educational Technology……………………………………..

1.10.3 Virtual Reality -3D Virtual World……………………………….

1.10.4 Gamification Theory and Game-based learning………………………

1.11 The Structure of the Dissertation……………………………………

List of Figures

Figure 1. China and Ireland Population, 2008-2014. Source: OECD……………..

Figure 2. Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students from UNESCO Institute of Statistics (2012)-China. Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

Figure 3. Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students from UNESCO Institute of Statistics (2012)-Ireland.

Figure 4. International students in Ireland, 2001-02 to 2011-12

Figure 5. Knowledge Circles of this Thesis……………………………….

List of Tables

Table 1. Number of total Chinese students (including Hong Kong), onshore and offshore Chinese students in Ireland, 2001-02 to 2011-12

Key terms in this research

 

3D Virtual Cloud Campus Platform/3D Virtual Cloud Platform/3D Virtual Collaborative Platform: all refer to the Platform; all represent the customised bilingually-designed virtual world, which is developed for this research and build on the novel 3D virtual cloud platform, Terf.

Cross-cultural Collaborative Game (CCG): originally developed in this research, which is imported into the 3D Virtual Cloud Campus Platform, developed based on Terf, designed mainly to encourage two players from different cultural backgrounds to engage in the process of puzzles/games solving/playing collaboratively, for the purpose of improving English language and learning the specific context/cultures blended into these puzzles and surrounding virtual space. The CCG includes Word Game and Matching Game in this thesis.

Context-specific Collaborative Game (CSCG): represents all the collaborative games created following the framework developed in this thesis. Based on the findings of this research, it is predicted that the CSCG can be applied in a variety of domains where comparative study is needed, such as cross-cultural studies, such as this PhD research, interdisciplinary research, such as the disciplines of business and computer science, combined courses with learners at varying levels of prior knowledge and ability, such as students with autistic spectrum disorders and peers, and intergenerational learning contexts, such as youth – old. In each of these cases, a focus on collaboration for language/concepts barriers and knowledge/information sharing and understanding can be supported by use of the CSCG.

Virtual Cross-cultural Game-based Collaborative Table (VCGCT): the first iteration of the games designed for this PhD research, and replaced by the CCG in a later study.

 

Terf: a novel virtual cloud platform – second generation of Virtual World, which is used to develop the above Virtual Collaborative Platform, incorporating a Cross-cultural Collaborative Game (CCG) for this research. In this thesis, Terf is also referred to as the Terf Platform. More specifically, the Room/Forum inside Terf is called the Terf Forum, Terf room, or Terf virtual space.

Timeline of this Research

Year 1: September 2013 – September 2014

  1. Decided research question
  2. Finished policies and literature review and background case studies review

Year 2: September 2014 – September 2015

  1. Conducted questionnaire 1 and Email questionnaire
  2. Finished data analysis of these two questionnaires

Year 3: September 2015 – September 2016

  1. Conducted questionnaire 2 and finished data analysis
  2. Design and build virtual collaborative campus platform incorporating CCG based on Terf platform
  3. Implement the Use Case – technical trial
  4. Conducted questionnaire 3

Year 4: September 2016 – September 2017

  1. Finished data analysis of questionnaire 3 and videos (recorded during the trial)
  2. Writing the PhD thesis

Chapter 1: Introduction

 

1.1 Context

This thesis discusses the development of a technological tool for Chinese students, to use as a platform, to increase their level of social awareness and inclusion, in their preparation for leaving China to study in Dublin (and by extension, in the West, more generally). This large number of Chinese students have identified a need to better understand and collaborate internationally and to understand some of the key aspects of life in Dublin (and the West), not only in their preparations for leaving China, but also when they are newly arrived and settling into their new context and culture. The thesis takes, as its context, the recent emerging literature and policies showing that internationalisation/student diversity (cultural, linguistic, social, etc.) can be very important in raising the levels of awareness in the scholarly community, at large, when it comes to key areas such as language and linguistics, cross-cultural comparisons and collaborations, cultural heritage and invisible digital heritage, and games for learning and international tools for inclusive learning. As Issa et al. (2014) suggest, in their 2014 edited volume on Multicultural Awareness and Technology in Higher Education: Global Perspectives, one of the key elements of an educational strategy is to aim for increased student diversity. In the university sector, as Issa (2014) and many authors agree, diversity (of ethnicity, nationality, language, culture, religion, age, ability) has a significant impact in terms of awareness raising, with particular relevance to the domain of cross-cultural collaboration in international educational programmes (Issa, 2014). When any diverse student body in any university is further supported by relevant and accessible technologies, then the opportunities for fruitful and impactful personalised learning and collaborative learning can be multiplied significantly, with, potentially, a very positive impact, not only for the students and the universities, but also for society at large.

1.2 Setting the Scene: Policy Analysis on Educational Modernisation- the 20 Year Plan for China Education

Below is an extract from, A Blueprint for Educational Modernisation:

A strong nation requires quality education, and quality education is a prerequisite for national development.

In July 2010, China announced its Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020) (hereinafter referred to as the Plan, presenting a blueprint for achieving the modernization of education in the next 10 years in accordance with China’s overall strategy of reform and opening up and socialist modernisation.

This is China’s first national plan for medium and long-term education reform and development since the beginning of the 21st century. It is of decisive significance for our effort to build a learning society, develop human resources, improve people’s living standard and make China a prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious modern socialist country.

(Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, 2010a)

As the quote above shows, the modernisation of education is a top priority in the country. The means by which this modernisation will be achieved is through technology development. In China, the term used by the Ministry to describe the need for a major intensive programme of technological innovation and development in Educational Technologies is ‘Education Informatisation’. Professors Wu and Tang, of Yangtze University, China, have provided the following definition of the term ‘education informatisation’:

Educational information refers to the use of modern information technology such as computers, multimedia and network technology in the field of education to promote updating of educational concepts, the reform of education content and methods and learning ways, to train high-quality innovative talents and upgrade educational quality, to establish a new educational system which meets the needs of social development (Wu and Tang, 2013 p.608).

