COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 1
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES
Presented to the Faculty in Communication and Leadership Studies
School of Professional Studies
Under the Supervision of Dr. Alexa Dare
Under the Mentorship of Nobuya Inagaki
In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts in Communication and Leadership Studies
Stacy L. Keller
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 2
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 3
The continuous development of technology has made Computer-mediated communication the
normal means of communication in many organizations. Many educators are beginning to use
resources designed to prepare their students for the global world of computer-mediated
communication. Even though computer-mediated communication is different from face-to-face,
it does not necessarily inhibit collaboration. This study examined the success of a non-collocated
team playing MoonWorld using only computer-mediated communication versus the success of a
team that was collocated and able to use face-to-face communication. The data showed that
there were differences in the collaboration between the two teams, but that both teams were
successful despite one having the ability to communicate face-to-face. The findings suggest that
if a virtual environment is designed correctly, computer-mediated communication can be used to
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 4
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1. INTRODUCTION 4
1.1 The Problem 4
1.2 Definition of Terms 5
1.3 Organization of Remaining Chapters 6
Chapter 2. THE REVIEW OF LITERATURE 7
2.1 Philosophical Assumptions 7
2.2 Theoretical Basis 8
2.2.1 Indentifying non-verbal cues 9
2.2.2 Deficit approaches 11
2.2.3 CMC as beneficial 14
2.2.4 CMC game communication 15
2.3 Purpose of Proposed Research 16
2.4 Research Questions 17
Chapter 3. METHODOLOGY 18
3.1 Scope of Study 18
3.2 Sampling Procedures 19
3.3 Research Design 19
3.4 Reliability 22
Chapter 4. THE STUDY 23
4.1 Introduction 23
4.2 Data Analysis 23
4.3 Results 25
4.4 Discussion 31
Chapter 5. CONCLUSION 34
5.1 Limitations 34
5.2 Recommendations for Further Study 34
5.3 Conclusions 35
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 5
Chapter 1. INTRODUCTION
Computer-mediated communication (CMC) has opened opportunities for organizations
and educators alike. Organizations can use CMC to save money and time when collaborating
with team members throughout the country, or even the world. Educators can prepare their
students for the global society by connecting them with students and experts in the field from
around the world.
Despite these benefits, many communication theories (Daft & Lengel, 1986; Short,
Williams, & Christie, 1976; Rutter, 1987; Rice & Shook, 1990; and Rice, 1993) still focus on the
negative aspects of CMC. These studies can often be misinterpreted to mean that CMC should be
avoided because it can never be a substitute for face-to-face (FtF) instead of recognizing the
differences between the two and using the appropriate medium. The idea that CMC is a lesser
medium can discourage people from using it for things like distance learning opportunities that
CMC makes possible.
Teaching students how to work as a team is essential to their education, especially in the
areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. So important that the National Academy of
Science (NAS) highlights collaboration and teamwork in its report, “A Framework for K-12
Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas”. The virtual environment
and game, MoonWorld was designed in response to the suggestions made by the NAS. The
designers intended for teams playing MoonWorld to use inquiry based science to ask questions,
plan and carry out investigations, interpret data, construct explanations, engage in argument from
evidence, and successfully communicate their findings with their teammate.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 6
MoonWorld aims to help students learn to collaborate. The game is designed so that
players are in world together, but on different computers. Players can be sitting right next to
eachother or across the globe, either way they will need to work as a team to be successful. This
is reflective of the way organizations that have employees and contractors located across the
country must collaborate as well. Knowing how to collaborate using CMC is relevant and
important in both education and business.
1.2 Definition of Terms
Face-to-face communication (FtF): Communication that occurs between communicators who
are in one another’s presence
Computer-mediated communication (CMC): In the review of literature, the studies will refer
to CMC as any communication used through computers. However, in the methodology and
analysis sections CMC refers to only the CMC features in MoonWorld, mainly voice chat using
a headset and microphone.
MoonWorld: “The best way to learn is to do, but that is difficult when you want to understand
the geologic evolution of the Moon. The NASA-sponsored Classroom of the Future at the Center
for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, WV, has created a
virtual lunar landscape in Second Life to provide you a chance to don a spacesuit and drive a
rover across the surface of the Moon. In MoonWorld your avatar explores the lunar surface,
closely observing the terrain, collecting samples, and making measurements to piece together the
history of one part of the Moon – the Timocharis region. Your team returns to the lunar base to
synthesize your data and to make sure the life support system is still pumping out air, water, and
food. MoonWorld, which is funded by NASA, includes both simple and complex impact craters
as well as a lava flow and a volcanic dome. Your job, based on your avatar’s collection and
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 7
analysis of observations, measurements, rock samples, and a drill core, is to determine the
stratigraphic relations between these landforms – in what sequence did they form, and what
evidence supports your conclusion”. (http://moonworld.cet.edu).
Collocated: In this study the term collocated will be used to describe the condition assigned to
the team who play MoonWorld in the same place. This team will have the opportunity to see one
another’s computer screen and use non-verbal cues. Collocation will mean “to set or arrange in a
place or position; especially: to set side by side” (“Collocated”, 2012).
Non-collocated: This term will refer to the team whose players will be playing MoonWorld in
different rooms. They will not be afforded the opportunity to use FtF communication such as
1.3 Organization of Remaining Chapters
The remainder of this paper is organized into fourth additional chapters. Chapter two, the
review of literature, is divided into philosophical assumptions and theoretical framework. The
framework will discuss the deficit approaches concerning CMC and studies that have shown
CMC to be beneficial. The methodology chapter follows explaining the design and setup of the
study. Chapter four includes data analysis of the two teams head to head, and a discussion on the
implication of the data. Finally, chapter five includes a conclusion, discussion on the limitations
of the study, and suggestions for future research.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 8
Chapter 2. REVIEW OF LITERATURE
2.1 Philosophical Assumptions
Computers have changed the way humans collaborate and work in teams both in the
professional and educational worlds. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) has many
benefits, saving businesses money and time by allowing teams separated by distance to work
together. Often times this allows consultants and experts from all over the world to collaborate
with teams. Similarly, educators and students can interact with experts in a given field thanks to
distance learning opportunities that would have never been possible without CMC. However,
CMC also can have negative effects on collaborative work because it makes communication
more difficult according the traditional communication models.
Communication has been defined, re-defined, modeled, and re-modeled as theorists
attempt to understand and improve human communication. Wilbur Schramm’s (1954) model of
communication (Figure 2.1) emphasized feedback between two communicators showing
communication is more than just a sender, a message, and a receiver, but a cyclical process in
which feedback can be given and interpreted at various speeds.
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Sending and interpreting a message correctly is an essential part of collaborative work.
CMC is often perceived as a second-rate form of communication that makes encoding, decoding,
and interpreting difficult for those communicating, while FtF collaboration is perceived as the
best and easiest form of communication according to communication theories such as media
richness theory (Daft & Lengel, 1986) and social presence theory (Short et al., 1976).
Many organizations, educators, and students can be dissuaded from using CMC
collaboration, because of the negative stigma CMC has. This negative stigma can hinder them
from growing and exploring new technologies, products, and ideas that could be useful in certain
types of collaboration. However, the fundamental assumption in this research is that all
communication can be flawed, even FtF, but that all forms of communication also have benefits.
By highlighting CMC benefits, and finding if and where CMC is lacking, we can learn to use it
correctly in collaborative work.
Understanding the limitations and benefits of CMC can help develop virtual
environments in which collaborative work is natural and easy, promoting successful group
outcomes no matter what the project goal. Organizations, teachers, and students should be
excited about virtual collaboration and distance learning instead of fearing it.
2.2 Theoretical Basis
A lot of CMC research has focused on the ways CMC is not like FtF (Daft & Lengel,
1986; Short et al., 1976; Rutter, 1987). Their research is based on the idea that CMC is
permanently flawed because it lacks qualities that only FtF can possess. Other theorist, while still
focusing on the differences between CMC and FtF, have focused on human ability to adapt to
CMC, and also adapt CMC to be more like FtF (Kock, 2005; Walther, 1992).
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These two areas of CMC research call for a large understanding of non-verbal cues, their
purpose, and use. Specifically in collaborative environments, gestures often help clarify and
explain ideas to teammates. It is important to understand the use of gestures in FtF so we can
understand what happens in their absence during CMC collaborative work. This literature
review will first indentify the importance of gestures and non-verbal cues. Then it will examine
deficit approaches focused on the lack of cues in CMC versus FtF, and finally move to research
demonstrating the usefulness of CMC.
2.2.1 Identifying Non-Verbal Cues. An understanding of non-verbal cues is necessary
in order to determine if CMC is as effective as FtF. More specifically, an understanding of
kinesics, or the coding system used to understand body language, is necessary. Birdwhistell
(1970) believed that all body language had a communicative message and could be studied in
order to determine their general meaning. Kinesics, a term developed by Birdwhistell, studies
communication through posture, gesture, stance, and movement. He defined kinesics as the study
of body-motion as related to the non-verbal aspects of interpersonal communication
(Birdwhistell, 1970). Birdwhistell studied these behaviors by filming communicators, and then
analyzed their bodily movements during communication.
Unlike Birdwhistell who believed each person’s body language was unique, but part of a
larger social system, Ekman and Frisen (1969) determined that there were universal meanings for
facial expressions used in non-verbal communication. In addition, they determined that all non-
verbal cues can be categorized in five areas; emblems, illustrators, adapters, regulators, and
affect display (Ekman & Friesen, 1975).
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Some non-verbal cues important to consider when thinking about CMC versus FtF are
what Ekman and Friesen would call emblems. This includes touch, glance, eye contact,
proximity, gestures, facial expression, sounds, silence, tone, and posture. Depending on what
mode of communication is being used, all or some of these may be absent. Collaborative work is
task orientated making gestures important for demonstrating and explaining things to group
members. An important gesture considered in past research concerning CMC was pointing (Bly,
1988; Kraut et al., 2003; Anderson et al, 2007). Pointing is a gesture that is absent in many CMC
media, but can often be used in FtF to clarify meaning and give direction.
