A WEB-BASED GAME TO IMPROVE LEARNING OF DRIVER BEHAVIOR AND CONTROL AT SIGNALIZED INTERSECTIONS
Web games provide a platform for creative instructional activities that can capture the students‟ attention towards the course. These games can be used to emulate the realistic situations which can be used as effective lab experiments that could give the students a hands-on experience using real world scenarios. This paper presents a web game that complements a Traffic Engineering course. The game format is carefully designed to supplement the class learning in a fun environment. The paper also provides a methodological framework for collecting data about student engagement in the game and their views on using different learning technologies for educational purpose.
The field of engineering requires a high level of practical knowledge to be able to sustain and yield good results. In particular, the Transportation Engineering field requires thorough practical knowledge to build a sound understanding of the principles that are taught in the class. In general, in engineering majors, practical knowledge is imparted through carefully designed experiments conducted in the laboratories. However, it is not always easy to have practical examples that are of complex nature to be undertaken in the laboratories. Since the real time environment is totally different from the lab environment, most cases are limited by constraints. The same applies to transportation engineering. Although analysis of traffic stream and traffic signals can be done through simulation, it may be difficult for beginners to work through simulations and understand the concepts.
To bridge this gap, one viable solution is the development of a web game. The Computer-based Educational Games can be modeled to deliver specific learning objectives and paves way for adaptive learning and role-play and simulations(1). It is possible to create environments that can replicate real world scenarios, which can help students to easily gain experience. Web games also provide a platform for creative instructional activities that can capture the students‟ attention towards the course topics. Introduction of inquiry-based learning approach in an engineering course titled Simulations and Statistical Analysis was facilitated with the help of a WebQuest, a pedagogical tool for web-enabled inquiry-based learning and was found to motivate student and achieve beneficial auxiliary outcomes(2). Games can be recreational, engaging, and educational. The introduction of a game into a course can motivate students toward understanding the course material (3). Well-crafted games can transfer knowledge in an efficient way and help students understand the concepts better , as shown in tests with increased scores compared to students who follow traditional text book learning (4). Some courses require a lot of repetition of the same concept for different problems and this practicing is often assumed to lead to proficiency in the concept. But more often than not students tend to not like this approach. A more amicable way is to encapsulate practice in a game context. Games appear to be effective teaching tools for concepts which requires repetition for proficiency like the Statics Calculation Procedures (5).
Even though games can be quite effective, motivating and simpler to administrate, it‟s not always good to replace the traditional textbooks with them. Games should be used as supplements that would encourage the students understand the course and enjoy the course(6). Following these guidelines, this paper describes a web game that could be used in a transportation course to help the students understand basic traffic engineering concepts.
When traffic signals change from green to yellow, drivers have to decide whether they can safely stop (at an acceptable deceleration rate) or continue and clear the stop line before the start of red. The decision mainly depends on parameters such as the distance from the stop bar, speed at which they are travelling, acceleration rates and deceleration rates, etc. Different drivers have a different perception of the right decision whether to stop or to go. For example, conservative drivers tend to stop if there is a slight doubt in their minds; if the driver is aggressive he or she will try to cross the intersection even at a slight possibility, etc. So it is hard to predict the driver decision at the onset of yellow.
The decision to be made is relatively easy when the driver is close to the intersection or far away from the intersection. But in the interim distances the driver falls into ambiguity whether to stop or go ahead. This zone of ambiguity is called the “Dilemma Zone.” The probability of accidents to occur is high in this zone. Generally two types of accidents occur: 1) rear end collision, when the driver in front decides to stop and the driver behind decides to go ahead, and 2) right angle collision, when the driver decides to cross the intersection and unknowingly runs the red light and collides with the conflicting traffic. Students are taught about the dilemma zone in the class through conventional teaching methods. Textbook only gives a general idea of dilemma zone as a definition and at best a static pictorial representation. These methods may sometimes be confusing to the students. The game on the other hand attempts to provide a visual representation of the dilemma zone and the traffic in the dilemma zone, which is helpful for the students to completely understand the situational meaning of the concept.
The paper is organized as follows. Section 2.3 gives the description of the game with the focus on the different functionalities of each of the components of the game including what they are aiming to achieve as an outcome. Section 2.4 gives details about the software design of the game. Section 2.5 discusses the assessment of the game, its futuristic goals and the procedure the assessment is going to take for the evaluation of the impact of the game on students. Section 2.6 includes the observations and feedback of the graduate students in the pilot study conducted for the initial evaluation of the game. Section 2.7 concludes the paper with the conclusions and scope for further research.
DESCRIPTION OF THE GAME
The game is to let the student understand what might be the drivers‟ decision at the onset of yellow depending upon the existing traffic conditions. The player who is playing the game has to determine the safe time to give the yellow signal so that the least number of cars in the dilemma zone exist and the hazard for the traffic is minimized. The most general zone of dilemma is considered to be 2 to 6 seconds of time to reach the intersection and these values are used in the paper as the lower and upper boundaries, respectively. When the drivers are caught in this zone at the onset of yellow their judgment cannot be clearly defined and research is being done on this issue to reduce this zone. The game is programmed so that it retrieves the decision of the driver from a pre-loaded database which is described in the later paragraphs of the paper. A hazard function is programmed as a dependent on the time to the intersection of each vehicle present in the traffic present in the dilemma zone. The hazard function calculates the hazard value for the traffic and renders it onto the screen. The game also gives a visual idea to the player about the general picture of the real world traffic and how individual drivers try to adjust their speeds depending upon the headway from the car ahead of them. The game helps the player visually recognize the basic traffic parameters that decide the signal settings like the acceleration of the traffic, deceleration of the traffic, time to stop bar, etc. The game has two databases in the background which help to collect the information and send decisions to the traffic. The GUI of the game is shown in Figure 2-1.
