ArticlePDF Available

Virtual Worlds in Large Enrollment Science Classes Significantly Improve Authentic Learning

Authors:

Figures

Content may be subject to copyright.
Paper Accepted for Publication in Selected Papers from the 12th Intl. Conf. on College Teaching and Learning (Jack
A. Chambers, Editor). Jacksonville, FL, April 17-21, 2001: Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.
Virtual Worlds in Large Enrollment Science Classes
Significantly Improve Authentic Learning
Phillip McClean, Bernhardt Saini-Eidukat, Donald Schwert, Brian Slator, Alan White
North Dakota State University
INTRODUCTION
An emerging pedagogy, authentic instruction (Brown et al., 1989), defines an approach
that treats content as support knowledge needed to solve challenging, real-world problems.
Authentic instruction places the learner in the environment of the doer, and while in that
environment the learner assimilates the practices and beliefs associated with a particular
discipline. This assimilation is a direct result of the learner performing activities unique to that
discipline. For example, to learn cell biology, the learner would visit a lab filled with the
equipment and reagents and perform authentic cell biology experiments.
Unfortunately, to offer such an experience to a large number of students is prohibitively
expensive. The challenge for geology teaching is even more daunting: it is impossible to
transport hundreds of students to the many physical environments necessary to perform those
relatively simple, but unique experiments that are necessary to support problem solving.
Without these economic limitations, authentic learning would support the active engagement of
student-centered collaborative learning of the principles and practices that define science and its
discipline. So what options are available to provide authentic learning in our cost-constrained
educational institutions?
Properly designed computer-aided courseware that render cell biology laboratories or
geological worlds can potentially support authentic instruction anywhere a monitor is available.
Importantly the cost of the authentic experience is then pro-rated into the technology budget of
the school. Therefore the educator is challenged to either identify off-the-shelf software that
supports the authentic learning pedagogy or develop new courseware. At North Dakota State
University (NDSU), the World Wide Web Instructional Committee (WWWIC) chose the latter
approach. Here we provide evidence from large experiments that graphical or text-based virtual
worlds designed to support authentic instruction in cell biology and geology can significantly
improve the student’s ability to solve authentic problems associated with those two disciplines.
DESCRIPTION OF THE STUDY
The WWWIC (http://www.ndsu.edu/wwwic) is a multi-disciplinary group of NDSU
faculty engaged in the development of virtual/visual worlds for science education that
communicate both the scientific method and discipline-specific content and are role-based, goal-
oriented, learner-oriented, immersive, and exploratory (Slator et al., 1999). The worlds employ
consistent elements across disciplines and, as a consequence, foster the sharing of development
plans and development tools. Of particular interest for the experiments described here are two
virtual worlds, the Virtual Cell (White et al., 1999) and the Geology Explorer (Schwert et al.,
1999). Each is hosted on the Internet and has the capability of multi-user interactions. The
common technology is a LambdaMoo (MUD Object Oriented; Curtis, 1998) server and database
that contains the contextual material (help file and experimental output data) and controls the
single and multi-user connectivity and interactivity. For the Virtual Cell (http://vcell.ndsu.edu),
LambdaMoo also manages the three-dimensional display of VRML worlds representing a virtual
laboratory, the interior of the cell and its organelles. The display of the world and its direct
interactivity is managed by a Java applet. The version of the Geology Explorer used in the
experiments described here utilized the textual interface features of LambdaMoo. A graphical
version of the Geology Explorer is now available (http://oit.cs.ndsu.nodak.edu/).
The basic experimental design for the Virtual Cell and Geology Explorer experiments
were nearly identical. Student volunteers were recruited from a large-enrollment introductory-
level general science class (General Biology or Physical Geology) with the offer of extra credit
points. The Virtual Cell experiment was performed with two sections taught simultaneously by
different instructors, whereas the Geology Explorer experiment was involved a single section.
Each student volunteer and non-volunteer completed a pre-treatment scenario-based assessment
exercise. These exercises were problem-based questions specific to one of the disciplines. (Visit
http://www.ndsu.edu/wwwic/vc/evaluation/eval2.htm for the Virtual Cell scenarios.)
