NARST News II: Virtual Worlds for Learning Science

| May 19, 2010

Today, I attended a session featuring Chris Dede, Yasmin Kafai and Melissa Gresalfi in which they discussed their current work related to science education as well as provided an overview of where such technologies have come from and the current landscape.�

Gresalfi presented on behalf of the Quest Atlantis (QA) group and discussed the design of the world as representing problem based learning and how they design for engagement. Specifically, in school procedural engagement and conceptual engagement are the focus. However, when designing the quests for QA, the designers argue that not only do you need both of those strategies, they also adopt  two additional goals for engagement (1)consequential engagement: connect tool use to implications (what does ph level tell me about why fish dying?) and (2)critical engagement: decision making on students part as agents of change within the space. So from a development perspective, I think that these design frameworks provide insight toward future expectations of learners when they enter learning spaces.

Chris Dede provided information on two of his current works. One being a science virtual world called ecoMUVE based in real locations in the community as spaces to interact with relevant science problems. Questions around transfer from the virtual world to the real world were discussed indicating that there is really no definitive research around this topic. Dede spoke of a study done with RiverCity that had shown results to support near transfer but because the focus currently seems to be around developing these spaces, more research around transfer will be a future direction for study. The second project Dede spoke about included an assessment focused project, which they have so far created three immersive worlds as a summative assessment application for science learning. Specifically, students would face a problem and have 90 minutes to use science inquiry skills to solve the issue. This project is an example of the pioneering work that is happening around using virtual applications to collect more robust data around student interactions with content far beyond what paper and pencil tests can measure. It is still in early stages and they need to test the algorithm that matches the database of student actions in the space with an inquiry framework and can accurately recognize and distinguish such skill sets are unknown at this stage but will no doubt be figured out in the near future.�

Kafai provided an overview of how games and  virtual spaces have developed and the state if things currently. She covered:   �
Games in education
Games and content/ inquiry skills �
Games and participation
This section made me wonder about the adoption and sustainability of virtual environments and games in future learning experiences. Will assessment be a driving feature of how these applications chisel a role within educational contexts? As Dede mentioned, barcodes and electronic technology voided the need for physical inventory and similarly these applications have the potential to be used as continuous robust formative assessments and change the way we can asses skill–we just need to break ground in creating a system that can support it which is the issue being studied now.    