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

  • Sasha A. Barab
  • Brianna Scott
  • Sinem Siyahhan
  • Robert Goldstone
  • Adam Ingram-Goble
  • Steven J. Zuiker
  • Scott Warren


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 



This research was supported in part by a CAREER Grant from the National Science Foundation, and directly by National Science Foundation Grants #9980081, #052792, and #0092831, Department of Education Grant R305H050116, and by an internal grant from Indiana University. Thanks to Dan Hickey, Anna Arici, and Ellen Jameson who helped design the world and measures as part of previous studies. This research was funded by an NSF ROLE grant 0092831 to the first author, and NSF REESE Grant 0910218 to the fourth author. Also, special thanks to Dan Hickey for helping with the assessments and to Anna Arici for her help with the comparison curriculum.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sasha A. Barab
    • 1
  • Brianna Scott
    • 1
  • Sinem Siyahhan
    • 1
  • Robert Goldstone
    • 1
  • Adam Ingram-Goble
    • 1
  • Steven J. Zuiker
    • 2
  • Scott Warren
    • 3
  1. 1.School of EducationIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Learning Sciences LabNational Institute of EducationSingaporeSingapore
  3. 3.Learning TechnologiesUniversity of North TexasDentonUSA

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