Within each course, the volunteers were assigned randomly to one of two groups based
on data from a student-completed survey (http://www.ndsu.edu/wwwic/vc/evaluation/eval1.htm)
that characterized their computer literacy, gender, and prior laboratory experience. The Virtual
Cell group completed authentic Organelle Identity and Cellular Respiration activities in the
virtual world, and the WWW group performed two computer-based World Wide Web exercises
that required a similar amount of time with computer-based activities. The Geology Explorer
group was assigned a single authentic mineral identification activity, and the corresponding
Alternative completed an exercise requiring WWW-based activities. For both experiments, non-
volunteers formed the control group and performed no additional educational activities. About
one month after the activities were completed and just prior to the end of the semester, students
completed post-intervention scenario-based assessments. A total of 334 and 368 students
participated in the Virtual Cell and Geology Explorer experiments, respectively. Multiple
student graders trained against a standard approach scored the pre- and post-intervention scenario
assessments. For both experiments, a score of 100 was indicative of the score a professional in
the field would obtain. Because a significant correlation of scores for the Virtual Cell graders
was observed, the mean score was used as the experimental observation. A separate goal of the
Geology Explorer experiment was to evaluate fourteen assessment scenarios (as opposed to just
one used for the Virtual Cell experiment). Because of smaller sample size per scenario, reliable
correlations of grader scores within a scenario could not be obtained. Therefore, the scores of
each grader were evaluated separately.
FINDINGS
Two-way analyzes of variance (ANOVA) were performed to determine if any significant
Virtual Cell treatment effects could be detected. The observation that the means between the two
class sections were not significant implies the teaching approaches by the instructors in the two
sections did not confound the student scenario assessments scores. The ANOVA also
demonstrated the post-intervention mean score of the Virtual Cell group was significantly higher
than the corresponding score for the WWW and Control groups (Table 1). This large experiment
TABLE 1
Mean post-intervention scenario scores for 1999 Virtual Cell
experiment with NDSU Biology 150 (General Biology) students.
Module
Mean Organelle Identification Cellular Respiration
Control
a
17.4a 10.6a
WWW
19.7b 13.7b
VCell
22.7c 17.3c
a
Treatment population sizes are: Control=145; WWW=94; and Virtual Cell=93.
Within any column, any two means followed by the same letter are not significantly
different at P=0.05 using the LSD mean separation test.
clearly demonstrates the Virtual Cell experience had a significantly positive effect on the ability
of students to solve problems in the mode of a cell biologist. The fact that the Virtual Cell group
mean was significantly higher than the WWW group strongly suggests the improved ability was
not simply the result of computer-based time-on-task, but rather was directly related to the
Virtual Cell experience. In addition, the results demonstrate the WWW group mean scores were
significantly higher than those of the control group. Because of several confounding factors, it is
more difficult to adequately explain these mean performance differences. This difficulty,
though, does not diminish the significant improvement in performance demonstrated by the
students who used the Virtual Cell.
For the Geology Explorer experiment, the data was analyzed by Analysis of Covariance
to adjust for variation associated with pre-intervention scenario assessment score and variation
associated with varying degree of difficulty of the fourteen post-scenario assessments (versus
one for the Virtual Cell experiment). Consistent with the results of the Virtual Cell experiment,
the mean post-intervention scores for those students completing Geology Explorer goals were
significantly higher than the alternative and control groups (Table 2). Although the means of the
three graders varied, the trend of Geology Explorer students performing better on the authentic
assessments was consistent. Unlike the Virtual Cell experiment, the control and alternative
group mean scores were not significantly different.
TABLE 2
Mean post-intervention scenario scores for 1998 Geology Explorer
experiment with NDSU Geology 105 (Physical Geology) students.
Grader
Mean One Two Three
Control
a
25.1a 25.5a 44.5a
Alternative
29.3a 27.0a 42.6a
Geology Explorer
40.5b 35.4b 53.4b
a
Treatment
population sizes are: Control=195; Alternative=95; and
Geology Explorer=78. Within any column, any two means followed by
the same letter are not significantly different at P=0.05 using the
Duncan’s multiple range mean separation test.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Given the consistent experimental approach we have employed, we conclude the use of
virtual worlds designed as active, authentic learning environments can positively impact student
learning. Although we describe a computer-based approach to authentic learning, in general we
recommend authentic learning as a component of science learning. The one-time cost of the
technology is expensive, but it is not a recurring cost such as annually funding laboratory
exercises or transporting students to remote learning sites. For upper division courses with
smaller enrollments, these traditional approaches may still be economically feasible, but we
would advocate the transitioning to a virtual world approach for larger enrollment classes.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This research was supported in part by National Science Foundation grants DUE–
9752548, EAR-9809761, and DUE-9981094.
