A Domain Specific Modeling Language for Specifying Adaptivy in Educational Games

Type of Thesis: 
Master Thesis

Children are growing up today in a society that is increasingly dependent and driven by digital technology. Schools and teachers need to adapt their way of teaching in order to capture the attention of this new generation of children (the so-called digital natives). One path that is currently being followed and receives a lot of attention is the introduction of Educational games. By Educational games we mean games that are specifically designed to teach people about a specific subject or assist them in learning as they play.

Games provide opportunities that traditional methods of teaching cannot offer, e.g., they can provide simulations that immerse the learner into different situations, or can incorporate social aspects. Games also allow incorporating implicit learning or learning-by-doing which entail that learners do not need to be consciously aware of their learning experiences in order to display learning behavior. Therefore, games may be an interesting learning instrument in specific situations or for children and adults with very low motivation. For example, in [1] they report on an 3D virtual environment to learn the X3D language.

On the other hand, there is a bulk of research demonstrating that individualized learning is superior to the uniform approach of more traditional and one-size-fits-all teaching approaches. Therefore, it is important to adapt the educational game dynamically (at runtime) to the individual player/learner and to keep the engagement of the player/learner while he is playing. This is what is called adaptivity. This aspect is not only important from a gaming perspective, but also from a learning perspective.

The purpose of this thesis is to investigate how Domain Specific Modeling Languages can be used to express the desired adaptivity in an educational game.  A domain-specific modeling language (DSML) [2] is a domain-specific language to model or design systems. A DSML is a language (usually small) dedicated to, and restricted to, a particular domain and a specific class of problems (see http://www.dsmforum.org/cases.html for some applications of DSML). It provides appropriated abstractions that make the specifications of solutions for this particular class of problems easier and less time consuming. The abstractions are using the vocabulary of the problem domain, as such domain experts can understand, validate, and often even develop themselves specifications expressed in the DSML. In general, DSMLs are graphical (visual) languages because graphical specifications are easier for the communication with non-technical people; they are also helpful for conveying complex models and designs as they can help people to grasp large amounts of information more quickly than large listings of text.

The idea would be to develop a (graphical) DSML for the domain of adaptive educational games, our language will need to provide high-level modeling concepts (and associated graphical representations) for expressing easily: (1) game aspects; (2) pedagogical aspects; (3) adaptive aspects; and (4) (learning) domain aspects. The purpose of the thesis is to focus on (1) and (3), i.e. to develop a DSML that can specify the game aspects as well as the adaptive aspects of an educational game. In the first place, we will limit the language to one particular game genre (e.g., storytelling, adventure game). In addition, the work will be done in the context of one particular learning domain (e.g. Math exercises for 10-12 years olds) and one particular instructional (learning) method. As a proof-of-concept the developed DSML should be applied on an example educational game.           


[1] L. Chittaro, R. Ranon, An adaptive 3D virtual environment for learning the X3D language, Proceedings Of the 13th International Conference On Intelligent User Interfaces - IUI ’08. (2008) 419.

[2] Luoma, J., Kelly, S., and Tolvanen, J.-P.: Defining Domain-Specific Modeling Languages: Collected Experiences. In: Proceedings of the 4th OOPSLA Workshop on Domain-Specific Modeling (DSM’04), Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (2004)

Background Knowledge: 

Knowledge of different conceptual modeling approaches or Domain Specific Modeling Languages is an advantage.

Technical challenges: 
  • You will learn about Domain Specific Domain Languages and how they can be developed
  • You will learn about adaptive systems
  • You will learn about educational games 
Olga De Troyer
Academic Year: