Scaling Up the Use of Mixed Reality in Civil Engineering Education

Victoria Bennett
Asst. Professor
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Need: To address the need for more practical experience in civil engineering education, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Northeastern University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Olin College seeks to fundamentally transform engineering education with mixed reality gaming. Our educational model of mixed reality gaming allows for an authentic integration of traditional classroom activities (lectures, laboratory work, field data, software models and simulations) with virtual activities. The model is demonstrated through GeoExplorer, a virtual internship activity where students join a fictional engineering company called Terra Inc.

Guiding Question: The aim of this proposed work is to create a scalable and sustainable educational model of mixed reality gaming in civil engineering education that provides practical experiences, develops engineering judgment competency, and engages a diverse student audience, while also enabling local adaptation and embedded learning assessment. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) of motivation is used to guide the project design and implementation as well as education research and evaluation through consideration of the following four research questions:

  1. Student perspective: How do students learn from and experience mixed reality gaming; and what differences are noticeable across individuals, institutions, and model variations in terms of students’ learning experience and motivational outcomes?
  2. Instructor perspective: How do instructors deploy and experience mixed reality gaming; and how does their teaching and perceptions of their own and students’ motivational outcomes change over time?
  3. Diversity and inclusion perspective: What are the underlying reasons for possible differences between individuals, instructors, and institutions; and what steps can be taken to foster diversity and inclusion through mixed reality game-based learning?
  4. Institutional and community perspective: What can we learn from implementing mixed reality gaming across institutions about how to transform civil engineering education in a way that is (i) scalable, sustainable, and transferable and (ii) inclusive for and engaging a diverse student audience?The project uses a design-based research approach, in which new game versions will be developed based on design conjectures, as well as by increasing the scope of the intervention after each iteration. We will address our research questions through a mixed-methods study of all constituencies—students, instructors, and institutions.

Outcomes: Since the project commenced in October 2019, we implemented the GeoExplorer activity at 14 universities, engaging with 20 engineering faculty and over a 1,000 engineering students. Broader Impacts: In the near-term, our work will engage 20+ U.S. universities, including institutions serving underrepresented populations. An iterated and tested mixed reality game will be freely accessible, comprehensively documented, and accompanied by an online professional training, including best practices documentation and adaptations from various instructors. Our long-term aspiration is that the resulting educational model will serve as an exemplar to educators in other fields. Our intentional efforts to reach diverse audiences and create inclusive mixed reality learning environments will shed light on the best practices of game-based learning design and implementation for diverse populations of learners. Ultimately, this work seeks to result in a better-trained and more diverse professional workforce that is mindful and capable of addressing challenging real-world problems.


Casper Harteveld, Northeastern University; Tarek Abdoun, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Yevgeniya V. Zastavker, Olin College of Engineering