skip to main content

Title: The role of representational competencies for students’ learning from an educational video game for astronomy
Educational video games can engage students in authentic STEM practices, which often involve visual representations. In particular, because most interactions within video games are mediated through visual representations, video games provide opportunities for students to experience disciplinary practices with visual representations. Prior research on learning with visual representations in non-game contexts suggests that visual representations may confuse students if they lack prerequisite representational-competencies. However, it is unclear how this research applies to game environments. To address this gap, we investigated the role of representational-competencies for students’ learning from video games. We first conducted a single-case study of a high-performing undergraduate student playing an astronomy game as an assignment in an astronomy course. We found that this student had difficulties making sense of the visual representations in the game. We interpret these difficulties as indicating a lack of representational-competencies. Further, these difficulties seemed to lead to the student’s inability to relate the game experiences to the content covered in his astronomy course. A second study investigated whether interventions that have proven successful in structured learning environments to support representational-competencies would enhance students’ learning from visual representations in the video game. We randomly assigned 45 students enrolled in an undergraduate course to two conditions. Students either received representational-competency support while playing the astronomy game or they did not receive this support. Results showed no effects of representational-competency supports. This suggests that instructional designs that are effective for representational-competency supports in structured learning environments may not be effective for educational video games. We discuss implications for future research, for designers of educational games, and for educators.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Frontiers in Education
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. This Research Full paper focuses on perceptions and experiences of freshman and sophomore engineering students when playing an online serious engineering game that was designed to improve engineering intuition and knowledge of statics. Use of serious educational engineering games has increased in engineering education to help students increase technical competencies in engineering disciplines. However, few have investigated how these engineering games are experienced by the students; how games influence students' perceptions of learning, or how these factors may lead to inequitable perspectives among diverse populations of students. Purpose/Hypothesis: The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions, appeal, and opinions about the efficacy of educational online games among a diverse population of students in an engineering mechanics statics course. It was hypothesized that compared to majority groups (e.g., men, White), women of color who are engineering students would experience less connections to the online educational game in terms of ease of use and level of frustration while playing. It is believed that these discordant views may negatively influence the game's appeal and efficacy towards learning engineering in this population of students. Design/Method: The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) is expanded in this study, where the perspectives of women of colour (Latinx, Asian and African American) engineering students are explored. The research approach employed in this study is a mixed-method sequential exploratory design, where students first played the online engineering educational game, then completed a questionnaire, followed by participation in a focus group. Responses were initially analyzed through open and magnitude coding approaches to understand whether students thought these educational games reflected their personal culture. Results: Preliminary results indicate that though the majority of the students were receptive to using the online engineering software for their engineering education, merely a few intimated that they would use this software for engineering exam or technical job interview preparation. A level-one categorical analysis identified a few themes that comprised unintended preservation of inequality in favor of students who enjoyed contest-based education and game technology. Competition-based valuation of presumed mastery of course content fostered anxiety and intimidation among students, which caused some to "game the game" instead of studying the material, to meet grade goals. Some students indicated that they spent more time (than necessary) to learn the goals of the game than engineering content itself, suggesting a need to better integrate course material while minimizing cognitive effort in learning to navigate the game. Conclusions: Preliminary results indicate that engineering software's design and the way is coupled with course grading and assessment of learning outcomes, affect student perceptions of the technology's acceptance, usefulness, and ease of use as a "learning tool." Students were found to have different expectations of serious games juxtaposed software/apps designed for entertainment. Conclusions also indicate that acceptance of inquiry-based educational games in a classroom among diverse populations of students should clearly articulate and connect the game goals/objectives with class curriculum content. Findings also indicate that a multifaceted schema of tools, such as feedback on game challenges, and explanations for predictions of the game should be included in game/app designs. 
