Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 305-320

First online:

Transformational Play as a Curricular Scaffold: Using Videogames to Support Science Education

  • Sasha A. BarabAffiliated withSchool of Education, Indiana University Email author 
  • , Brianna ScottAffiliated withSchool of Education, Indiana University
  • , Sinem SiyahhanAffiliated withSchool of Education, Indiana University
  • , Robert GoldstoneAffiliated withSchool of Education, Indiana University
  • , Adam Ingram-GobleAffiliated withSchool of Education, Indiana University
  • , Steven J. ZuikerAffiliated withLearning Sciences Lab, National Institute of Education
  • , Scott WarrenAffiliated withLearning Technologies, University of North Texas

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Drawing on game-design principles and an underlying situated theoretical perspective, we developed and researched a 3D game-based curriculum designed to teach water quality concepts. We compared undergraduate student dyads assigned randomly to four different instructional design conditions where the content had increasingly level of contextualization: (a) expository textbook condition, (b) simplistic framing condition, (c) immersive world condition, and (d) a single-user immersive world condition. Results indicated that the immersive-world dyad and immersive-world single user conditions performed significantly better than the electronic textbook group on standardized items. The immersive-world dyad condition also performed significantly better than either the expository textbook or the descriptive framing condition on a performance-based transfer task, and performed significantly better than the expository textbook condition on standardized test items. Implications for science education, and consistent with the goals of this special issue, are that immersive game-based learning environments provide a powerful new form of curriculum for teaching and learning science.


Educational games Virtual worlds Play Experiment Undergraduates