Another educator, Zhou, provides an alternative definition of ‘Education Informatisation’:

a process to use modern information technologies, develop education resources and optimise the education process, in order to cultivate and improve the students’ qualities and promote education modernisation. The connotation of education informatisation contains two aspects of meanings: 1) Computerisation, networking and ‘intelligentisation’ of education. Education should be changed from the analog age to the digital age. 2) Education aims to cultivate and improve students’ qualities, especially their information capacity.” (Zhou, 2013 p.666).

As one of the most important national development tasks in the last three decades of China’s gradual process of ‘reform and opening up’, including the ‘opening up’ of certain borders and communications with the West, the term ‘education informatisation’ has emerged as a means to describe the important and catalysing role of technologies in the modernisation of education. The central role of technology, and of technology-enhanced learning in particular, is emphasised by the Chinese government and is inscribed in its national policies, including

  • China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development: 2010-2020 (Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, 2010b) and
  • the Ten-Year Development Plan of Education Informatization: 2011-2020 (Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, 2012).

‘Education informatisation’ has been cited as a significant indicator of the educational modernisation of China. This was emphasised by Jinping-Xi, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, in his speech at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, on the subject of using the process of ‘education informatisation’ to drive the development of educational modernisation.

In order to promote the further implementation of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development: 2010-2020, another important policy – the Ten-Year Development Plan of Education Informatization: 2011-2020, was published in March 2012 to meet the demands of ‘driving educational modernisation by education informationisation’.

Five primary goals of educational informatisation have been expressed in this ten-year plan, to be accomplished by 2020:

  1. to build an ‘informationalised’ learning environment/platform, sharing high-quality educational resources, available for everyone;
  2. to form a learning society equipped with various service systems supported by informatisation;
  3. to achieve overall internet accessibility across all the schools in China;
  4. to make further significant improvements in ‘informationalised’ management and its applications in education; and
  5. to promote the combination between technologies and education, enhancing the autonomous learning ability of students.

(Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, 2012).

More specifically, the latest report from the Ministry of Education of China was published online, under the title Priorities 2015: Informatisation of Education on 12 February 2015 (Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, 2015). The report discusses eight core targets in this process, two of which are closely related to this PhD study:

  1. Great efforts will be attached to the development of the virtual/ online learning space amongst teachers and students.
  2. In order to improve the quality of educational resource sharing systems, attention will be paid to developing and enlarging the provision of cloud services.

The report also states that China will need to develop and maintain closer relationships with other countries in order to exchange educational experiences and technologies and to achieve true ‘modernisation’, in a global context. These aspects of the Chinese ‘education informatization’ process perfectly fit with the aims of this PhD project.

1.3 Comparative Reports on European Educational Modernisation using new Technologies and Policies on Irish International Education Strategy (2012-2015)

In Europe, the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education was published in 2014. This report investigates the potential impact of emerging technologies on teaching and learning, as well as on the domain of ‘creative inquiry’ within the area of Higher Education. Regarding the significant developments in Educational Technology for Higher Education, the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education predicts that games and gamification will be adopted within two to three years, and that virtual assistants will be utilised in the next four to five years, in higher education. Both predictions are closely related to this PhD research (Johnson et al., 2014).

A follow-on study, the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition was published in 2015. It details the crucial trends accelerating the utilisation of technology in Higher Education, and reveals that rapidly developing cultures of change and innovation, as well as advances in ‘cross-institutional collaboration’ will be of great importance to the task of driving forward technology in the next five years (Johnson et al., 2015).

In the following year, NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition highlighted the importance of advancing cultures of innovation, and pointed out another long-term impact trend, that is, fundamentally rethinking how universities and colleges work. The report signalled that these two significant trends would drive educational technology adoption in Higher Education for next five or more years (Johnson et al., 2016).

From a broader perspective, it is reasonable to consider that the impact of cross-cultural collaborative learning tools, developed for the Higher Education sector, will have a positive influence on the development of technology for universities across the world, as well as for the well-being of international students, globally.

Since 2010, the Irish government has attached great significance to the development of its process of ‘internationalisation’ in higher education, emphasising:

  1. the positive impacts of multicultural relations, in enhancing the quality of learning, teaching and research for teachers and students in Ireland;
  2. the importance of accelerating the cultural integration of international students with Irish students and their wider communities, and;
  3. the importance of collaborative institutional and research links internationally, based on a number of policies, such as: Investing in Global Relationships: Ireland’s International Education Strategy 2010-15 (Strategy 2010-15) (High Level Group on International Education, 2010), Irish Educated Globally Connected: An International Education Strategy for Ireland, 2016-2020 (Strategy 2016-20) (Johnson et al., 2016) and The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 (known as Strategy 2030) (Hunt, 2011), all published by the Irish Department of Education and Skills.

 

Strategy 2010-15 specifically describes a determination to increase the number of international students (including full-time, part-time, and exchange students) in higher educational programmes in Ireland by 2015, with an anticipated increase of 50% on current numbers, up to 38,000. The report also makes clear Ireland’s aim of increasing the number of offshore students (i.e. those undertaking Irish education programmes outside the jurisdiction, such as those studying by distance learning) by 50%, up to 4,500 (High Level Group on International Education, 2010).

The primary goal of the International Education Strategy is that Ireland, as a country of destination for many international students, aims to become a global leader in delivering high-quality international education, by providing students with a unique experience and long-term value. Mary Coughlan – Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills – notes, with regard to Ireland’s role: ‘We must continue to offer international students a high-quality education and a unique student experience that is based on strong integration with their Irish peers’ (High Level Group on International Education, 2010)

Strategy 2016-20, published in October 2016, aims to achieve real progress, from Strategy 2010-15, and looks to new targets for the next five years. Strategy 2016-20 signalled that the goals set by Strategy 2010-15 for full-time international student recruitment and economic impact were exceeded and Ireland’s reputation as a destination for students and the student experience is strong (Johnson et al., 2016 p.7).

In the next five years, Higher Education Institutes in Ireland will continue to focus on quality and building long-term engagement with students and partners worldwide. Strategy 2016-20 sets new international student targets of 44,000 in higher education, up from 33,118 in 2014/2015, with a 33% increase by the end of the 2019/2020 academic year (Johnson et al., 2016 p.43).

