Intelligent Robot Learning Laboratory (IRL Lab) Chris Cain

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Chris Cain

PhD Student, Computer Science
Email: chris.cain@wsu.edu
Office: Sloan Hall 311


My Story

I discovered my passion for computer science, especially artificial intelligence and machine learning, as an undergraduate at Lewis and Clark College.  As a liberal arts college, it gave me a multidisciplinary education that taught me the value of collaboration across fields of study.  The drive to use computer science to help others in new and exciting ways led me to pursue a PhD.

Research

I have always had a passion for learning, teaching, and improving education.  My research focuses on improving student motivation and effort in the classroom through the use of gamification, or games in non-game settings.  Current approaches often involve educational games in the classroom.  I see this as an issue for three main reasons.  People have different gaming preferences, and by choosing to teach content in class through an educational game, students who are not motivated by the game’s mechanics may struggle learning the material.  In addition, content for the game must be created for each topic or lesson, leading to large development costs.  Finally, students know when they’re playing an educational game.  The emphasis on learning often detracts from the emphasis on fun, diminishing the learning and motivational benefits of the game.  My attempt to fix these issues has led to the development of Topic INdependent Gamification Learning Environment (TINGLE), a system designed to tie a student’s individual progress in class to progress in a game selected for them and played outside the classroom.  Rather than the game being a learning medium, it’s a positive reinforcer for effort applied in class.  I plan to create an initial model for which games motivate which students using the BrainHex player typography and supervised learning, then use reinforcement learning to tailor game selection to the individual, learning such things as when a game gets old, how to predict future grade trends, and changes in preferences over time.  With this system, the same games can be used in any classroom where progress can be measured.  Any game with progress can be used, hopefully leading to the motivation of any student motivated by gaming.  There are no educational systems in the games (unless the student is motivated by them!), creating a setting as close to gaming for leisure as possible.

I am currently leading a senior design team of undergraduates building a motivational game of our own.  We’re deploying this game in an introductory computer science class to test the effectiveness of the game on motivation, as well as the extent to which there are significant correlations between BrainHex player traits, player statistics collected from the game (time played etc.), grades, and self-reported levels of motivation in the class.  Every lecture, a new password in hidden in the slides.  If students pay attention and catch it, they can use it on the game’s login screen to get a bonus in the game.  Depending on an individual student’s grade trends, they can get a temporary buff to their character stats.  This depends on their own personal grade history in the class, so every student has the same opportunity to acquire the buff.  Finally, there are world events that require the class as a whole to reach a milestone such as turning in a certain number of homework assignments, attend a certain number of labs, or accumulate a certain number of points on an exam.  When this threshold is met, the game’s story advances, and new content is unlocked. This will hopefully incentivize students to work together to learn the course content.

Vision

How do we motivate each student to do their best?  Our school systems provide feedback by assigning grades to performance, which are useful, if not all-telling, from an outside perspective when determining a student’s success.  However, they are an inadequate measure of effort.  If effort is the extent to which we are doing our best, then it makes sense to design our school systems to maximize effort.  By utilizing advances in pervasive computing and wearable sensors, effort could be assessed through attention, focus, verbal contributions to class, note-taking, and more.

One important and often overlooked factor to consider in gamification is the teacher.  Many gamification techniques take power out of the teacher’s hands.  My goal with TINGLE is to provide motivation without interfering in the classroom.  However, some teachers are open to technology in their classrooms.  For such teachers, it may be possible to increase the training speed and accuracy of the reinforcement learner by getting teacher feedback about their students.  I plan to explore the best ways to acquire this feedback without creating additional teacher burden, especially during class time.

While my current research is focused on college students, once proven, this system could easily be expanded to work with younger children.  Maximizing motivation in younger children may reduce dropout rates and could lead to increased societal literacy.

If my current research proves successful, I envision researching and designing a system that utilizes real-time feedback to modify a procedurally generated motivational game the student is playing to optimize motivation.  Over time, the genre and mechanics of the game may change, but progression continues.