REFERENCES
Brown, J. S., A. Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning.
Educational Researcher, 18, 32-42.
Curtis, P. l. (1998). Not just a game: How LambdaMOO came to exist and what it did to get
back at me. In C. Haynes & J. R. Holmevik (Eds.), High Wired (pp. 25-42). Ann Arbor,MI:
University of Michigan Press.
Schwert, D.P., B.M. Slator, & B. Saini-Eidukat. (1999). A virtual world for earth science
education in secondary and post-secondary environments: the Geology Explorer (pp 519-525).
Proceedings of the International Conference on Mathematics/Science Education &Technology,
March 1-4, San Antonio, TX.
Slator, B.M., P. Juell, P. McClean, B. Saini-Eidukat, D. Schwert, A. White, & C. Hill. (1999).
Virtual worlds for education. Journal of Network and Computer Applications, 22:161-174.
White, A., P. McClean, & B. M. Slator. (1999). The Virtual Cell: an interactive, virtual
environment for cell biology (pp 1444-1445). Proceedings of the World Conference on Ed
Media and Hypermedia (ED-MEDIA 99), June 19-24, Seattle, WA.
... Authentic learning places the learner in the environment of the doer, assimilating the skills and beliefs about a particular discipline or profession (McClean, Saini-Eidukat, Schwert, Slator, & White, 2001). This approach typically focuses on real-life, multi-faceted problems with learners working toward their solution often by using role-playing, scenario-based activities, illustrative case studies, or through participating in virtual communities of practice. ...
... A number of projects are already exploring the potential of haptic feedback in these environments (Warburton, 2009). Thus virtual worlds can act as authentic environments for problem-solving but are not necessarily authentic for developing practical skills (McClean, Saini-Eidukat, Schwert, Slator, & White, 2001). ...
Chapter
There is considerable hype around the purported affordances of virtual worlds to facilitate authentic learning in a variety of discipline areas. Though at first glance, virtual worlds look as if they would provide an ideal environment for this type of learning, in reality there are a number of factors that need to be considered in relation to these claims. As Sherry Turkle suggests, even though new technologies provide opportunities for being and learning, there is a risk that because the virtual is deliberately compelling, we believe that we are achieving more than we actually are (Turkle, 1995). Though experiences in virtual worlds can be immersive and engaging, they still may not be authentically educative for the user (Jackson & Lalioti, 2000). This chapter examines the claims surrounding authentic learning in virtual worlds with a view to determining their veracity.
... Gamification in education can be successfully applied to all levels from Primary Education [79], High School [80], to college [81] and in diverse fields of knowledge such as Biology [82], Programming [83], numerical methods [81] or electromagnetism [84]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Learning how to program in Primary Education has attracted significant research in recent years. It is unclear though how programming environments and languages should be adapted to children to achieve better learning and use, but one trend seems to be the use of Scratch. The question in this paper is what programming environment can be used to continue teaching programming to children who have already been taught Scratch for years. This paper’s proposal is that students aged between 10 and 12 can benefit from interacting with a friendly learning companion using p-code such as Alcody. The hypothesis is that students (aged between 10 and 12) with a knowledge of Scratch will be able to significantly improve their scores by using a learning companion to teach them how to program even during the COVID-19 pandemic. To check the hypothesis, an experiment was carried out during the 2019/2020 academic year with 137 students in Ecuador. A significant improvement in the scores of the students was recorded together with high satisfaction.
... Games have long been considered good learning tools and their usage in education has been studied for more than a decade. Research shows that games can both be used to engage students and increase their activity and learning outcomes, at diverse academic levels, ranging from grade school [24], through high school [25], to college [26], and in diverse fields of learning, such as numerical methods [26], biology [27], programing [28], or electromagnetism [29]. Drawing on these pedagogical benefits, gamification was soon adopted in education to engage learners, with prominent examples being Khan Academy 3 and Codecademy 4 . ...
