ISLS Annual Meeting 2021
Reflecting the Past and Embracing the Future
Bochum, Germany, June 8-11
Workshops: June 1-7
Ruhr University Bochum (Online Event)
15th International Conference
Learning Sciences (ICLS)i
-Conference Proceedings -
Edited by: Erica de Vries, Yotam Hod, & June Ahn
Identifying and Coding STEM Interest Triggers
in a Summer Camp
Sherry Yi, Matt Gadbury, H. Chad Lane
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract: Our work investigates interest triggering, a necessary component of sustaining and
developing long-term interest in STEM. We gathered interview data from middle school aged
learners (N = 7) at a science-focused Minecraft summer camp over a period of one week. We
first identified STEM interest triggering episodes, then categorized each episode based on codes
developed previously by Renninger and Bachrach (2016). Our initial findings show differences
in the frequency of interest triggering episodes across individuals and suggest that personal
relevance and the use of Minecraft played prominent roles.
Keywords: videogames, technology, summer camp, interest development, STEM learning
Our research examines how interest, operationalized as a psychological construct and motivational variable
(Renninger & Hidi, 2016), can be identified in student interviews regarding their experience in a science-themed
summer camp. We define interest as heightened attention and engagement, as well as continued voluntary re-
engagement with subject matter (Hidi & Renninger, 2006). We build on and address the gaps within existing work
about interest triggering in out-of-school learning settings. Renninger and Bachrach (2015) analyzed interest
triggers of middle school-aged learners in an out-of-school biology workshop where they elaborated on a five-
step content analysis on existing interest literature and theory. This work produced eight codes describing triggers
for interest within the science workshop context: autonomy, challenge, computers/technology, group work, hands-
on activity, instructional conversation, novelty, and personal relevance. They adopted literature from different
content areas, such as reading, for the science workshop context. In this paper, we use the same approach, but in
the context of a STEM-focused summer camp that leverages Minecraft as the primary learning environment.
Our study is a contribution to the examination of interest triggers within a digital learning environment,
a field of research still in its early stages. We utilize the popular video game, Minecraft, for participants to
explore, to make observations, and to ask questions about hypothetical versions of Earth customized by our
laboratory (refer to Yi et al., 2018; Yi et al., 2020). Minecraft provides an ideal space for our work because of
the variety of science concepts that can be conveyed through the game, as well as being a space to collect data
and conduct research on how gameplay reflects interest (Lane et al., 2017).
Participants were recruited from a local youth center for a five-day STEM-focused summer camp in 2020 (N =
7; 43% female; M = 12 years old). The majority of participants self-identified as African American (4) while
others identified as biracial (2) and White or Caucasian (1). Due to the pandemic, we adapted our usual face-to-
face intervention to a hybrid form of staff and participants attending in-person and the research team attending
remotely. One-on-one interviews were conducted in a separate Zoom breakout room on the last day of the
intervention. The interview protocol for middle school students consisted of 16 questions and covered topics on
home and school life, long-term interest, Minecraft play preferences, astronomy knowledge, and camp feedback.
Two researchers sectioned interview data into STEM interest triggering episodes, using the unknown label for
codes that did not fall under the coding scheme. Unknown interest triggering episodes will undergo thematic
analysis to create new codes or subcodes that wholly capture the out-of-school science learning experience.
Each episode is distinguished by a particular interest topic. For example, when asked about engagements with
science content, the interviewee may report how much they enjoyed their latest trip to a science museum, then
relate the science museum experience to an enjoyable classroom lesson in the past.
Inter-rater Reliability (Cohen’s Kappa)
In the identification of interest triggering episodes, there was a substantial agreement between the two
researchers, κ = .73. All disagreements were resolved in conference. There was an almost perfect agreement
ICLS 2021 Proceedings
between two researchers when using Renninger and Bachrach’s coding scheme based on two interviews, κ
= .94. All disagreements were resolved in conference.
Each STEM interest triggering episode was then coded using Renninger and Bachrach’s (2015) scheme for
interest triggers (see Table 1). Columns where interest triggers occurred are highlighted in orange.
Table 1: Interest trigger counts (in columns) based on Renninger and Bachrach (2015) codes
Conclusions and implications
Our preliminary results show a prominent role for personal relevance which specifically relates to
Minecraft use by using a familiar platform to build on prior knowledge, such as experiencing a difference in
gravity (a previously learned concept) on the Moon. Personal relevance also relates through a desire to reengage
in camp content—choosing our server instead of outdoor play during free time—and when expressing positive
affect regarding future participation of camps. One advantage of using Minecraft is the capability of most learners
to immediately engage the science content due to the game’s relevancy and familiarity through previous play.
Another reason for the high frequency of personal relevance triggering episodes may be related to the design and
structure of our intervention that evokes feelings of personal relevance within the activities.
There were several interest triggering codes without any instances (i.e., autonomy, challenge,
computers/technology, group work, hands-on activity). This may be due to the wording of our interview questions
and/or the structure of our camp. Another possible reason is that we followed Renninger and Bachrach’s coding
scheme strictly and only allowed one type of code per episode. Future research designs using the coding scheme
by Renninger and Bachrach (2015) should consider the use of multiple codes per episode.
Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational Psychologist,
41(2), 111–127. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep4102_4
Lane. H. C., Yi, S., Guerrero, B., & Comins, N. (2017). Minecraft as a Sandbox for STEM Interest
Development: Preliminary Results. In Hayashi, Y., et al. (Eds.), Workshop Proceedings of the 25th
International Conference on Computers in Education (pp. 387-397). New Zealand: Asia-Pacific Society for
Computers in Education.
Renninger, K. A., & Bachrach, J. E. (2015). Studying triggers for interest and engagement using observational
methods. Educational Psychologist, 50(1), 58–69. http://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2014.999920
Renninger, K. A., & Hidi, S. E. (2016). The Power of Interest for Motivation and Engagement. New York: Taylor
& Francis. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315771045
Yi, S., Lane, H. C., & Delialioğlu, O. (2018, August). What if we were twice as close to the Sun? Interview
findings from a science summer camp serving underrepresented youth. In F. Khosmood et al.
(Eds.), Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games. San Luis
Obispo, CA, USA: Foundations of Digital Games.
Yi, S., Gadbury, M., & Lane, H.C. (2020, June). Coding and analyzing scientific observations from middle
school students in Minecraft. In M. Gresalfi & I. S. Horn (Eds.), The Interdisciplinarity of the Learning
Sciences, 14th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) 2020, Volume 3 (pp. 1787-1788).
Virtual Nashville, TN, USA: International Society of the Learning Sciences.
We thank our local youth partners’ leaders, staff, and participants for their time and effort on our project. This
material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants #1713609 and #1906873.
ICLS 2021 Proceedings