Previous research done with MoonWorld (Reese, 2012) explored gestures in
collaboration and emotion. Particularly, Reese (2012) studied achievement in collaboration in
MoonWorld including use of gestures to show emotion. She asked, “What is the relationship
between achievement, scientific practices, and collaboration for a team of educators during
professional development?” The results from coding (Figure 2.2) shows that players used
gestures twelve times in the short time of the video that was coded, indicating that even though
players are located in a virtual world together they still often use gestures to communicate. Reese
had not intended to focus her research on gestures, but once she observed how often the players
were using emotional and instructional gestures she decided to included this in her coding that
had originally planned to focus on the collaboration between players.
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She concluded that, “after MoonWorld professional development (30 minutes of
mentored mission training followed by mission), MoonWorld educators successfully collaborate
to engage in scientific practices, apply cross-cutting concepts, and build content knowledge”
(Reese, 2012). The gestures coded seemed to be a big part of collaboration.
Research has also suggested that collocated players give more feedback to one another
than players who were non-collocated. In addition, they also found that FtF dialogues were
shorter than those of the players using CMC. Doherty et al. (1997) suggest that this is because
collocated players could see the face of their partner. FtF provides more information than those
using CMC. Much of the research done on FtF versus CMC can be considered deficit theories, or
theories that focus on the negative aspects of CMC.
2.2.2 Deficit Approaches. Before computers were mainstream, communication theorists
were busy researching the affects communicating via telephone had on the quality and
effectiveness of communication. Social presence theory (Short et al., 1976), media richness
theory (Daft & Lengel, 1984; Daft & Lengel, 1986), and the cuelessness model (Rutter, 1987)
emerged from telephonic communication research.
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Daft and Lengel developed media richness theory in the 1980’s based on the idea that all
communication media have a different capacity to process information efficiently and effectively
(Daft & Lengel, 1984). They assume that two forces influence communication in an
organizational setting, uncertainty and equivocality. The “richness” of the medium determines
whether uncertainty and equivocality are reduced or increased. They demonstrate the “richness”
of communication media on a spectrum, defining richness as the ability of information to change
understanding within a time interval (Daft & Lengel, 1986). On this spectrum, face-to-face
communication is the richest, and letter writing is the least rich. This means that face-to-face
communication is the most efficient without wavering in clarity making it the richest. Letter
writing is the least efficient and most equivocal, but useful in conveying “standard data” or
complex messages (Daft & Lengel, 1986).
Daft, Lengel, and Trevino (1987) found more support for their initial work. They
observed that managers who used FtF for personal interaction and collaboration, and other media
for task-oriented work were more successful than the managers who did not. Rice and Shook
(1990), and Rice (1993) also found that FtF was preferred for personal communication, but non-
FtF media were suitable for task-oriented situations, supporting media richness theory. Further
studies (e.g. Sproull & Kiesler, 1987) showed the negative consequences CMC had on group
work. Specificially, groups felt less cohesive when using CMC versus FtF. This could because of
the increase in uncertainty and equivocality in CMC or because of a lack of personal interactions
and non-verbal cues.
Where media richness theory is concerned with the increase of uncertainty and
equivocality in non-FtF communication, social presence theory is concerned with the decrease in
interpersonal communication, suggesting that media other than FtF are impersonal,
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 14
individualistic, and task-oriented (Short, Williams & Christie, 1976). Like media richness theory,
social presence theory implies that simple tasks and standard data can be communicated through
CMC. Moreover, non-verbal cues such as gestures, facial, expressions, tone, and appearance are
absent making it difficult to communicate emotion and establish roles. If true, this would hinder
collaborative work and make it difficult to accomplish tasks if communicators have only CMC
media available to use. Specifically, media richness theory would argue that the presence of
gestures could make the message clearer and feedback easier and more efficient. Anderson et al.
(2007) found that players gestured more in FtF conditions than in CMC.
Sproull and Kiesler (1992) developed the reduced social cues model showing the
negative aspects of the lack of social context cues. Although they discovered that geographical
location, position within an organization’s hierarchy, and situational variables such as
relationship between the sender and receiver as social context cues absent in electronic mail, they
concluded that CMC media that diminish social cues may work better for task related efforts. By
studying the way people communicate through electronic mail, they found that people
overestimated their own contribution to communication and underestimated their group
messages (Sproull & Kiesler, 1992). They concluded that lack of social cues creates difficulty in
managing people and regulating communication. In addition, lack of social cues may cause
communicators in a group to act differently than they would using FtF, and result in extreme
decisions. To summarize, social cues may be absent in some forms of CMC. When these social
cues are missing, the communicators may lose their sense of identity, and stop following “rules”
or “social norms” they use in FtF communication. Although this model shows a deficit in CMC
media, it also implies that lack of social cues can benefits the communicators in some situations,
as they are not distracted by things like appearance and status.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 15
2.2.3 CMC as beneficial. Many studies have disputed media richness theory. Markus
(1990) found that managers often use email for complex messages and tasks. Fulk, Schmitz, and
Steinfield (1990) and Kock (2005) discuss in detail studies that have shown little support for
media richness theory including: Kinney and Dennis (1994), Kinney and Watson (1992), and
Dennis Kinney, and Hung (1999).
