In this paper, we describe a system that integrates physical worlds (physical cities) and virtual worlds (digital cities), and its applications to supporting group learning. We have so far constructed several systems for supporting collaborative learning. One of the aims of CSCL (Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning) is to promote mutual learning through interactions and discussions among learners. Our previous experiments, however, have shown that these systems may not be so effective for supporting interactions and discussions at times. In order to enhance interactions further, a system should support externalization of each learner in an easily recognizable manner. Through such externalization, learners can actively collaborate or conflict with each other through discussions.
The proposed system integrates a board game and a computer simulation, is used for studying urban planning and environmental problems. Each learner externalizes and represents his/her own ideas on a board game, which allows him/her to actively participate in a learning situation and to share the representations with other learners. The computer simulation calculates and visualizes the status of the city being constructed on the board game, in terms of air pollution, water pollution, etc..
Thirty fifth-grade pupils who had studied environmental problems in school participated in the experiments. The experiments showed that our system is effective for enhancing interactions, activating discussions, and raises learners’ engagement.