Article
Full-text available
Gamified learning is a novel concept that according to recent studies, can increase student activity and improve learning outcomes. However, little is known about how different students experience and are engaged by it. We present a long-term study which identified distinct behavioral and performance patterns in participants taking a gamified college course. Our study lasted for three years, during which we deployed three consecutive instances of the course, each featuring improvements based on student feedback from the previous instances. To understand how different students behaved in our gamified experience, according to their daily performance, we performed cluster analysis and assessed student engagement in the last year using a formal instrument. We then did a cluster-wise analysis using different performance and behavioral measures, to further assess and characterize every cluster. To wit, we identified six different student clusters, each featuring different behaviors and performance levels. However, only four were present in the last year, which differed in terms of engagement with the course. In this paper we carefully describe each student cluster, explain how they evolved and derive meaningful design lessons.
... Games have long been considered good learning tools and their usage in education has been studied for more than a decade. Research shows that games can both be used to engage students and increase their activity and learning outcomes, at diverse academic levels, ranging from grade school [24], through high school [25], to college [26], and in diverse fields of learning, such as numerical methods [26], biology [27], programing [28], or electromagnetism [29]. Drawing on these pedagogical benefits, gamification was soon adopted in education to engage learners, with prominent examples being Khan Academy 3 and Codecademy 4 . ...
Article
Full-text available
State of the art research shows that gamified learning can be used to engage students and help them perform better. However, most studies use a one-size-fits-all approach to gamification, where individual differences and needs are ignored. In a previous study, we identified four types of students attending a gamified college course, characterized by different levels of performance, engagement and behavior. In this paper, we present a new experiment where we study what data best characterizes each of our student types and explore if this data can be used to predict a student's type early in the course. To this end, we used machine-learning algorithms to classify student data from one term and predict the students' type on another term. We identified two sets of relevant features that best describe our types, one containing only performance measurements and another also containing data regarding the students' gaming preferences. Results show that performance alone can be used to predict student type with 79 percent accuracy by midterm. However, its accuracy improves when paired with gaming data at earlier stages of the course. In this paper, we clearly describe our findings and discuss the lessons learned from this experiment.
... Rather than assuming that the rapid proliferation of sophisticated technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers into every facet of society is the cause of student attention deficit (Griffin, 2014), educators should be open to new possibilities to teach and educate (Squire, 2003; de Aguilera and Mendiz, 2003). Findings of independent experiments performed in secondary and higher education settings showed that students who were subjects to learning with video games reported significant improvements in subject understanding, diligence, and motivation (Barata et al., 2013; Coller and Shernoff, 2009; Kebritchi et al., 2008; Lee et al., 2004; McClean et al., 2001; Squire et al., 2004). In the same way that games help stimulate the production of dopamine, a chemical that is considered to play a key role in motivation, affect and learning (Wimmer et al., 2014), educational techniques which access the same methodologies could result in learning-reward cycles (Gee, 2003) by reinforcing neuronal connections and communications during learning activity (NMC Horizon Report, 2013 ). ...
Article
Full-text available
Conventional taught learning practices often experience difficulties in keeping students motivated and engaged. Video games, however, are very successful at sustaining high levels of motivation and engagement through a set of tasks for hours without apparent loss of focus. In addition, gamers solve complex problems within a gaming environment without feeling fatigue or frustration, as they would typically do with a comparable learning task. Based on this notion, the academic community is keen on exploring methods that can deliver deep learner engagement and has shown increased interest in adopting gamification – the integration of gaming elements, mechanics, and frameworks into non-game situations and scenarios – as a means to increase student engagement and improve information retention. Its effectiveness when applied to education has been debatable though, as attempts have generally been restricted to one-dimensional approaches such as transposing a trivial reward system onto existing teaching materials and/or assessments. Nevertheless, a gamified, multi-dimensional, problem-based learning approach can yield improved results even when applied to a very complex and traditionally dry task like the teaching of computer programming, as shown in this paper. The presented quasi-experimental study used a combination of instructor feedback, real time sequence of scored quizzes, and live coding to deliver a fully interactive learning experience. More specifically, the “Kahoot!” Classroom Response System (CRS), the classroom version of the TV game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”, and Codecademy’s interactive platform formed the basis for a learning model which was applied to an entry-level Python programming course. Students were thus allowed to experience multiple interlocking methods similar to those commonly found in a top quality game experience. To assess gamification’s impact on learning, empirical data from the gamified group were compared to those from a control group who was taught through a traditional learning approach, similar to the one which had been used during previous cohorts. Despite this being a relatively small-scale study, the results and findings for a number of key metrics, including attendance, downloading of course material, and final grades, were encouraging and proved that the gamified approach was motivating and enriching for both students and instructors.