In some cases, research has shown that the “richness” of a medium does not matter, or
can be worked around. Particularly, studies have shown that in task related communication the
richness of the medium does not matter (Kock, 2005; Daft et al., 1987; Rice & Shook,1990;
Rice, 1993). In other situations, such as Social information processing theory developed by
Joseph Walther, the research showed that lack of FtF in CMC can be worked around. Walther’s
research focuses on the absence of non-verbal cues. This argues that even if non-verbal cues are
absent, people will implement other cue systems available to them, adapting to the circumstances
Kock (2005) is also concerned with humans adapting to CMC when he looks at media
richness theory through the lens of evolution. His theory is called media naturalness theory
because he believes FtF is the most natural form of communication from an evolutionary
standpoint, but that we can mimic this naturalness through CMC. He lists five requirements of
natural communication through CMC, or what he calls, e-communication (Kock, 2002):
1. A high degree of collocation, which would allow the individuals engaged
in a communication interaction to see and hear each other
2. A high degree of synchronicity, which would allow the individuals engaged
in communication interaction to quickly exchange communicative stimuli
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 16
3. The ability to convey and observe facial expressions
4. The ability to convey and observe body language
5. The ability to convey and listen to speech
Where Daft and Lengel call these qualities “rich,” Kock (2002) calls them “natural”.
Media richness theory says that a manager will choose a medium based on the appropriate
richness for the task. If they cannot use their preferred method, the task outcome will be low.
Kock (2002) considers cognitive effort, communication ambiguity, and physiological arousal as
variables instead of task outcome allowing for positive outcomes when using a medium that may
not be as natural as FtF. Earlier research by Kock (1998) considered that those using CMC might
even over compensate when using CMC, achieving better results.
2.2.4 CMC game communication. Kock (2002) concludes that we need CMC media to
solve communication problems, but we should try to make CMC as much like FtF as possible,
while preserving the qualities of CMC that make them useful (e.g. convenience). CMC affords
that distance no longer hinder a student’s ability to learn from an expert thousands of miles away
nor does it hinder and organization from collaborating with valuable team members across the
world. CMC can help collaboration and not hinder it if we understand the human tendencies in
Educational games are innovative ways to engage and educate students. Many of them,
such as MoonWorld, teach the students to collaborate in inquiry science tasks. Reese (2012)
found that MoonWorld does not just teach concepts, but causes collaboration in scientific
practices and cross-cutting concepts. In the case of many educational games, CMC is appropriate
and easy to use in the virtual environment.
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Keating and Sunakawa (2010) explored how gamers are able to adapt to the virtual
collaborative environment. What they call “participation cues” account for the player’s ability to
adapt to collaboration in a virtual world while being collocated. Participation cues is the name
given to cues used by players who are in a virtual world together, but also sitting next to each
other in the “real” world. Keeting and Sunakawa use participation cues to account for the ways
players communicate in both worlds at the same time. Their study included observing groups of
gamers collocated, but interacting in a virtual world.
After filming the gamers for seven hours, the group observed gestures, body language,
gaze, and conversation. Keating and Sunakawa (2010) found that the groups developed their own
way to communicate. They were able to manipulate chat features to show emotion (bold, italic,
capital letters), the speed and tone of their voices during conversation conveyed meaning, etc.
2.3 Purpose of Proposed Research
The gamers observed by Keating and Sunakawa (2010) were able to use participation
cues to successfully collaborate and complete tasks in a virtual gaming world. However, they did
not observe task outcome if non-verbal cues are absent. Other theories and models, such as
media naturalness theory have suggested that CMC has its place especially in task-oriented
Virtual world, educational computer games are currently trending in a generation of
learners with a high competency level in CMC. This study looks specifically at the success of
task completion and the quality of work in collocated and non-collocated players. According to
media richness theory, collocated players will be able to use FtF communication including non-
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 18
verbal cues making their communication easier. The interest in this study is exploring the
validity of media richness theory and the theories and models based upon it.
Media richness theory, which rates the richness of a medium based on the reduction or
increase in uncertainty and equivocality, features FtF as the richest way to communicate. The
theory implies that communicators using CMC media will struggle to communicate more than
those using FtF. However, Daft and Lengel (1986) found that CMC media is better to
communicate “standard data” and complex messages. Like media richness theory, social
presence theory (Short & Williams, 1976), Rice and Shook (1990), and Rice (1993) found that
non-FtF media were suitable for task-oriented situations supporting media richness theory. These
theories initially seem to imply that effect of CMC collaboration and education are negative,
really have found that CMC can benefit educational and organizational collaboration.