In addition, the OECD reported in 2012 (Education at a Glance: OECD Indicator) that:

As national economies become more interconnected and participation in education expands, governments and individuals are looking to higher education to broaden students’ horizons and help them to better understand the world’s languages, cultures and business methods. One way for students to expand their knowledge of other societies and languages, and thus improve their prospects in globalised sectors of the labour market, such as multinational corporations or research, is to study in tertiary institutions in countries other than their own (OECD, 2012)

Overall, Western education institutions can be seen to be taking increased responsibility for exploring new ways to support international students’ well-being as they study ‘abroad’ in European countries. A particular concern was raised by the Strategy 2030, which suggested that more attention should be paid to first-year students, to help them engage with new and different study environments more effectively, by providing more information and learning experiences in universities (Hunt, 2011). It could further be argued that additional attention should be paid to first-year international students, and perhaps specifically graduate students, as they are more likely to experience social exclusion due to the smaller cohort and class sizes, and to the largely independent nature of their studies.

These policies, taken together, demonstrate the need to provide a unique and accessible online (and real) shared collaboration space for international students and their western peers, which can serve as a motivation to increase their communication and levels of social engagement. In this way, the research seeks to address the real world social issue of the well-being of international students, as part of their process of gaining social inclusion in Ireland.

1.4 Environment Scan: Chinese and Irish Population Overall Compared to Overseas Student Mobility

In order to understand the importance of technological development to the educational sector of China, it is necessary to understand the size and scope of the country in comparison to Ireland, as this helps to demonstrate the scale of the process of modernisation to be undertaken in China. At the same time, the significant increase in collaboration and cultural or educational exchange between the two countries will rely, to some extent, on the direct and indirect interaction of the students from these two counties. It is important to consider the demands of the advanced technologies for collaborative learning of both countries as a baseline for this study.

 

1.4.1 China and Ireland: Population Comparison

Figure 1, below, shows the size of China and Ireland’s population from 2008 to 2014. The total Chinese population in 2011 was recorded as 1368,440 million, and as 1377,065 million, in 2012, and as 1385, 567 million, in 2013. Comparatively, the size of Ireland’s population in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 did not experience notable changes: the numbers were reported as 4.575 million, 4.585million, 4.593 million, and 4.610 million, respectively.  According to the data of 2012, the total population of China was recorded as 1377,065 million, whereas the total population of Ireland, in the same period, was 4.585 million; the population of China is, currently, roughly 300 times larger than that of Ireland (OECD, 2016).

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Figure 1. China and Ireland Population, 2008-2014. Source: OECD


1.4.2 China and Ireland: Overseas Students Data

Figure 2. Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students from UNESCO Institute of Statistics (2012)-China. Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

Since China adopted international education in the late 1970s, there has been a very rapid and significant increase in Chinese students heading West for their studies. In 2012, 694,041 Chinese students from Mainland China had studied abroad, at Tertiary-Level, accounting for over 20% of total mobile students in the world (UNESCO, 2014). According to the latest data, the number of Mainland Chinese students who studied abroad, at Tertiary-Level, increased to 712,157, in 2013, 21% of total mobile students in the world (UNESCO, 2016a).

Figure 3. Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students from UNESCO Institute of Statistics (2012)-Ireland.

As one of the most important strategic actions to enhance Ireland’s performance for internationalisation from 2010, enhancing the outward mobility and multicultural exchanging of Irish staff and students have been encouraged, according to Strategy 2010-15. However, based on the June 2016 – Education from the Data Centre of UNESCO Institute of Statistics, it shows that Ireland has a total 18,917 mobile students abroad in 2012, and has lower mobile students abroad, with 16,302, in 2013 (UNESCO, 2016b). The Statistics also indicate that only less than 5 Irish students enrolled, at Tertiary-Level, in Hong Kong, China, with no data recorded in Mainland China until 2013.

1.5 The Population of Total International Students and Chinese students in Ireland

As Figure 4, below, shows, over the last decade, Ireland saw a large growth in the number of its total international students, from only 11,000 in 2002, to 32,132 in 2012; there was only one period within that time that indicated that Ireland experienced a slight decrease in its population of international students: from 27,275 to 25,781, during 2009 to 2010.

In addition, Strategy 2016-20 reported that 20,995 students attended Irish HEIs (public and private HEIs) in Ireland in 2010/2011, and this increased by 58%, to 33,118 in 2014/2015. This significant growth was due to a rise in non-EU international cohorts, with an upsurge of 85%, from 11,604 to 21,440; in comparison, there was an increase of 25% in the EU student group (Johnson et al., 2016).

In addition, per Strategy 2016-20, there was a large increase of Asian cohorts in Ireland, with a growth from 4,448 in 2010 to 10,094 in 2014/2015. China is one of the main contributors to this increase, with 817 Chinese students (Johnson et al., 2016). In addition to the off-shore campuses of UCD, the number of off-shore global students is significant rising (High Level Group on International Education, 2010).

Figure 4. International students in Ireland, 2001-02 to 2011-12

Source: Education in Ireland, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2006-2007, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2011-2012

According to the report, International Students in Irish Higher Education 2005, there was an observable slowdown in the number of Chinese students who chose to study in foreign countries, in 2005. A number of reasons for this were given, including enhanced educational opportunities at home, and declining job prospects in China for graduates with foreign degrees. This trend led to a greater number of Chinese students, who wished to study abroad, neglecting the West and choosing to study in other Asian countries such as Japan, The Republic of Korea, and Singapore (Education Ireland, 2005). This could be seen in 2009, when the first observable decrease in Chinese numbers abroad occurred.

Of course, Chinese students are not alone in facing difficult issues and choices on the location of their studies. The issue of geographical choices of studying abroad has always been important to international students, and this is the reason why, in recent years,  online learning/distance learning and offshore delivery are experiencing great popularity around the world. From my own experience in China, Chinese universities have always been interested in attracting more international students by employing more foreign teachers and enhancing offshore delivery, including the development of branch campuses from English-speaking countries; this has also been proven in Strategy 2010-15.