    more » « less
  2. This Work-In-Progress falls within the research category of study and, focuses on the experiences and perceptions of first- and second year engineering students when using an online engineering game that was designed to enhance understanding of statics concepts. Technology and online games are increasingly being used in engineering education to help students gain competencies in technical domains in the engineering field. Less is known about the way that these online games are designed and incorporated into the classroom environment and how these factors can ignite inequitable perspectives and experiences among engineering students. Also, little if any work that combines the TAM model and intersectionality of race and gender in engineering education has been done, though several studies have been modified to account for gender or race. This study expands upon the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) by exploring perspectives of intersectional groups (defined as women of color who are engineering students). A Mixed Method Sequential Exploratory Research Design approach was used that extends the TAM model. Students were asked to play the engineering educational game, complete an open-ended questionnaire and then to participate in a focus group. Early findings suggest that while many students were open to learning to use the game and recommended inclusion of online engineering educational games as learning tools in classrooms, only a few indicated that they would use this tool to prepare for exams or technical job interviews. Some of the main themes identified in this study included unintended perpetuation of inequality through bias in favor of students who enjoyed competition-based learning and assessment of knowledge, and bias for students having prior experience in playing online games. Competition-based assessment related to presumed learning of course content enhanced student anxiety and feelings of intimidation and led to some students seeking to “game the game” versus learning the material, in efforts to achieve grade goals. Other students associated use of the game and the classroom weighted grading with intense stress that led them to prematurely stop the use of the engineering tool. Initial findings indicate that both game design and how technology is incorporated into the grading and testing of learning outcomes, influence student perceptions of the technology’s usefulness and ultimately the acceptance of the online game as a "learning tool." Results also point to the need to explore how the crediting and assessment of students’ performance and learning gains in these types of games could yield inequitable experiences in these types of courses. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Much research attention has been focused on learning through game playing. However, very little has been focused on student learning through game making, especially in science. Moreover, none of the studies on learning through making games has presented an account of how students engage in the process of game design in real time. The present study seeks to address that gap. We report an exploratory embedded case study in which three groups of students in one classroom created a computer game designed to teach peers about climate science, while drawing on scientific knowledge, principles of game design, and computational thinking practices. Data sources were student design sheets, computer video, and audio screen capture while students created their game, and interviews after completing the curriculum unit. A theme‐driven framework was used to code the data. A curricular emphasis on systems across climate systems, game design, and computational thinking practices provided a context designed to synergistically supported student learning. This embedded case study provides a rich example of what a collaborative game design task in a constructionist context looks like in a middle school science classroom, and how it supports student learning. Game design in a constructionist learning environment that emphasized learning through building a game allowed students to choose their pathways through the learning experience and resulted in learning for all despite various levels of programming experience. Our findings suggest that game design may be a promising context for supporting student learning in STEM disciplines.

    more » « less
  4. Spatial reasoning is an important skillset that is malleable to training interventions. One possible context for intervention is the popular video game Minecraft. Minecraft encourages users to engage in spatial manipulation of 3D objects. However, few papers have chronicled any in-game practices that might evidence spatial reasoning, or how we might study its development through the game. In this paper, we report on 11 middle school students’ spatial reasoning practices while playing Minecraft. We use audio and video data of student gameplay to delineate five in-game practices that align with spatial reasoning. We expand on a student case study, to explicate these practices. The identified practices may be beneficial for studying spatial reasoning development in game-based environments and contribute to a growing body of research on ways games support development of important and transferable skills. 
    more » « less
  5. Although prior research has highlighted the significance of representations for mathematical learning, there is still a lack of research on how students use multimodal external representations (MERs) to solve mathematical tasks in digital game-based learning (DGBL) environments. This exploratory study was to examine the salient patterns problem solvers demonstrated using MERs when they engaged in a single-player, three-dimensional architecture game that requires the acquisition and application of math knowledge and thinking in game-based context problem solving. We recorded and systematically coded the behaviors of using MERs demonstrated by 20 university students during 1.5 hours of gameplay. We conducted both cluster and sequential analyses with a total of 2654 encoded behaviors. The study indicated that the maneuverable visual-spatial representation was most frequently used in the selected architecture game. All of the participants performed a high level of representational transformations, including both treatment and conversion transformations. However, compared to the students in the second cluster who were mostly non-game players, students in the first cluster (composed of mainly experienced video game players) displayed a higher frequency of interacting with various MERs and a more cautious and optimized reflective problem-solving process. 
    more » « less