Talk With Experts Series: Michail Giannakos

Michail (Michalis) Giannakos is a professor of interaction design and learning technologies at the Department of Computer Science of NTNU, and Head of the Learner-Computer Interaction lab. His research focuses on the design and study of emerging technologies in online and hybrid education settings, and their connections to student and instructor experiences and practices. Giannakos has co-authored more than 150 manuscripts published in peer-reviewed journals and conferences and has served as an evaluator for the EC and the US-NSF.

He is the Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, moreover, he has served/serves in various organization committees, program committees as well as editor and guest editor on highly recognized journals (e.g., BJET, Computers in Human Behavior, IEEE TOE, IEEE TLT, ACM TOCE). He has worked at several research projects funded by diverse sources like the EC, Microsoft Research, The Research Council of Norway (RCN), US-NSF, the German agency for international academic cooperation (DAAD) and Cheng Endowment; Giannakos is also a recipient of a Marie Curie/ERCIM fellowship, the Norwegian Young Research Talent award and he is one of the outstanding academic fellows of NTNU (2017-2021).

Michail Giannakos

You are a well-known researcher in the field of educational technologies. Tell us a few things about your main R&D activities in this field.

My main research interests concern the phenomena surrounding the interaction between learners and computational and communication technologies. During the last years, I have participated in projects centering on the design, evaluation, and implementation of learning systems, and the wider impact of technology in humans’ learning capacities. Our current focus is on the utilization of sensing technologies (e.g., learners’ video, eye-tracking) to support students. During the last years the proliferation of wearable and ubiquitous devices enabled sensing to become widely available and affordable in the context of education, with a grown number of studies being published during the last years depicting the potential of these sensors based data. Previous works, such as the quantified-self movement, have also demonstrated the potential of sensor data to support humans decision making (e.g., about diet, fitness and lifestyle), and self- monitoring, -awareness and -reflection. Such utilities are crucial for teaching and learning.

Based on your expertise what are the main indicators that could show that children acquire knowledge and skills?

It is not easy to identify concrete indicators that someone can use quantitatively. Nevertheless, I can definitely say that children’s enjoyment and play during learning is of paramount importance. For teaching and learning activities to be efficient and impactful, there is a need to sustain children’s engagement and keep them motivated over time. Utilizing meaningful technologies and activities to empower children is a key for acquiring knowledge and skills. Today’s learning technologies and interactive products support active exploration helping children to practice fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and develop literacy skills such as abilities to read, write and solve problems.

Do you believe in the added value of movement-based/embodied learning?

Yes, absolutely. Advancements in motion-sensing technologies (e.g., Microsoft Kinect) have boosted the development of motion-based educational games. Researchers started to consider movement, particularly game-based, as a powerful pedagogical tool to promote children’s learning. This allows children to use their body to naturally, and playfully, interact with learning material to develop cognitive skills. Evidence suggests that the benefits of embodiment on children's learning are multifaceted. For example, for fostering increased engagement, strengthening self-confidence, and empowering more fluid problem-solving ability. The literature demonstrates that motion-based learning games yield advantages to a player's mathematical learning experience; particularly concerning enhanced problem understanding, reduced anxiety, and increased academic performance.

Is it feasible for teachers to apply movement-based learning activities in a real classroom environment? Do you have any evidence of good practice?

From our experience it is possible. It is important to have proper support at the beginning, in addition, having a properly designed room or “spot” makes it much easier for teachers to utilize motion-based learning games. We have run several studies in different schools and science museums, we always try to engage teachers and other types of instructors in these studies. Their support is extremely useful, and after a while they feel comfortable with motion-based learning games. To sum up, movement-based learning activities is a viable option for teachers and other instructors by which they can supplement current educational instruction.

How did you learn about Kinems?

Kinems is one of the pioneers in motion-based educational games, there are several articles published in the literature from different research groups, in addition, Kinems has a wide portfolio of games. It is almost impossible not to know Kinems if you work in learning technology.

How did you implement Kinems in your research?

We employed Kinems to investigate how children experience play and problem solving while playing educational motion-based educational games. From the data analysis, we identified significant differences in children’s experience during the different phases of their learning experience (e.g., play and problem solving). In addition, we explored how to provide instructors and other stakeholders (e.g., parents) with educational support, during children’s interactions with the game.

Another implementation of Kinems was to investigate the role of Play. Play is a core activity for children as it contributes to their well-being and development. Kinems (and other playful technologies) have been successful in motivating children ‘off the couch’ to support learning and recreational activities. Play promotes emotional, cognitive, language, and physical development and can be seen as a positive and natural means of engaging children in problem solving and knowledge development.

Did Kinems platform help you in finding answers to your research questions?

Absolutely. Kinems helped us to tackle the aforementioned research objectives and provided several implications for future research and practice. Kinems was smooth during our field studies and very flexible to work with. In addition, Kinems people were always eager to support us when needed.

What are the lessons you learned after utilizing Kinems in your research studies?

One of the main lessons learned is the importance to engage children’s support sphere (i.e., teachers, parents, therapist) as well as the children themselves. This makes it much easier in trying out new things and capturing children’s natural behavior. The results of our studies show differences in children’s experience during the various phases they engage with during their learning, there are different phases where children focus on the play elements of the platform and other phases where children focus on the problem solving elements of the platform. It is very important to keep those phases unfolding and smooth transitions between these phases, healthy cycles of play and problem solving allow children to stay motivated and engaged, but at the same time acquire knowledge and skills.

Can the outcomes of your research studies around Kinems be applied into a real-world classroom context?

Most (if not all) of our studies are conducted “in-the-wild”, which means that they take place in the natural environment of the children (e.g., schools, museums, public spaces). This allows us to see how Kinems and the other technologies we are employing are adapted and used in real-world contexts and what is the role of both children and their support sphere (i.e., teachers, curators, parents, therapists).

What makes Kinems unique compared to other game-based learning games?

Motion based educational games and motion based technologies in general, do have an extra difficulty in implementing them. It is not fair to compare their ease with PC applications, mobile apps or tablet apps. Such apps are mainstream and children have been using them in their homes as well. Motion based technology has tremendous potential to support learning. It offers a more natural and engaging learning experience and it's a playful way to interact with learning resources using your body, and improve your motor skills, motor-perception coordination and cognitive skills. And I found that Kinems has made it possible for instructors to take advantage of the numerous benefits of motion based educational games in an accessible way for the typical teacher manner.

Would you recommend Kinems platform to educators and superintendents and why?

Definitely, Kinems is an efficient motion based educational game platform that helps children benefiting from motion-based and embodied learning (as described above) and teachers enriching their practices. I believe that it is worth it for teachers to try Kinems and see those benefits in practice by themselves. In addition, I believe that the analytics produced can be used to improve the classroom instruction overall.


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