As Table 1, below, shows, China (including Hong Kong) holds the top position from 2011 of students registered in Irish higher education, with 5,105 Chinese students (including 1,618 offshore students, accounting for 32% of Chinese students), replacing the top position previously held by USA, where no American students were recorded studying offshore (Education in Ireland, 2011). As Table 1 shows, the number of offshore students increased from 32% in 2011 to 46% (2349), by 2012.

Table 1. Number of total Chinese students (including Hong Kong), onshore and offshore Chinese students in Ireland, 2001-02 to 2011-12

Year

 

Number of

Total Chinese students

(+ HK)

Number of onshore Chinese students Number of offshore Chinese students As % of total international students

 

2001- 2002 1223 1223 11.1
2003-2004 2874 2,724 150 (5%) 15.2
2004-2005 3080 13.4
2005-2006 3465 3127 338(9%) 14.0
2006-2007 3573 3141 432(12%) 13.0
2009-2010 3355 3355 13.0
2010-2011 5105 3487 1618(32%) 17.0
2011-2012 5100 2,751 2349(46%) 16.0

Offshore: Those undertaking Irish education programmes outside the jurisdiction, including distance programmes. ‘-’means that there was no data recorded.

Source: Education in Ireland (2004, 2005, 2006, 2006-2007, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2011-2012)

 

At the same time, Table 1 shows that the number of Chinese onshore students studying in Ireland dropped, from 3,487 in 2010/2011 to 2,751. This drop in numbers may have been caused by the increasing popularity of offshore education at branch campuses, and of online learning and distance learning options, as well as the increasing availability of joint degree programmes in recent years. William Lawton has described these options as part of a ‘transnational education’, which he defines as:

Any education delivered by an institution based in one country to students located in another. In its broadest sense, it covers online and distance learning and its hybrid/supported variants (the largest chunk in terms of student numbers), articulation arrangements, twinning programmes that typically lead to double or joint degrees, franchising and validation arrangements, and international branch campuses.

(Lawton, 2012)

Lawton’s definition of ‘transnational education’ provides the perfect context for the consideration of international students in UCD, and particularly those from China. For instance, the Beijing-Dublin International College (BDIC) was established by University College Dublin (UCD) and Beijing University of Technology (BJUT) as a joint international institution in September 2012. BDIC offers Chinese students dual degrees.

In order to attract more international students to come to Ireland, and also to inform those students about the potential for involvement in Irish offshore and distance education, Ireland’s Strategy 2010-15 and Strategy 2016-20 developed more appropriate services at institutional level to support the safety, security, and well-being of international students. China has been mentioned many times in Strategy 2016-20, which shows that Ireland is working on enhancing education links between Ireland and China, for the next five years (Johnson et al., 2016 p.10).

These confirm that the increasing need for cross-cultural understanding is an internationally recognised priority. Issues such as blockages in cultural understanding, language barriers, and the complexities of cross-cultural collaboration must be addressed. In response to this identified need, it is important to take advantage of computer-supported online tools, and particularly 3D virtual environments/platforms, which have the advantage of safety, a high sensation of presence and social awareness (‘seeming to be real’), and a sense of motivated interaction and communication between participants and positive collaborative learning context (De Lucia et al., 2009), to create a collaborative and interactive context for different cultures. As Kreijns et al. (2003) argue, social interaction will always be associated with collaboration, and vice versa. This view highlights the point that increased levels of social interaction will, correspondingly, increase the efficacy of group learning in an asynchronous distributed/cross-cultural learning context. Further, Kreijns et al. (2007, 2011) suggest that computer-supported collaborative learning can positively support interaction and collaboration, thereby, not only achieving the learning demands of students, but also fulfilling the social (psychological) needs of students (Kreijns et al., 2003, Kreijns et al., 2007, Kreijns et al., 2011). The development of a unique 3D virtual platform supporting a collaborative learning environment – as proposed by this thesis – offers a new context that can be explored for cross-cultural students to collaborate and interact with each other. It then fulfils the goals of improving cultural understanding and removing language barriers, further increasing the well-being of international students and, finally, benefiting the development of global education, cultures and economies.

More particularly, according to the statistics of the Higher Education Authority (HEA), the number of Chinese students, who registered with HEA-Funded Institutions in Ireland, rose from 1,723 in the 2012-13 academic year to 1,865 in 2013-14 – including the number of Chinese students on part-time and short term exchange programmes (Higher Education Authority, 2014).

What all these statistics and policy documents seem to show, is that both China and Ireland have pushed hard to establish a major upsurge in Chinese students studying in Ireland. What is needed now is a shared platform for understanding, social integration, cultural, personal, and educational collaboration, and shared learning. This is what this research project will set out to provide.

1.6 Statement of Research

In terms of large-scale institutional collaboration, the Beijing-Dublin International College (BDIC) was established in September 2012 by UCD, in partnership with the Beijing University of Technology. The aim of this partnership was to provide Irish Education programmes to Chinese students in Beijing, where there are currently over 500 students registered (University College Dublin international office, 2015). It is expected that there will be a further rise in the number of Chinese students studying with UCD: an expectation based on an assumption of a new and valuable innovation “pipeline” to support cross-cultural collaboration between China and Ireland. Therefore, the new technology platform proposed and developed in this project can also be seen to serve this very specific cohort of students, in their efforts to develop digital tools for addressing cultural issues, and particularly to support and encourage cultural understanding and language learning, an essential and significant aim for both countries.

However, a number of issues seem to be arising, in regard to this rapidly increasing number of Chinese students coming to study in Dublin. As Feldman (2008) has observed, ‘those migrating from China, India, and Lithuania often had limited knowledge of Ireland beyond familiarity with some pop music groups, soccer, tourist information, and the weather’ (Feldman et al., 2008). In addition, Feldman (2008) states that the new arrivals can often feel socially and/or culturally isolated in this unfamiliar country if they find it difficult to integrate into the local environment with Irish students and wider communities. The most compelling factor that Feldman (2008) identifies is the growing pressure on migrant students to excel academically, even in their first six months of study, at a time when they are still trying to find their feet in their new environment. Further evidence of this pressure is provided by the survey.