2.4 Research Questions
RQ1-Is FtF the best way for collaboration in an educational game?
RQ2-Do learners playing an educational game non-collocated using computer-mediated
communication experience the same success as collocated players using face-to-face
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 19
Chapter 3. SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY
3.1 Scope of the Study
Educational games have continuously changed and improved as technology and the
internet improves. These games now take advantage of rich virtual worlds and distance learning
opportunities. The educational computer game, MoonWorld, was selected as the tool to conduct
this study because of its educational attributes and its multi-player collaborative virtual
environment. In addition, its system allows the researcher to measure success of the teams by the
concepts they learned. For example, players are taught how to play the game and they have a
number of tasks to complete, in addition to questions they must work together to answer. By
measuring the amount of tasks each player or team completes and reviewing the correct and
incorrect answers to questions, the researcher can determine success.
The game features a talk system that players can use to communicate, a text chat
window, and avatar features to facilitate communication in the environment. Players who have
never played the game before must collaborate with their teammate to navigate, and solve
problems together in this environment.
The researcher filmed players’ interaction with one another and their gestures and verbal
interaction was transcribed and coded. Important verbal and non-verbal cues included gaze at
one another and gaze at one another’s computer screen, pointing, and shaking head yes or no
based on previous research using the game that determined the types of teamwork MoonWorld
players use (Reese, 2012). In this study, Reese videotaped players and transcribed verbal
communication, and gestures to determine the best way to collaborate.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 20
By coding the players’ interaction and then determining their success in the game as a
team, the researcher made assumptions about the use of CMC versus FtF in a virtual learning
environment and distance collaborative work in general.
3.2 Sampling Procedures
Participants were recruited based upon computer experience. It was important to recruit
players who are comfortable with computers and virtual worlds tom minimize training time and
maximize the amount of time teams were in world alone. In addition, all participants had to be
novices to MoonWorld so that one player was not more experienced than the other, otherwise
collaboration and new concepts learned may not be measurable.
3.3 Research Design
The teams collected rock samples at every station and then answered questions about the
rock sample and the terrain at the station. The number of tasks completed was important because
if the teams did not work together properly using their compass, they would not go to the correct
stations, and if they would not go to the stations in the correct order, they would not be able to
collect samples and complete questions. Success was defined by the number of tasks completed,
and the percentage of questions answered correctly.
First participants were guided through and introduced to the game by an educator
specifically trained to assist players in MoonWorld. This person called a “mentar”1
MoonWorld, was in world with the players until the teams felt comfortable enough to be alone.
The game is designed so that the first five stations are training stations, and Reese (2012) found
Mentar is the name given to the person/avatar who accompanies players in MoonWorld. This person is trained to
help players understand the concept and the functions of the game, and guide them through the first five training
stations. In the case of youths playing MoonWorld, the mentar accompanies the players through the whole game
to ensurethat all players are safe and following the rules. In this study the mentar only remained with participants
for the training stations.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 21
that players who are trained navigate through the game, and implement game tools better. Once
the players understood the concept of the game the mentar left them on their own, working as a
team of two to collect samples and collaborate to answer questions.
The collocated players played in a computer lab seated next to one another. A camera
filmed their faces from the front, and an additional camera filmed the players from behind,
showing their computer screens and hands. The non-collocated players played in separate rooms
with a camera on each player. The mentar was in world with each team, but was not in the same
room with either team to avoid giving the collocated team an advantage. The researcher was
present to ensure that there were no technical problems with the computers, game, or video
Each team had a total of two hours in world, including their time with the mentar. Only
time spent in world without the mentar was transcribed and coded. Furthermore, since one team
went further than the other, only stations both teams visited were considered for data.
The researcher transcribed the part of the video after the mentar leaves the team. All
verbal interaction was recorded in a word document, and for the collocated team any gesture was
noted with a unique symbol, such as an asterisk, to easily search and count the gestures.
After observing the tape, the researcher coded the interactions and counted how many
times a non-verbal cue, specifically gestures and gaze, occurred. This was adapted from Reese’s
(2012) report, but instead of observing emotional gestures, it observed operational and
instructional gestures. The chart below shows the operational/instructional gestures that were
coded in this study versus emotional gestures that were previously studied and coded in
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 22
Operational/Instructional Gestures Emotional Gestures
Eye Contact with partner Gesturing with hands to show excitement
Shaking head yes or no Covering face with hands
Gesturing with Hands Clapping
Looking in teammate’s direction Smiling at teammate
Pointing at teammate’s computer screen Frowning at teammate
Pointing at their own screen
During transcription, the length of each interaction was noted. Whenever a player began
and ended speaking the time code was recorded. If players spoke at the same time, or over one
another they were measured separately. Also, each time the team began to talk about a new topic
the researcher numbered the interaction so that when the transcription was finished, each team
had a counted number of interactions, and each player’s contribution to the collaboration was
measurable in seconds. For the collocated team, researcher noted the gestures and gaze within
the transcript as well.
