PIs: Janet Kolodner, Amy Pallant
Many efforts have been made to use virtual worlds to teach science concepts that are either inaccessible or impractical in the classroom. This project examines an important question: if a student learns different science topics in the same virtual world over time, will their longer-term, deeper engagement in that virtual world help them build a more integrated understanding of the different subjects? If so, this would help people build more effective virtual worlds for learning, and would also help provide insight into how learners develop either integrated or fragmented understanding of science.
The research will include integration of the EcoMUVE ecology learning virtual world with chemistry curriculum derived from the Project-Based Inquiry Science project Living Together. A qualitative exploratory study using middle school classrooms will examine processes related to transfer, grounded in the theory of figured worlds and encoding specificity in case-based reasoning. The qualitative study will focus on conditions that generate intense and sustained emotional engagement in the virtual world, the memories generated by this engagement after the fact, and ways that these memories are triggered in related but different curricular activities. Observation of learners, directly and with lightweight cameras; interviews and challenges designed to be memory probes; and design-based research strategies will be used to work towards design principles for the types of cognitive processes that underly transfer and knowledge integration. The broader impact of the project will be to inform educators and technologists how to better design for long-term, problem-based engagement in science topics and to support transfer and integrated understanding.