The survey identified the three most challenging issues facing Chinese university students in Ireland as:

  1. Difficulties with classroom study and course work;
  2. Language and communication difficulties;
  3. Weather.

Other difficulties were also noted, including making friends in the university setting, and living conditions. These difficulties, as experienced by Chinese students in the West, are exacerbated by additional pressures posed by educational internationalisation and social globalisation trends. As Chen et al. (2006) point out: ‘Students thus need to develop not only a sense of multiculturalism but also the skills of effective communication, collaboration, and social interaction in order to appropriately interact with people from different cultures’ (Chen et al., 2006 p.18).

However, Ward (2001) argues that ‘significant intercultural interaction between domestic and international students is unlikely to occur spontaneously to any large extent’ (Ward, 2001), pointing to a need for some kind of intervention in the social inclusion process. Furthermore, in their report on migration and integration of overseas students in the West, and with particular regard to Chinese students’ experiences in Ireland, Feldman and his colleagues (2008) stress: ‘More generally, spaces of education are important sites of social interaction for migrants to Ireland. This is particularly the case for Chinese migrants, many of whom are students. However, the lack of premises and facilities necessary to effectively support interaction and friendship building is a problem’ (Feldman et al., 2008 p.126).

Strategy 2010-15 and Strategy 2016-20 confirm that institutions and universities can play a vital role in promoting integration and intercultural contact between home students and international students, and also in ensuring that the same information is equally available to all (High Level Group on International Education, 2010). Hence, this thesis presents a set of particular digital technologies and 3D virtual platforms, which have been proven to have positive impacts on participants’ knowledge learning at university level (in terms of cultural understanding, language learning, and information gathering) and on promoting collaborative learning. The SMARTlab team and collaborators have designed a novel technology platform solution, which aims, specifically, to address the real-world problems of Social Inclusion experienced by Chinese students in Irish university settings.

 

1.7 The Purpose of the Research

Universities around the world are increasingly under pressure to ‘internationalise’ and to support and embrace multicultural student bodies and learning environments. However, at the same time, this process of ‘internationalisation’ is often associated with numerous issues that complicate and pressurise the experiences of ‘international students’ as they attempt to identify and acculturate in their new settings, both socially and educationally. Therefore, issues such as blockages in cultural understanding, language barriers, and the complexities of cross-cultural collaboration must be addressed. This thesis sets out a specific approach to solving these issues for a specific set of students (Chinese students studying in Ireland, and specifically in Dublin), using a new bespoke technology system designed to bridge the cultures.

This thesis sets the parameters for an original use of new technology to solve this problem. The integration of computer-supported technological tools and, specifically, 3D virtual cloud worlds and games can fill this gap between cultures and assist students in cooperating nationally and internationally. In order to build a ‘bridge’ between China and Ireland, the thesis investigates the potential effectiveness of using a 3D virtual platform, integrated with ‘gamification’ tools, which aims to create a productive collaborative platform in the form of an original Cross-cultural Collaborative Game (CCG) for Chinese students to use in engaging with Irish students, including in advance of their arrival in Ireland. In this way, students in China can be provided with a full suite of interactive tools to share information, and source images and 3D tours, as well as having access to collaborative information games, to access information about UCD, Dublin, and Ireland prior to leaving home.

The concept of a Cross-cultural Collaborative Game (CCG) draws on a combination of both European/Global and Chinese tools, both live and online. By building the CCG on the virtual cloud campus platform, the idea is to create a sense of locality for Chinese students who are already at UCD and who can recognize the physical spaces, as modelled in the platform. Moreover, this same platform can introduce Chinese students, who are still in China, to the look and feel of UCD via their movements in this virtual platform. Once students enter the platform, they will be immersed in a customised bilingually-designed virtual world, integrated with an original Cross-cultural Collaborative Game (CCG), (informed by the mechanics of gamification). Through this CCG, Chinese students will be better able to benefit from the opportunity to engage with Western students, and the use of the virtual cloud campus will enable all participants to experience a sense of presence and collaboration across distance and culture. The CCG thus intends to contribute to an increased cross-cultural understanding and improved communications, especially in the period of making informed choices about academic study and course opportunities in UCD, and in the wider academic network of Irish and European universities.

To this end, a series of questionnaires, along with a small Use Case are planned for this PhD project. These will be conducted, based on a collaboration with the UCD International Office and UCD Confucius Institute.Survey data from active Chinese students in Ireland and prospective students planning their studies informs each step of the co-design of the platform, which also refers to useful features of two important digital tools – Chinese QQ games and IRELAN. This project seeks to show that virtual exposure to Ireland and the chance to collaborate over time with Irish students can lessen the impact of cultural change and reduce the symptoms of isolation, leading to an empowering learning experience.

 

1.8 The Research Questions

Research Question:

To what extent can novel 3D virtual platforms incorporating collaborative games for context-specific language learning help to alleviate language barriers and cultural problems faced by university students communicating across cultures?

The sample population for this study are Chinese and Irish university students.

This thesis involves the creation of a virtual cloud campus, integrating a cross-cultural game-based collaborative table (VCGCT) designed to enable Chinese students to easily approach a variety of resources about different contexts in UCD, Dublin, and Ireland, more generally. It also seeks to enhance Chinese students’ communication and collaboration with western students, through game play and/or bespoke ‘gamification’ interactivities within the virtual 3D platform.

Sub-questions:

  1. What problems and challenges tend to be experienced by Chinese international students, before and after they arrive to study in Ireland?
  2. What are the affordances of this novel 3D Virtual platform, in terms of addressing these problems and challenges?
  3. Do the cross-cultural collaborative games in the 3D virtual platform help Chinese students in Ireland to alleviate language barriers and to support cultural understanding?
  4. Does the process of Gamification help to motivate enhanced communication between students?

1.9 Methodology: Structuring an Evidence-based Framework for Analysis Survey Research

The thesis adopts a mixed methods approach, a combination of Qualitative and Quantitative Methods, using practical applications of 3D virtual worlds integrated with gamification tools, alongside a literature review of relevant existing platforms. Specially, this study combines applied work in Computer Science, as part of an inclusive design specification process towards building a fully functional virtual cloud campus for use by English and Chinese Mandarin speakers. Qualitative Research Methods are used to observe participant responses in two case studies, with a combination of Qualitative and Quantitative Methods (Qualitative-observation; questionnaires) applied to the analysis of the needs and concerns of incoming Chinese students.

