Team coordination is essential for many critical tasks, but teaching people to work together is difficult. Vital to safety and security, the demanding team coordination of fire emergency response is characterized by real time stresses. Participants quickly acquire, integrate, and share large amounts of information while synchronizing action in dangerous, dynamic situations. Computer programming, another demanding task performed by teams, is vital to security and industry. Digital games are an exciting, new, intrinsically motivating medium of education, capable of requiring interpersonal communication and cooperation, and simulating stress in a safe environment. The embodied basis of location-aware games, which create mixed reality by combining direct physical action with human computer interaction via wearable computers and sensors, provides unique capabilities for human-to-human interaction. Location-aware multi-player games change the way participants interact with one another, by affording players the opportunity to spontaneously split-up and re-group, which is impossible in traditional desktop digital games. This research develops and evaluates a location-aware non-mimetic simulation game for teaching team coordination based on preliminary findings that establish the importance of dynamic re-grouping of participants and optimization of communication modalities, such as face-to-face and radio, in fire emergency response. The project introduces non-mimetic simulation to describe environments that model contextualized human task operations, emphasizing the structure of human communication and coordination, while abstracting out physical characteristics of an environment. Non-mimetic simulation focuses simulation resources on goal-directed operational characteristics of task performance, such as information flows. The objective of this proposal is to develop new high performance, cost-effective methods for using location-aware non-mimetic simulation games to teach team coordination for emergency response. Further, the transfer of the non-mimetic simulation from its roots in grounded ethnographic data about fire emergency response to teaching teams of STEM students to coordinate collaborative projects will be investigated. The principal hypotheses are to investigate whether and how location-aware games can improve team coordination performance in dangerous and stressful environments, and whether this method for teaching skills will prove transferable to other teamwork contexts.

The proposed research is innovative in its interdisciplinary approach, which integrates methods from ethnography, distributed and team cognition, game design, location-aware systems, human computer interaction, and emergency response. This innovative approach is expected to yield significant outcomes: (1) a grounded methodology of non-mimetic simulation; (2) new knowledge of how embodied game play impacts education; (3) new non-mimetic simulation game design methods for teaching team coordination across domains; (4) new knowledge about designing and evaluating location-aware systems; (5) new methods for evaluating team coordination and how games support it. Research products will be deployed in the nation's largest fire training facility, which educates over 45,000 students per year, improving the skills and performance of emergency responders. More effective teamwork means that fire emergency responders will be better able to perform their duties: protecting the lives of citizens, protecting each others' lives, and protecting property. Games are an essential form of culture. Delivering education through games will motivate student engagement. In a period in which STEM enrollment has been declining, deployment among undergraduate computer science majors is expected to increase retention.

Project Report

The award resulted in new collaboration and mutual understanding connecting human-centered computing researchers and a community of international disaster responders. Team coordination was found to be a key limiting factor in disaster response. We developed simulations for teaching team coordination skills. A new approach, zero-fidelity simulation, emphasizes human-centered aspects of disaster response: communication, information exchange, and real-time stress. Digital gaming was used as the medium of simulation, in order to engage and motivate participants. Evaluation showed the zero-fidelity simulation game is successful in teaching team coordination to disaster responders. Intellectual Merit Developed new understanding of how teams of disaster responders exchange information and engage in processes of distributed cognition, under conditions of real-time stress and spatial separation. Developed principles for how to present location and messaging information to members of teams of disaster responders, using mobile devices as well as larger displays. Developed the concept of zero-fidelity simulation, which focuses the resources of simulation on information exchange and team coordination, rather than graphical representations of particular contexts. Developed game designs, including game mechanics and interfaces, for simulating disaster response and teaching team coordination, and concomitant principles and implications. Developed evidence that zero-fidelity simulations, crafted from ethnographic data and iterative design, successfully teach people to communicate and coordinate as a team. Developed design implications and procedures for building zero-fidelity simulations. Developed evaluation methods for team coordination games. Developed apparatus for analysis of synchronized multi-player, multi-modal game data. Designed and constructed a wearable computing system as a platform for doing research into mobile computing. Designed and developed an evaluation game to test performance of wearable computing systems. Developed precise sensing capabilities for interaction in a 2D plane. Developed open-source cross-language type system and software framework for doing serialization, network communication, and executing user studies over the web. Broader Impact Developed methods for helping teams of disaster responders and other workers to quickly learn to collaborate better. This has the potential to save lives during disasters, as well as to more generally improve productivity and satisfaction in cooperative work. Helped particular firefighters learn to communicate better under the real time stress conditions of disaster response. Exposed over 100 disaster responders to games for training and mobile information technology, cultivating the future of mobile games and other applications as components of disaster response and training. Published as open-source, a cross-language type system and software framework for doing serialization, network communication, and executing user studies over the web. Educated one Ph.D., who then worked as a researcher in an internationally prominent disaster response organization, and subsequently is commencing a tenure track faculty position in computer science. Educated one Masters in Computer Science and Engineering, with thesis, who is now working in industry. Involved 6 undergraduates in research, two of whom have become excellent graduate students.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS)
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William Bainbridge
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Texas Engineering Experiment Station
College Station
United States
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