Current Projects

By: Chris Cain, and Matthew E. Taylor

A system designed to tie a student’s individual progress in class to progress in a game selected for them and played outside the classroom.  Rather than the game being a learning medium, it’s a positive reinforcer for effort applied in class.  The plan is to create an initial model for which games motivate which students using the BrainHex player typography and supervised learning, then use reinforcement learning to tailor game selection to the individual, learning such things as when a game gets old, how to predict future grade trends, and changes in preferences over time.  With this system, the same games can be used in any classroom where progress can be measured.  Any game with progress can be used, hopefully leading to the motivation of any student motivated by gaming.  There are no educational systems in the games (unless the student is motivated by them!), creating a setting as close to gaming for leisure as possible. [1, 2]

[1] [pdf] Chris Cain, Anne Anderson, and Matthew E. Taylor. Content-Independent Classroom Gamification. Computers in Education Journal, 7(4):93-106, October–December 2016.
[Bibtex]
@article{2016CoED-Cain,
author={Cain, Chris and Anderson, Anne and Taylor, Matthew E.},
title={{Content-Independent Classroom Gamification}},
journal={{Computers in Education Journal}},
volume={7},
number={4},
pages={93--106},
month={October--December},
year={2016},
abstract={This paper introduces Topic-INdependent Gamification Learning Environment (TINGLE), a framework designed to increase student motivation and engagement in the classroom through the use of a game played outside the classroom. A 131-person pilot study was implemented in a construction management course. Game statistics and survey responses were recorded to estimate the effect of the game and correlations with student traits. While the data analyzed so far is mostly inconclusive, this study served as an important first step toward content-independent gamification.}
}
[2] [pdf] Chris Cain, Anne Anderson, and Matthew E. Taylor. Content-Independent Classroom Gamification. In Proceedings of the ASEE’s 123rd Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, LA, USA, June 2016.
[Bibtex]
@inproceedings{2016ASEE-Cain,
author={Chris Cain and Anne Anderson and Matthew E. Taylor},
title={{Content-Independent Classroom Gamification}},
booktitle={{Proceedings of the {ASEE}'s 123rd Annual Conference \& Exposition}},
month={June},
year={2016},
address={New Orleans, LA, USA},
bib2html_pubtype={Refereed Conference},
bib2html_rescat={Gamification, Motivation, Education},
abstract={This paper introduces Topic-INdependent Gamification Learning Environment (TINGLE), a framework designed to increase student motivation and engagement in the classroom through the use of a game played outside the classroom. A 131-person study was implemented in a construction management course. Game statistics and survey responses were recorded to estimate the effect of the game and correlations with student traits. While the data analyzed so far is mostly inconclusive, this study served as an important first step toward content-independent gamification.}
}

By: Yunshu Du and Matthew E. Taylor

WSU’s Recreation Center (the Rec) is among the most frequently visited campus facilities. However, students may prefer to avoid the Rec when it is most crowded. Our work aims to solve this problem by predicting how crowded the Rec will be at different times by leveraging the university’s CougCard system.

CougCard, the WSU official identification card, is used by all students when entering the Rec. This work used anonymized CougCard data from the Rec and applied data-driven techniques to analyze student exercise trends. A predictive decision tree model was successfully built to predict the peak hours at the Rec. A web-based application for the model is currently under construction with the goal of suggesting when the Rec will be more or less busy.

Our long term goal is to make students more (quantitatively) satisfied with their experience at the Rec and/or (quantitatively) increase the number of times they visit the Rec to exercise. Additionally, our system can assist Rec managers with shift scheduling and fitness event planning. Future work includes building personal fitness recommendations into the application and increasing the number of areas the application monitors and predicts crowdedness (e.g., the CUB’s food court). [1]