Before discussing the process of designing the questionnaires themselves, it is important to contextualise the study with reference to the specific definition of Inclusive Design which this study adopted. The definition applied is that of the SMARTlab and Inclusive Design Research Centre of University College Dublin, which concurs with that originally defined by the IDRC of Canada, in the publication of their Handbook of Inclusive Design (Treviranus, Goodman et al)- put in full reference) and also refer to Anna Kelly’s PhD here.

This definition takes issue with the more product design-based definitions more common in Europe, and specifically with this definition from the University of Cambridge Inclusive Design Toolkit: http://www.inclusivedesigntoolkit.com/

Definition of inclusive design…

The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as:

‘The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.’

Inclusive design does not suggest that it is always possible (or appropriate) to design one product to address the needs of the entire population. Instead, inclusive design guides an appropriate design response to diversity in the population through:

  • Developing a family of products and derivatives to provide the best possible coverage of the population.
  • Ensuring that each individual product has clear and distinct target users.
  • Reducing the level of ability required to use each product, in order to improve the user experience for a broad range of customers, in a variety of situations.

The introduction of Questionnaire 1 (Q1) and Questionnaire 2 (Q2) of current Chinese students in Ireland, and additional Email questionnaire (EQ) of prospective students and paper-based questionnaire 3 (Q3) of focus group are as below:

Apart from the literature review and case studies conducted as part of this research, the study is based on a series of questionnaires and a small focus group with Chinese students and Western students, who are actively engaged in their studies in Ireland, as well as incoming prospective Chinese students who are still resident in China. The main set of these questionnaires was developed in consultation with the UCD International Office and UCD Confucius Institute. The aim of questionnaire (Q1) is to identify the current Chinese student cohorts on site at UCD and to elicit responses about their needs, both in terms of social inclusion and cross-cultural collaboration, and also in terms of core issues such as language support and technology platform exposure and preference. Additionally, among these questionnaires, the Email questionnaire was devised specifically for the UCD Clinical Research Centre, which has identified a group of 18 further Chinese graduate students who was still resident in China before they study in topics of Clinical & Translational Research at UCD, Dublin; the paper-based questionnaire 3 (Q3) aims to gather feedback regarding user experiences of the student testers who took the technical trial for the further evaluation. All Questionnaire results will be used to inform each step of the selection of content as part of the co-design process, which will then determine the functions and capabilities necessary to successfully develop the 3D virtual platform.

In terms of the next steps of the data collection, the more specific elements of the co-design of this 3D virtual platform will be informed by the results of EQ and Q2, which were circulated from September 2015 – September 2016. The design of these two questionnaires focus overall on the feedback from Chinese students’ desire and decision about the creation of the collaborative tools (e.g. the CCG) in this new virtual space.

Q2 provides the pre-test data pertaining to this 3D platform. It was available to Chinese students from March to May 2016. This questionnaire collected Chinese students’ perceptions of their desires for the development of this 3D platform, such as further availability of information categories, technological functions and capabilities, and also the preferred forms of interaction (games, gamification) in communicating with students in Ireland, and in the larger aim of achieving increased Social Inclusion of Chinese students in Ireland.

Q3, as the post-trial survey, was circulated after the first iteration of the technology platform had been developed. It aims to identify first adaptors in the user community (ideally, as many as possible of those who completed Questionnaire 1). At this stage (June 2016), a focus group took the first trial in the virtual world. Q3 was conducted after the trial and the final data-gathering tool was initiated, to gather post-trial feedback, and comments and suggestions, which were very important for further development of the platform.

 

1.10 Research Rationale

1.10.1 The Main and Cognate Fields of Study

This thesis encompasses three main fields of knowledge: Educational Technology, 3D Virtual Worlds, and Gamification (Game-based Learning). The gap between the demands of improving cross-cultural collaboration, identified through the literature review and surveys, and the lack of enough university-based technical support, by reviewing the polices of China and Ireland, have been recognised. As such, this research seeks to propose a novel solution – that the 3D virtual cloud platform, integrated with game-based learning scenarios, can address the issues surrounding cultural understanding, language barriers and complexities of cross-cultural collaboration, aiming to improve the services of universities for their international students. The field of Educational Technology is the main disciplinary basis for this research, and provides the framework for the practical processes of co-design, creative applications, user interface, and impact analysis, to inform future research. The 3D virtual world and digital games are the main technologies developed and discussed in this thesis, which refers to ‘the most current digital tools’ and ‘the appropriate technological resources’, as described in the key list of definitions of Educational Technology, discussed below.

Figure 5. Knowledge Circles of this Thesis

In addition, as the novel technological solution proposed and developed as part of this thesis, the 3D virtual platform is, for these research purposes, informed by the theory of ‘gamification’. Gamification refers to ‘the process of game-thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems’ (Zichermann and Cunningham, 2011 p.xiv). Deterding et al. (2011) further suggest that ‘“gamification” is an informal umbrella term for the use of video game elements in non-gaming systems to improve user experience (UX) and user engagement’ (Deterding et al., 2011 p.2425). Thus, in order to encourage students from China and Ireland to engage more deeply in the process of multicultural interaction and collaboration, the theory of gamification has been applied to the 3D virtual platform developed in this study, with examples and ‘content’ derived from the perceived needs of the field of Education.

1.10.2 Educational Technology

The pool of theories outlined in the field of Educational Technology provide the main theoretical basis for this thesis, which includes a significant practice-based component in terms of an original technological platform submitted as part of the overall contribution to knowledge. The definition of the term ‘Educational Technology’ is complex, as it has evolved over time and been applied to many different cultural settings. It is important for this thesis, however, to redefine the term in order to help best frame the scholarly context of this research. A brief history of the most pertinent and significant developments in the evolution of the definition of Educational Technology are discussed at length in the next chapter.

Briefly, for purposes of this introductory chapter, it can be said that Educational Technology was originally identified in terms of a radio instruction by W.W. Chaters in 1948, and was first used as a discreet term with reference to instructional technology by James Finn in 1963(Saettler, 1990). More recently, a helpful way of discussing the concept of Educational Technology was provided by the AECT in 2004; this report refers to “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.” (AECT, 2004). This is the guiding definition for purposes of this thesis.