Once the video was coded, noting non-verbal cues and verbal interaction, the researcher
compared the amount of team interaction with the success of the team. The number of rock
samples collected and the number of elevations/distances requested were used to measure the
teams’ ability to complete tasks. The number of questions answered correctly or incorrectly
measured the success of the teams’ collaboration and ability to work together to learn in the
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 23
Each team’s verbal communication was transcribed the same way, and each interaction
was numbered the same way in each group. To ensure this, the researcher referred to the team
whose interaction was transcribed first. For example, non-collocated (NCL) team was
transcribed first and the researcher considered their discussion on the different attributes of the
rocks at station six to be separate interaction instead of just one, the same was done when
transcribing the collocated (CL) team at station six even though their conversation was different.
Both transcriptions were done manually and typed in a word document with times, and
non-verbals for the CL team. Once finished, the researcher printed the transcript and watched the
video through to guarantee correct transcription and coding. When coding the CL team, the
researcher focused only on the non-verbal items listed prior to the study
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 24
Chapter 4. THE STUDY
The data for this pilot study was obtained from two teams of two who were filmed
playing MoonWorld at the Center for Educational Technologies on campus at Wheeling Jesuit
University. There are two sets of data: data from the team who played collocated (CL) and data
from the team who played non-collocated (NCL). This chapter will explain first how data were
collected, reviewed, and coded, then explore the results found, and then finally a discussion on
the implications of the results in terms of media richness theory.
4.2 Data Analysis
Each team had two hours to play MoonWorld. They were guided through the preparatory
stations by the mentar, or an educator trained to train the teams. The mentar showed the teams
game features and explained what they need to do at each station. This research focused on the
collaboration between just the two players, and not the mentar. The CL team did not have time
within their two hours to make it to the end of the game, however the NCL team did. So the data
analyzed was based on the stations the CL was able to reach.
For the NCL team, videos from each work station were synced and placed side by side.
Figure 4.1 shows the NCL video setup. Once synced and clipped to include only stations that the
CL team visited, the video was transcribed. The CL team was recorded with a camera filming the
players’ screens and hands while another recorded their faces from the front. These videos also
had to be synced in order to see actions from each angle simultaneously, and the video was
clipped to only include stations the team went to without their mentar. The angles shown in
Figure 4.2 show the view during transcription and coding.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 25
The time each player began to speak and finished speaking was noted during
transcription, and each time a new topic was discussed a new number was assigned to that
interaction. For example, if a team was discussing the setting in order to answer a question, and
then they began discussing what type of rock they picked up, the two topics were considered two
separate interactions. For the CL team, specific non-verbal cues were coded including players
looking at one another at the same time or one player looking at the other, looking at their
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 26
teammate’s computer screen, shaking their head yes or no, and pointing. Verbal interactions
were totaled for each team, and each player’s verbal participation was measured in seconds for
Game data was recorded in MoonWorld and served as a measure for each team’s success.
The number of correct and incorrect answers was important because it shows the team’s ability
to collaborate and inquire as a team. Number of rock samples collected and number of
elevations/distances requested were important because teams were specifically tasked to do this
at each station during their instruction.
Finally, game data and communication data were compared to determine the difference in
success and communication in the team collocated versus the team that was non-collocated.
Each team had strengths and weaknesses in their collaboration. Neither team necessarily
did better or worse than the other based on both measurements (tasks completion and questions
answered correct or incorrect), but each team excelled in a different measurement. The CL team
only made it to station 12 while the NCL team completed all 16 stations and went on to the
research facility. This could be because the CL team took longer to make decisions when
answering the questions. Figure 4.3 shows the amount of interactions and time of each
interaction measured in seconds. The participant’s avatars were named SF1 and SF2 in the NCL
team, and V and J in the CL team. Their avatar names were used to identify them in the
transcription and coding. The figure shows that the number of interactions were similar as the
NCL team totaled 87 and the CL team 84. By looking at the figure it is also visible that the CL
team had more lengthy interactions. However, although the CL may have spent more time in
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 27
certain interactions, the average interaction between the CL players was 11.50 seconds, similar to
the NCL team who averaged 10.84 seconds per interaction. This shows once again that despite
their different ways of playing the game both teams had a similar amount of interaction.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 28
One difference that is very visible when looking at player contribution is t hat the CL
team were very much concerned with working together and sharing the burdens, while the NCL
team was more leader/follower collaboration, and made decisions quickly when answering
questions. Figure 4.4 shows each players contribution to the collaboration. The percentages in
figure 4.4 are based on the length (in seconds) of each person’s verbal contribution, while the
percentage for non-verbal interactions is based on the number of cues coded for each player. In
the NCL team, SF1 took on a leadership role reading and answering questions when SF2 could
not find the Q&A box. SF2’s contributions were very valuable including picking up rock
samples, making suggestions during Q&A, and helping to navigate. The NCL team worked very
well together, but tended to take on a role, instead of splitting each duty equally. In contrast, the
NCL team’s verbal and non-verbal interaction was almost equal. Players V and J did the same
things (both opened Q&A, picked up rocks, used to compass to get to next station).