The game is presented to the player through a web page. The player starts the game by giving the green signal to the traffic. This sets the traffic stream moving. Figure 2-2 shows the screen shot of the game when the green signal button is pressed to start the game. Traffic in the game only consists of cars that move at different speeds (random speeds) so as to bring in randomness as in real world. The player has to then decide when to set the yellow signal at the best possible instant in such a way the hazard for the traffic is minimum. When the yellow signal is given the program records the information of the traffic stream to a database. Depending on the position of each of the cars from the intersection the program decides whether the cars are in the safe zone of the approach or the dilemma zone. If a car is found to be in the safe zone, i.e, if the driver can make a deterministic decision of whether to stop or proceed to cross the intersection, the decision is sent back to the respective cars. But if a car is found to be in the dilemma zone then the program control moves to the other database where the driver decision is already stored. The probability of the drivers‟ stopping at the intersection is calculated from normally distributed curve which depends on variable, the time to the intersection, and stored in the database for a mentioned range of 2 to 6 seconds. This decision variable is retrieved and sent to the respective cars. Depending upon the decision variable the cars in the traffic either speed up to cross the intersection or slow down and come to a halt at the intersection. The program logic in the game is made in such a way so as to avoid the vertical stacking of the cars at the intersection which makes the game look like a real world queuing of the traffic at the intersections. Figure 2-3 shows the diagram of program control.
An interesting part of the game is the hazard function that calculates the hazard value for the traffic present. The game provides instant feedback of the hazard value for the player by rendering it into the screen. This function is dependent on the time to the intersection of each of the cars present. The competitive part is that players must aim to bring down the hazard value for the traffic to as low as possible. This induces a sense of curiosity in the players and tries to capture their attention as to what is happening in the background. The help files provided give all the basic definitions that the hazard function is dependent upon and the variables that are considered when installing a traffic signal controller in the real world. This in turn helps the students to get acquainted with the most general traffic signal controller settings used.
The main aim of the game presented is to motivate students towards education and make the educational environment a recreational activity. To serve the purpose of imparting education through this game, help files are presented to the students in the game. The help files provide the students with definitions of the traffic stream parameters, car-following models and definitions related to the decision variables of the traffic controllers. These files provide students who play the game with an insight into what is going on in the background of the game. For example, the game presents the students with a visual display for the traffic and how each of the cars present in the traffic follow the car ahead of them without colliding into each other. In Transportation Engineering there are models developed for representing the car-following behaviors. These models are presented in the help files so that the students who play the game can get acquainted with them after playing the game (visually watching them move on the screen).
SOFTWARE USED TO DEVELOP THE GAME AND THE MAIN FUNCTIONALITIES
The game is programmed in C# ASP.Net. Microsoft Access was chosen to create the two databases used in the game. The game architecture used in the game is the three-tier architecture which is a part of N-tier architecture of the .NET framework(7). The user interface is created using ASP. This renders the game onto the screen. The second layer is the User Control developed in Visual C#. A class library project has been programmed in such a way that it acts as a medium between the lower layer, the databases, and the upper layer, the web interface. The three tier architecture is chosen to make the databases more secured on the web. Figure (3) shows the software architecture used in the game.
The class library project that runs behind the scenes is created as a User Control that directs the actions on the screen is written in Visual C#(8), a module in Visual Studio 2005. The User Control has different components programmed. Only the main components of the programmed portion are described in this section since the main aim of the paper is not about programming. As mentioned in section 3, the game is started by indicating the green signal. The green signal is created as a button and programmed to initialize different variables to default values and triggers the movement of the traffic on the screen. When the yellow signal button is clicked it will direct the program to store certain values in the database and search and retrieve the decision parameters from the database (a more detailed explanation of the database is given in the following paragraph). When the red signal button is clicked it will direct the traffic to come to a halt at the intersection. A time-space diagram for each car is rendered on to the screen through a third party graph tool (9). The graph portion is programmed to be updated for every tenth of a second depending upon the movements of the cars.
As stated earlier, the program contains two databases. These databases are designed using Microsoft Access–a Microsoft database management tool. One database is used to collect the information of the traffic stream at the instant the yellow signal is given. The information collected by the database is the speed of each car, distance from the intersection of each car and the time it would take for the car to reach the intersection if it would continue at the same speed at the instant the yellow signal is given.
1.1 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES:
1.2 THESIS CONTRIBUTION:
1.3 THESIS ORGANIZATION:
2. A WEB-BASED GAME TO IMPROVE LEARNING OF DRIVER BEHAVIOR AND CONTROL AT SIGNALIZED INTERSECTIONS
2.3 DESCRIPTION OF THE GAME
2.4 SOFTWARE USED TO DEVELOP THE GAME AND THE MAIN FUNCTIONALITIES
2.6 INITIAL ASSESSMENT
2.7 CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE WORK
3. DEVELOPMENT OF A WEB-BASED GAME FOR TRAFFIC SIGNAL OPERATION AND CONTROL
3.3 DESCRIPTION OF THE GAME
3.4 SOFTWARE USED TO DEVELOP THE GAME AND THE MAIN FUNCTIONALITIES
4. GAME-AIDED PEDAGOGY TO IMPROVE STUDENTS‟ LEARNING OUTCOMES AND ENGAGEMENT IN TRAFFIC ENGINEERING
4.3 DESCRIPTION OF THE GAME
4.4 SOFTWARE USED TO DEVELOP THE GAME AND THE MAIN FUNCTIONALITIES
4.6 STUDENT ASSESSMENT
4.7 CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK
5. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
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IMPROVING DILEMMA ZONE PROTECTION CONTROL ISSUES AT SIGNALIZED INTERSECTION USING A WEB-GAME