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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

We’re sorry, something doesn't seem to be working properly.

Please try refreshing the page. If that doesn't work, please contact support so we can address the problem.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

References

  1. Barab SA, Dede C (2007) Games and immersive participatory simulations for science education: an emerging type of curricula. J Sci Educ Technol 16(1):1–3

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Barab SA, Gresalfi M, Ingram-Goble A (2009) Transformational play: using games to position person, content, and context (Under review)

  3. Barab SA, Roth W-M (2006) Intentionally-bound systems and curricular-based ecosystems: an ecological perspective on knowing. Educ Res 35(5):3–13

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Barab SA, Sadler T, Heiselt C, Hickey D, Zuiker S (2007a) Relating narrative, inquiry, and inscriptions: a framework for socio-scientific inquiry. J Sci Educ Technol 16(1):59–82. doi:10.1007/s10956-006-9033-3

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Barab SA, Zuiker S, Warren S, Hickey D, Ingram-Goble A, Kwon E-J, Kouper I, Herring SC (2007b) Situationally embodied curriculum: relating formalisms and contexts. Sci Educ 91(5):750–782

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Barab SA, Warren S, Ingram-Goble A (2008) Conceptual play spaces. In: Ferdig R (ed) Handbook of research on effective electronic gaming in education. IGI Global publications, Hershey, pp 1–20

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bransford JD, Brown AL, Cocking RR (eds) (2002) How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. National Academy Press, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  8. Castronova E (2001) Virtual worlds: a first-hand account of market and society on the cyberian frontier. CESifo working paper series no. 618. Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research, California State University, Fullerton (December)

  9. Clarke J, Dede C (2009) Design for scalability: a case study of the River City curriculum. J Sci Educ Technol

  10. Dede C (2009) Immersive interfaces for engagement and learning. Science 323:66–69. doi:10.1126/science.1167311

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Detterman DR (1993) The case for prosecution: transfer as an epiphenomenon. In: Detterman DK, Sternberg RJ (eds) Transfer on trial: intelligence, cognition, and instruction. Ablex, Norwood

    Google Scholar 

  12. Dewey J (1938) Experience & education. Collier MacMillan, New York

    Google Scholar 

  13. Garsten C (1999) Betwixt and between: temporary employees as liminal subjects in flexible organizations. Organ Stud 20(4):601–617. doi:10.1177/0170840699204004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gee JP (2003) What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Palgrave Macmillan, New York

    Google Scholar 

  15. Gick ML, Holyoak KJ (1980) Analogical problem solving. Cognit Psychol 12(80):306–355. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(80)90013-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Greeno JG (1998) The situativity of knowing, learning and research. Am Psychol 53:5–26. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.53.1.5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Greeno JG, Smith DR, Moore JL (1992) Transfer of situated learning. In: Detterman D, Sternberg RJ (eds) Transfer on trial: intelligence, cognition, and instruction. Ablex, Norwood, pp 99–167

    Google Scholar 

  18. Hickey DT, Zuiker SJ (2003) A new perspective for evaluation of innovative science environments. Sci Educ 87(3):539–563

    Google Scholar 

  19. Hickey DT, Zuiker SJ, Taasobshirazi G, Schafer NJ, Michael MA (2006) Three is the magic number: a design-based framework for balancing formative and summative functions of assessment. Stud Educ Eval 32:180–201. doi:10.1016/j.stueduc.2006.08.006

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Ketelhut DJ (2007) The impact of student self-efficacy on scientific inquiry skills: an exploratory investigation in River City, a multi-user virtual environment. J Sci Educ Technol 16(1):99–111. doi:10.1007/s10956-006-9038-y

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Koster R et al (2000) The laws of online world design. http://www.legendmud.org/raph/gaming/

  22. Lave J (1997) The culture of acquisition and the practice of understanding. In Kirshner D, Whitson JA (eds) Situated cognition: social, semiotic, and psychological perspectives. Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, pp 63–82

    Google Scholar 

  23. Lave J, Wenger E (1991) Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  24. Lessiter J, Freeman J, Keogh E, Davidoff J (2001) A cross-media presence questionnaire: the ITC sense of presence inventory. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 10:282–297

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Lombard M, Ditton T (1997) At the heart of it all: the concept of presence. J Comput Mediat Commun 3(2):1–40

    Google Scholar 

  26. Nelson B (2007) Exploring the use of individualized, reflective guidance in an educational multi-user virtual environment. J Sci Educ Technol 16(1):83–97. doi:10.1007/s10956-006-9039-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Neulight N, Kafai YB, Kao L, Foley C, Galas C (2007) Children’s participation in a virtual epidemic in the science classroom: making connections to natural infectious diseases. J Sci Educ Technol 16(1):47–58. doi:10.1007/s10956-006-9029-z

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Nunes T (1999) Mathematics learning as the socialization of the mind. Mind Cult Act 6:33–52

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Rosenbaum E, Klopfer E, Perry J (2007) On location learning: authentic applied science with networked augmented realities. J Sci Educ Technol 16(1):31–45. doi:10.1007/s10956-006-9036-0