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 29
The teams experienced a difference in success as well. The NCL team was immersed in
the game and completed more tasks than the CL team. They collected more rock samples (Figure
4.5) and requested more distances and elevations at each station (Figure 4.6). However, the CL
team spent more time on the questions, carefully collaborating to choose each answer. They
answered more questions correctly than the NCL team, because both players were sharing the
work and answering questions (Figure 4.7). Both teams were about equal in incorrect answers,
but the CL team seemed more precise, taking more time on each question considering and
deducing each possible answer.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 30
It took the CL team 32:32 to complete 12 stations. When one of the teammates
disagreed, they would look at the other player’s screen. Or when one teammate was hesitant to
reply back to a question or comment made by their teammate, they would look at their teammate
to confirm if they heard them. Table 4.1 shows an example of the difference in collaboration
between the NCL and CL teams at the same station. Both teams answered this question correct,
but went about collaboration differently.
NCL Team CL Team
1-(reading) Describe the setting
9:53-9:55 V-Have you looked at the Q and A yet? (V
looks a J’s screen )
1-Bright ray, crater central
mountain, line of craters, basic
crater outer wall, crater floor, crater
rim, wall, floor, mound, crater
terrace, lava flow, lava plain, and
9:57-10-17 J-I’m looking now 11:59-12:01
2-Does it look like a lava flow? 10:19-10:20 J-I think it looks like one of the lava ones 12:06-12:10
2-Or would you say base of crater? 10:21-10:22 J- Either (J looks at V’s screen) lava flow or
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 31
1-Oh! Wait no! Because see look
up on the hill. It does look like it
10:22-10:27 J-Maybe plain because its flat 12:16-12:18
2- Mmm hmm 10:27 V-Umm I think maybe plain 12:17-12:20
1-I think that’s a good idea…to go
10:28-10:30 J-Oh I was thinking flow because it looks like
it’s coming down from the crater
1-Lava flow. Because it looks like
it’s a stream.
10:31-10:32 V-Oh what angle did you use (V looks at J’s
2- Mmm hmm. It looks like uhh… 10:33-10:34 V-Ohhh! I see what you mean 12:28-12:30
1-Are you comfortable with me
putting that or?
10:34-10:37 (J looks at V’s screen)
2-Sure 10:37 V-Okay Yeah that’s a good point. It does
look like its flowing
1-(to self) Let’s see…(reading as
she answers question) lava flow…
The two main advantages of FtF that the CL team used were looking at their teammate
and looking at their teammate’s screen (Figure 4.8).
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 32
The CL team implemented the non-verbal cues 98 times. It is possible that the cues
helped them in answering the questions because they could see their teammate’s computer
screen. However, it may have been a distraction and not allowed them to become fully immersed
in the virtual world, accounting for the NCL team completing more tasks.
The CL team often implemented non-verbal cues when they unsure about what they were
doing or when they did not know the answer to a question. It seems that the non-verbal cues did
not help them, but simply made them feel more comfortable. Figure 4.9 shows the correlation
between the use of non-verbal cues and the number of questions correct and incorrect. The CL
team used more non-verbal cues, as shown in red, when they answered questions incorrectly.
Keating and Sunakawa (2010) provide insight to the results. The CL team may not have
been as immersed in the virtual world because they were participating in two worlds, virtual and
real, simultaneously. Keating and Sunakawa studied players who already had experience in the
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 33
game they were playing. The players in this study learned a new game, new concepts, and
collaborate. It may not have been possible for them to develop and use participation cues as
Keating and Sunakawa defined them.
This goes back to the idea that selecting the correct medium for collaboration is essential.
Research since the development of media richness theory (Daft & Lengel, 1986) has
continuously shown that CMC can be very effective in task-related collaboration (Kock, 2005;
Daft et al., 1987, Rice & Shook, 1990; Rice, 1993). In the case of educational virtual worlds, it
seems that a player more easily immerses themselves in the game if they are not distracted by
being collocated with their teammate. The NCL team completed more tasks, and were very task-
oriented as predicted by the studies mentioned above.
