Project based learning has received increasing attention in recent years and has come into more wide-spread use. One expectation of this instructional approach is that it promotes engagement via active learning and student interaction with peers. However, some research has shown that this is not the case. This proposal will address this quandary by empirically testing the extent to which adding specific interactive and competition-based game elements to a genetics project-based science curriculum can increase engagement and improve other affective dimensions of science learning---particularly for students from underrepresented groups.
Researchers from the New York Hall of Science, the Concord Consortium, and Michigan State University will do this by modifying the Geniverse curriculum. They will add (1) a strong story line narrative, (2) a goal attainment stimulus, and (3) a team competition feature. Each modification will be tested as an experimental condition. Data will be collected from ninth-graders, many from underrepresented populations, using instruments that measure motivation, cognitive-emotional engagement, and learning.
This research has the potential to advance our understanding of project based curricula, gaming, and the melding of the two, both from the point of view of practice and knowledge building. It directly addresses the proposition that games increase motivation and thus learning. The research is unusual in that it will blend curriculum and game; formal and informal learning environments. If successful, outcomes of this project could be adopted in other project based curricula. The project will be evaluated through an advisory committee, including experts in genetics, the learning sciences, cognitive science, and gaming. The dissemination plan includes publishing in peer-reviewed literature, the distribution of the game, and professional development via the New York Hall of Science's network of teachers and other educational practitioners.