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Roth W-M (1996) Where is the context in contextual word problems?: mathematical practices and products in grade 8 students’ answers to story problems. Cogn Instr 14(4):487–527. doi:10.1207/s1532690xci1404_3

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Ruiz-Primo M, Shavelson R, Hamilton L, Klein S (2002) On the evaluation of systemic science education reform: searching for instructional sensitivity. J Res Sci Teach 39(5):369–393. doi:10.1002/tea.10027

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Salen K, Zimmerman E (2004) Rules of play: game design fundamentals. MIT, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  33. Schwartz D (1995) The emergence of abstract representations in dyad problem solving. J Learn Sci 4(3):321–354. doi:10.1207/s15327809jls0403_3

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Sheridan TB (1999) Descartes, Heidegger, Gibson, and God: toward an eclectic ontology of presence. Presence Teleoper Virtual Environ 8(5):551–560. doi:10.1162/105474699566468

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Squire K (2006) From content to context: videogames as designed experiences. Educ Res 35(8):19–29. doi:10.3102/0013189X035008019

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Squire KD, Jan M (2007) Mad City Mystery: developing scientific argumentation skills with a place-based augmented reality game on handheld computers. J Sci Educ Technol 16(1):5–29. doi:10.1007/s10956-006-9037-z

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Squire KD, Steinkuehler CA (2004) The genesis of ‘CyberCulture’: the case of star wars galaxies. In: Gibbs D, Krause K-L (eds) Cyberlines: languages and cultures of the internet, 2nd edn. James Nicholas, Albert Park

    Google Scholar 

  38. Steinkuehler CA (2006) Massively multiplayer online videogaming as participation in a discourse. Mind Cult Act 13(1):38–52. doi:10.1207/s15327884mca1301_4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Technology Cognition Group at Vanderbilt (1993) Anchored Instruction and situated cognition revisited. Educ Res 33:52–70

    Google Scholar 

  40. Tempest S, Starkey K (2004) The effects of liminality on individual and organizational learning. Organ Stud 25(4):507–527. doi:10.1177/0170840604040674

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Turner V (1982) From ritual to theatre: the human seriousness of play. PAJ, New York

    Google Scholar 

  42. White BY (1993) ThinkerTools: causal models, conceptual change, and science education. Cogn Instr 10:1–100. doi:10.1207/s1532690xci1001_1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Wiley J, Jensen M (2006) When three heads are better than two. Proceedings of the 28th annual conference of the cognitive science society

  44. Zuiker SJ, Barab S, Hickey DT (2007) Extending situativity: liminal episodes in embodied experiences. Paper presented at the annual convention of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL (April)

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sasha A. Barab.

Appendices

Appendix 1

Proximal Level Example Items

1. Within aquatic ecosystems there is a direct correlation between dissolved oxygen content and the population of various species of fish. Which relationship can correctly be inferred from the data presented in the graphs below?

  1. a.

    As sewage waste increases, oxygen content increases.

  2. b.

    As the carp population increases, the whitefish population increases.

  3. c.

    As oxygen content decreases, carp population decreases.

  4. d.

    As oxygen content decreases, trout population decreases.

2. A small, fast-moving river is in a V-shaped valley on the slope of a mountain. If you follow the river to where it passes through a plain, what will the river most likely look like compared with how it looked on the mountain?

  1. a.

    Much the same

  2. b.

    Deeper and faster

  3. c.

    Slower and wider

  4. d.

    Straighter

3. Which of the populations in the food-web below is most likely to increase if the number of grasshoppers decreases?

Distal Level Example Items

1. Two open bottles, one filled with vinegar and the other with olive oil, were left on a window sill in the Sun. Several days later it was observed that the bottles were no longer full. What can be concluded from this observation?

  1. a.

    Vinegar evaporates faster than olive oil.

  2. b.

    Olive oil evaporates faster than vinegar.

  3. c.

    Both vinegar and olive oil evaporate.

  4. d.

    Only liquids containing water evaporate.

2. Nuclear power plants can produce energy more cheaply and with less pollution than power plants that use fossil fuels. Why are there not more nuclear power plants than plants that burn fossil fuels?

  1. a.

    There is an endless supply of fossil fuels available.

  2. b.

    Nuclear fuels produce too little heat during the fission reaction.

  3. c.

    A pound of fossil fuel produces more energy than a pound of nuclear fuel.

  4. d.

    The problem of disposing of large amounts of nuclear waste is not resolved.

3. A community found that the mosquito population had risen considerably. They hired a pest control company to heavily spray the area. Although the insecticide was not harmful to birds, in a couple years many of the species of birds had disappeared. What is the best explanation for this?

  1. a.

    The noise from the insecticide company scared the birds away.

  2. b.

    The squirrel population increased.

  3. c.

    The mosquitoes were a food source for the birds.

  4. d.

    The insecticide filtered into the water system for the birds.

Appendix 2

Open-ended Transfer Task

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Barab, S.A., Scott, B., Siyahhan, S. et al. Transformational Play as a Curricular Scaffold: Using Videogames to Support Science Education. J Sci Educ Technol 18, 305 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-009-9171-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Educational games
  • Virtual worlds
  • Play
  • Experiment
  • Undergraduates