Chapter
Situated in the video game design literature to foster problem-based learning, this chapter illustrates the application of educational theories to create Serious Educational Games (SEGs). SEGs present a learning condition where students can be engaged in standard-based STEM concepts and incorporate these concepts into a fun, interactive challenge where the goal is to solve a problem. This chapter explores a theoretical research investigation of such a learning environment. Students researched standard-based STEM concepts then used design techniques (i.e., story creation, flow chart, decision trees, and storyboarding techniques) and proprietary software to develop their own SEGs. This work sheds light on the process and encourages others to partake in creating similar learning environments, while providing insight into how to design for sustainability.
Chapter
Executive SummarySituated in the video game design literature to foster problem-based learning, this chapter illustrates the application of educational theories to create Serious Educational Games (SEGs). SEGs present a learning condition where students can be engaged in standard-based STEM concepts and incorporate these concepts into a fun, interactive challenge where the goal is to solve a problem. This chapter explores a theoretical research investigation of such a learning environment. Students researched standard-based STEM concepts then used design techniques (i.e., story creation, flow chart, decision trees, and storyboarding techniques) and proprietary software to develop their own SEGs. This work sheds light on the process and encourages others to partake in creating similar learning environments, while providing insight into how to design for sustainability.
Chapter
Full-text available
Teaching various topics using gamification elements or Game-Based Learning (GBL) methods is a top trend nowadays. Gamification has shown great results towards this direction, however, the usage of GBL methods has not been sufficiently studied for the effectiveness of the learning process. This study examines how instructional design could be applied and how computer games could be a learning environment for acquiring the basic skills and experience in fundamental cybersecurity topics. Towards this direction, this research aspires to discover how specific computer games, designed as simulations, could be converted into virtual learning environments and enhance the learning process, by increasing the levels of motivation and engagement of undergraduate students in the topics of cybersecurity. Computer games are appropriate for creating effective virtual learning environments specific to cybersecurity, providing positive learning outcomes. More specifically, in this study a commercial computer game is evaluated for the effectiveness of using GBL to the learning process. The result of this approach is a learning experience, featuring positive outcomes in terms of engagement and distinct impact in terms of perceived learning. For this study, the ARCS motivation model was used, for evaluating motivation levels and for investigating potential attributes which are related to perceived learning, knowledge and skill acquisition.
Article
Many teaching practices implicitly assume that conceptual knowledge can be abstracted from the situations in which it is learned and used. This article argues that this assumption inevitably limits the effectiveness of such practices. Drawing on recent research into cognition as it is manifest in everyday activity, the authors argue that knowledge is situated, being in part a product of the activity, context, and culture in which it is developed and used. They discuss how this view of knowledge affects our understanding of learning, and they note that conventional schooling too often ignores the influence of school culture on what is learned in school. As an alternative to conventional practices, they propose cognitive apprenticeship (Collins, Brown, & Newman, in press), which honors the situated nature of knowledge. They examine two examples of mathematics instruction that exhibit certain key features of this approach to teaching.
The Virtual Cell: an interactive, virtual environment for cell biology (pp 1444-1445)
  • A White
  • P Mcclean
  • B M Slator
White, A., P. McClean, & B. M. Slator. (1999). The Virtual Cell: an interactive, virtual environment for cell biology (pp 1444-1445). Proceedings of the World Conference on Ed Media and Hypermedia (ED-MEDIA 99), June 19-24, Seattle, WA.
Virtual worlds for education
  • B M Slator
  • P Juell
  • P Mcclean
  • B Saini-Eidukat
  • D Schwert
  • A White
  • C Hill
Slator, B.M., P. Juell, P. McClean, B. Saini-Eidukat, D. Schwert, A. White, & C. Hill. (1999). Virtual worlds for education. Journal of Network and Computer Applications, 22:161-174.