1.10.3 Virtual Reality -3D Virtual World

As Tom Chatfield described in his book, 50 Digital Ideas You Really Need to Know,  ‘Virtual worlds are one of the purest embodiments of the new possibilities presented by digital culture: self-contained unreal places that people can ‘visit’, interact within and use to experiment with different ways of being’ (Chatfield, 2011 p.43). The concept of a 3D virtual world is not a new term, nor a particularly new form of technology, in the context of current practice. It can be traced back to the development of the first virtual world: the Multi-User Dungeon (MUD), which emerged in 1978. Others argue that Virtual Worlds are born from developments in Virtual Reality technology, from 1990 onwards.

Whatever starting point we choose, it is clear that 3D virtual technology has had a positive impact in its application in a variety of fields such as education, economics, heath, urban design, and engineering, in the past forty years. In particular, many educators and researchers have carried out studies exploring and demonstrating the effectiveness of virtual worlds in the field of education. Thesis section 2.2 Literature Review of Virtual Reality/3D Virtual Worlds offers a comprehensive summary of the developments in virtual reality/3D virtual worlds such as evolving definitions, the emergence of avatars, the rise of Second Life, and also the more recent emergence of second generation virtual worlds and their utilisation in the area of education, with particular emphasis on online education and collaborative learning.

To give only the briefest summary of two key and milestones in thinking about 3D virtual worlds, by way of explaining the choice of technology platform for this thesis, Hilary McLellan argued in 1994 that ‘virtual reality is a type of interactive computer-based application that provides a synthetic digital environment. Virtual reality evokes a feeling of immersion, a perceptual and psychological sense of being in the digital environment presented to the senses’ (McLellan, 1994, p.4). In contrast, Bruce Damer explains the difference between ‘virtual reality’ and ‘virtual worlds’ by arguing that virtual worlds have their own unique features, including:

  1. vivid shared social environments exhibiting properties of an emergent culture; and
  2. collaborative construction of large scale spaces, including buildings and full towns, artwork, areas containing digital biota, and soundscapes.

(Damer, 1997).

Damer’s PhD study, conducted with SMARTlab, and published in the context of his career developing Artificial Intelligence agents for NASA, provides an important starting point for this thesis, as does the PhD thesis by Jacki Morie, also conducted with SMARTlab, in which the gendered nuances of virtual environments created by women, versus virtual worlds and competitive games (largely developed by men), are also addressed. See Chapter 2 for further discussion of these important and relevant themes.

1.10.4 Gamification Theory and Game-based learning

The term Gamification is relatively new, yet it has been applied in practice for over ten years. Most scholars agree that the term was coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling, a British-born computer programmer and inventor, whose work in this domain coincided with the increasing popularity of video games, and whose ideas can be seen to have influenced current arguments about the economic value of gamification (Marczewski, 2013). Gamification as a method gained significance partly through its relevance and applicability, in practical terms, to issues and concerns in the real world that would benefit from increased engagement of users, workers, students, or customers. The transferability of game mechanics and motivational tools to real world scenarios is the key to the impact of gamification.

Many educators and researchers have advocated the application of gamification techniques to the field of education, such as developing educational games for classroom use to encourage collaborative learning; one example of this application is the ILEARN scenario (discussed in Chapter 4). It has been widely argued that 3D virtual platforms, as a relatively emerging technology, can be seen to be advantageous in providing a sociable and interactive learning experience, and that collaborative environments tend to facilitate group learning and performance. To address this point, this thesis considers the impact of the strategic use of the mechanics of gamification, and built-in rewards – such as the scoring of points combined with attaining increasing levels in game play – to help to motivate the learning and communication dynamics within the collaborative platform. The key points of information and cultural resources required by Chinese students coming to Ireland (as determined by information gathered questionnaires and surveys to design) are assimilated into the collaborative platform and presented in game-play format. The intention here is to co-design, build, and test the efficacy of our novel 3D virtual platform, with the needs of the main user/learner group met through an interactive and ‘gamified’ tool.

It is interesting to note that the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education (NMC, 2014) predicted that games and gamification would be popularly adopted within two to three years (Johnson et al., 2014). This thesis makes a contribution towards that prediction, and sets out to test the efficacy of the proposed model. More specifically, the main strategy of gamification employed here is to use the dynamics of game play to motivate learners (or business people, or others who may use a virtual world or learning tool or platform), by providing recognisable rewards for effective use. In addition, the game-play mechanics of scoring points and achieving levels, in a collaborative competition (or ‘coopetition’ model), can also be seen to be effective in encouraging and motivating users to compete difficult tasks, in-game (Reeves and Read, 2009). Further examples of gamification mechanics employed include, for instance, rewarding points and increasing levels, adding narratives, providing interesting and useful options, ‘onboarding’, with tutorial video, and increasing challenges in the game play (Deterding, 2010). A more detailed discussion of these points is included in section 2.3 Literature Review of Gamification Theory.

 

1.11 The Structure of the Dissertation

As the study progressed and sample learners engaged with the platform as it developed, a discovery was made and the paradigm of the study was enlarged and deepened. At the start, it was assumed that the context-specific elements of the learning would be limited to the objects and information contained in the learning rooms of the virtual world. However, over time, and through extensive research and practice with users in the virtual world, it became clear that the games developed were themselves a very important and original part of the context-specific learning toolkit provided. So, whereas other previous studies from other cultures have attempted to engage, very recently, in cross-cultural collaborative learning using online platforms (e.g. Constructing Collaborative Serious Games for Cross-Cultural Learning in a 3D Metaverse, etc.), that work does not include the development or testing of original games as part of the toolkit. Thus, the context-specific elements of the learning in those previous studies is not as extensively or creatively tested as it is in this PhD, which also provides novel game interfaces using data provided by users, to further personalise and support the learning of each user.

The results of this PhD also show how varied responses can be, to the virtual experience, and how they differ from culture to culture, user to user, depending, in part, on prior knowledge and prior experience of game play online. So, in total, this study has reached beyond the current ‘state of the art’ in context-specific cross-cultural learning, and has made new discoveries and original contributions to knowledge that were not originally anticipated.