[1] [pdf] Yunshu Du and Matthew E. Taylor. Work In-progress: Mining the Student Data for Fitness . In Proceedings of the 12th International Workshop on Agents and Data Mining Interaction (ADMI) (at AAMAS), Singapore, May 2016.
[Bibtex]
@inproceedings{2016ADMI-Du,
author={Yunshu Du and Matthew E. Taylor},
title={{Work In-progress: Mining the Student Data for Fitness }},
booktitle={{Proceedings of the 12th International Workshop on Agents and Data Mining Interaction ({ADMI}) (at {AAMAS})}},
year={2016},
address={Singapore},
month={May},
abstract = {Data mining-driven agents are often used in applications such as waiting times estimation or traffic flow prediction. Such approaches often require large amounts of data from multiple sources, which may be difficult to obtain and lead to incomplete or noisy datasets. University ID card data, in contrast, is easy to access with very low noise. However, little attention has been paid to the availability of these datasets and few applications have been developed to improve student services on campus. This work uses data from CougCard, the Washington State University official ID card, used daily by most students. Our goal is to build an intelligent agent to improve student service quality by predicting the crowdedness at different campus facilities. This work in-progress focuses on the University Recreation Center, one of the most popular facilities on campus, to optimize students’ workout experiences.}
}

Videos & Other Media:

Publications

2016

  • Chris Cain, Anne Anderson, and Matthew E. Taylor. Content-Independent Classroom Gamification. In Proceedings of the ASEE’s 123rd Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, LA, USA, June 2016.
    [BibTeX] [Abstract] [Download PDF]

    This paper introduces Topic-INdependent Gamification Learning Environment (TINGLE), a framework designed to increase student motivation and engagement in the classroom through the use of a game played outside the classroom. A 131-person study was implemented in a construction management course. Game statistics and survey responses were recorded to estimate the effect of the game and correlations with student traits. While the data analyzed so far is mostly inconclusive, this study served as an important first step toward content-independent gamification.

    @inproceedings{2016ASEE-Cain,
    author={Chris Cain and Anne Anderson and Matthew E. Taylor},
    title={{Content-Independent Classroom Gamification}},
    booktitle={{Proceedings of the {ASEE}'s 123rd Annual Conference \& Exposition}},
    month={June},
    year={2016},
    address={New Orleans, LA, USA},
    bib2html_pubtype={Refereed Conference},
    bib2html_rescat={Gamification, Motivation, Education},
    abstract={This paper introduces Topic-INdependent Gamification Learning Environment (TINGLE), a framework designed to increase student motivation and engagement in the classroom through the use of a game played outside the classroom. A 131-person study was implemented in a construction management course. Game statistics and survey responses were recorded to estimate the effect of the game and correlations with student traits. While the data analyzed so far is mostly inconclusive, this study served as an important first step toward content-independent gamification.}
    }

  • Chris Cain, Anne Anderson, and Matthew E. Taylor. Content-Independent Classroom Gamification. Computers in Education Journal, 7(4):93-106, October–December 2016.
    [BibTeX] [Abstract] [Download PDF]

    This paper introduces Topic-INdependent Gamification Learning Environment (TINGLE), a framework designed to increase student motivation and engagement in the classroom through the use of a game played outside the classroom. A 131-person pilot study was implemented in a construction management course. Game statistics and survey responses were recorded to estimate the effect of the game and correlations with student traits. While the data analyzed so far is mostly inconclusive, this study served as an important first step toward content-independent gamification.

    @article{2016CoED-Cain,
    author={Cain, Chris and Anderson, Anne and Taylor, Matthew E.},
    title={{Content-Independent Classroom Gamification}},
    journal={{Computers in Education Journal}},
    volume={7},
    number={4},
    pages={93--106},
    month={October--December},
    year={2016},
    abstract={This paper introduces Topic-INdependent Gamification Learning Environment (TINGLE), a framework designed to increase student motivation and engagement in the classroom through the use of a game played outside the classroom. A 131-person pilot study was implemented in a construction management course. Game statistics and survey responses were recorded to estimate the effect of the game and correlations with student traits. While the data analyzed so far is mostly inconclusive, this study served as an important first step toward content-independent gamification.}
    }