Looking at the results through the lens of media richness theory, the CL team was able to
process information more effectively because the opportunity to look at one another, and more
importantly one another’s computer screen reduced uncertainty. The findings seem to support
Daft and Lengel’s (1986) research that found CMC to be appropriate for task related
The research presented supports past research. When looking at educational virtual
worlds, the players may be collocated or non-collocated depending on the type of collaboration
desired. The pilot study indicates if the desire is for careful consideration and collaboration, FtF
communication is appropriate. If the collaboration is strictly task-oriented being collocated is not
Therefore, the answer to the first research question asked in this study, “Is FtF the best
way for collaboration in an educational game?” is no. The research showed that using FtF
communication did not give the CL too much of an advantage over the NCL team. However, it
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 34
did change the type of collaboration. The NCL team succeeded in task related collaboration and
designated roles for each player, while the CL team carefully answered each question and shared
The second research question in this study was, “Do learners playing an educational
game non-collocated using CMC experience the same success as collocated players with FtF
available to them?” This research showed that both team experienced the same amount of
success, but not the same success. The NCL team completed more tasks, but the CL worked
better together and collaborated more carefully in answering the questions.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 35
Chapter 5. CONCLUSION
This research was intended to look at the differences between CMC and FtF
communication in collaboration and education, particularly, collaboration in virtual educational
games. In MoonWorld, success was seen in both the NCL and CL teams, although their success
was different, both teams succeeded in their own way. The data showed that the CL team took
advantage of the ability to look at one another and one another’s computer screens. However,
there was no evidence to show that the NCL team severely suffered for lack of FtF qualities.
5.1 Limitations of the Study
This research was designed to be a pilot study that would open doors for additional
communication research in MoonWorld. Since it was a pilot, only one team was assigned to each
condition, therefore, it is difficult to make a generalizable conclusion with such little data.
Players have different learning styles, personalities, and communication preferences, all of which
must be considered when assessing.
In addition to the limitations caused by sample size, the game also offers technical
limitations. For example, in the CL team it was visible that the graphics on one screen were
better than the graphics on the other. If their screens were the same, they may not have looked at
one another’s screen as many times. Also, the game is in need of a more robust system, and some
of the functions do not work properly every time. For example, player J in the CL team could not
get their compass to show up so technical glitches had to be worked out before the team could
even begin to play. This could affect how engaged a player becomes in the game. Technical
glitches can cause many variables.
5.2 Recommendations for Further Study
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 36
In order to collect more conclusive data this study should be repeated with a larger
sample. With a larger sample, more conditions can be assigned to each group. For example, do
females or males benefit more from FtF communication in collaboration? This study noted that
the CL team was made up of two females and the NCL team was one female and one male,
would the results have differed if gender had been considered when assigning teams?
In addition to gender, a further study could consider the relationship between players who
are non-collocated. Does knowing one’s teammate in advance help a team playing non-
collocated, and inversely if players do not know who their teammate is will it be more difficult to
communicate using CMC?
It seems that being collocated was not an advantage to the CL team in terms of
achievement in the game. The feedback emphasized in Schramm’s (1954) model of
communication was evident in both teams. All players listened to their teammates and were able
to receive and encode information before successfully giving feedback to their teammate. Lack
of FtF did not seem to hinder the NCL team’s communication process. Even in the CL team who
were able to use FtF, the non-verbal cues did not necessarily help the team achieve more in the
game, but it served as reassurance or comfort when they were unsure about themselves.
As indicated by previous studies, (Daft et al., 1987; Kock, 2005; Rice & Shook, 1990;
Short et. al., 1976) groups using CMC do well if the work is task-orientated. However, using FtF
helped foster teamwork in the CL team, while the NCL team was more leader/follower. This is
supported by Sproull and Kiesler’s (1987) research that indicated groups using CMC felt less
cohesive than groups using FtF.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 37
The media richness theory cites the deficits in CMC. However, the findings from the
present study show that the richness of a medium does not matter for teams collaborating to
accomplish tasks in a virtual world. Daft and Lengel (1986) based the richness of a medium on
the reduction or increase in uncertainty and equivocality. This study showed that FtF, the use of
gaze and gestures in particular, did not reduce uncertainty or equivocality. The CL team used
non-verbal cues when they felt uncertainty, but the majority of the time it did not assist in
answering the question correctly.
The media richness theory does not consider is that all communication media are flawed
in some way, even FtF. It is in knowing that these flaws exist in CMC and working to
compensate for them that groups can successfully communicate and collaborate over distances.
Organizations and educators should not fear CMC media for collaboration because the benefits
of the tools are often far greater than the deficits.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 38
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Gonzaga University Institutional Review Board
Letter of Approval
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 42
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 43
Wheeling Jesuit University Institutional Review Board
Letter of Approval
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 44
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 45
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATIONAL GAMES 46
You are invited to voluntarily play MoonWorld and participate in a pilot study I am
conducting. Information gathered in this study will be used to meet the requirements of a Masters
in Communication and Leadership degree from Gonzaga University. I appreciate your
willingness to volunteer. Please carefully review and sign the consent form below.
Stacy L. Keller
I ________________________ agree to play the game MoonWorld understanding that I am
being videotaped and my actions in the game are being recorded. I give permission to Stacy
Keller and MoonWorld researchers to use information and images gathered for their research.
By signing below I am indicating that:
I am 18 years of age or older
I will participate in the research project by playing MoonWorld for a maximum of
I consent to being videotaped while playing MoonWorld
I consent to having my actions in the game recorded
I have completed all necessary MoonWorld consent forms in addition to this form