 

Chapter 1 provides an introduction, which presents the overall research context, research project introduction, and its related theoretical principles. Amongst these core principles, those most relevant to the research context are:

  1. analysing relevant policies regarding the development of education and technology, in both China and Europe;
  2. making a brief comparison of population overall and specific overseas student mobility between China and Ireland;
  3. pointing out the issues facing Chinese international students in their overseas life, with suggestions for addressing these issues;
  4. explaining the broad purpose and scope of the research;
  5. positing the research questions of this thesis: e.g., ‘To what extent can Virtual 3D collaborative platforms informed by the theory of gamification help to alleviate the problems experienced by Chinese international students in Ireland, who are engaged in cross-cultural collaborative learning, including addressing issues such as language barriers and cultural understanding?’;
  6. introducing the methodology of this research project;

In addition, the summary of the research rationale gives a brief map of the theoretical construct for the PhD project, as a whole: Educational Technology, 3D Virtual Worlds, and Gamification (Game-based Learning).

 

Chapter 2 focuses on previous literature within three main fields of knowledge that support and guide the research of this thesis. They present the development history of the field of Educational Technology and analyse the main published work around the topics of Educational Technology, 3D Virtual Worlds, and Gamification, including a consideration of evolving definitions, practical research, and case studies/projects.

Chapter 3, for the purpose of understanding the development status of appropriate technologies in China and Ireland, mainly presents the technological development history of online learning games and virtual 3D platforms and also introduces their adoptions in the field of education, with reference to the practical issues entailed in the integration of new tools in classroom practice, in both countries. In the context of this thesis, chapter three can be seen as an extended part of chapter two, acting, also, as a preamble to the next two chapters.

Chapter 4 focuses primarily on preparing the platform for the trials. At the outset, this chapter gives an overall map of the practical technological components of creating the final project platform for this thesis. Specifically, the technology context and foundation of thought and structure for this thesis is introduced, with reference to four main technology tools:

  1. QQ collaborative games;
  2. the structure of the virtual collaborative learning programme, via the Open Simulation platform as developed in ILEARN, by way of prior example in a parallel platform;
  3. Second generation virtual worlds, with particular attention to Terf (the chosen 3D platform used in the novel build for this project);
  4. the UCD Virtual Cloud Campus development and integration (developed collaboratively for UCD by SMARTlab with Hao2 and 3DICC).

Specifically, this process includes

  1. the co-design and build process of the context-specific learning environment,
  2. the co-design and creation process of the gamified Python applications/tools for the deploying of gamification,
  3. the co-design process of the Cross-cultural Collaborative Game (CCG), in the context of discussion of the interdisciplinary applied field of Inclusive Design.

The overall structure and content of above three techniques is informed by the data analysis gathered by the questionnaires and evaluated based on the results of the focus group (see chapter 6).

Chapter 5 contains the main body of discussion of the case study trials, with detailed discussions of the process of data gathering and the co-design process. Therefore, firstly, the collaborative partners who assisted with the data gathering are introduced (UCD International Office International Office, UCD Clinical Research Centre, and UCD Confucius Institute). The UCD International Office and UCD Confucius Institute have collaborated on the identification of Chinese student cohorts for the surveys and case studies, and the UCD Clinical Research Centre helped to organise a real time online video meeting and provided preparatory information for the incoming Chinese students in China, which has been analysed for the main case study.

Data collection methods are described and the aims and objectives of questionnaires are stated, and the purpose of the focus group for the technical trial is discussed. This chapter involves a series of two online questionnaires (Q1 and Q2) for the new UCD Chinese students and one Email questionnaire (EQ) for the incoming prospective students, as well as a focus group associated with a paper-based questionnaire (Q3), for the main technical trial.

Finally, this chapter also demonstrates the process and steps regarding the implementation of the virtual cloud campus, incorporating the CCG (informed by gamification), including the process of this platform’s testing, and the description and discussion of players’ activities and the interaction that occurred among them during the trial.

Chapter 6 analyses the data and summarises the findings of the four questionnaires, and the focus group for the technical trial. The Q1 was carried out in 2015 with the collaboration of UCD International Office, whereas the online EQ of incoming Chinese students who participated in the remote online meeting was co-organised by the UCD Clinical Research Centre, and conducted from the 28th of April 2015. Q2 was sent out in the beginning of March 2016. Q3 was conducted directly after the technical trial by the focus group. Finally, this chapter discusses the lessons learned from the online survey and the focus group, along with ideas for further research in this area.

Chapter 7 concludes with an overall critical discussion of the data in the applied context, and with a summary of the major achievements and lessons learned from the surveys.  It also highlights the original contributions to scholarship in the main field and cognate fields of knowledge, and further predicts fruitful areas for future research.

The thesis was inspired by the personal experience of the researcher. Thus, some element of personal experience is presented in tandem with the thesis argument. For instance, it is necessary to state that, from the perspective of the personal experience of the researcher, there is an identified need amongst International students for a tool to assist with cross-cultural integration. Chinese students, in particular (and in the researcher’s own experience), face difficulties and challenges in their life and studies, both before and after arriving to Ireland. The issues faced range from difficulties with cultural understanding, language barriers, and a lack of a platform where information about ‘real life’ experiences of living and studying in Ireland can be openly shared and easily accessed from abroad. In response to this, the thesis proposes an original solution: the design, building and testing of a novel 3D virtual integrated with an original Cross-cultural Collaborative Game, which allows Chinese students who are incoming to Ireland, alongside those who are newly arrived to Ireland, to join with Western students (Irish students) by logging into a shared, well organised, cloud-hosted virtual space. Based on the theory of gamification, this 3D virtual space is also equipped with a wide range of collaborative digital tools, which will help the participants to communicate and collaborate with each other.

In the chapters to follow, the hypotheses of the thesis are tested according to the information and data gathered through the questionnaires and surveys. Original approaches to platform development, informed by these co-design techniques with communities of users, are examined in detail, with surveys, literature reviews, case studies, and technological elements developed and applied to the field of Educational Technology, through a novel combination of game-based learning tools embedded within a bespoke 3D Virtual Platform.

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