Designers and researchers from the Educational Gaming Environments group (EdGE) at TERC are studying the design features (e.g., tools, media platforms, facilitation) of an experimental gaming environment called Arcadia: The Next Generation. This gaming environment supports high-quality scientific knowledge building in a diverse, public audience. EdGE and its partner, GameGurus are integrating web-based social networking, augmented reality, and data sharing apps on smartphones into Arcadia and are working with a group of formal and informal educators to study the connections between scientific inquiry in Arcadia and STEM learning. EdGE is also examining various economic models that can support the long-term sustainability of STEM gaming environments that bridge home, community, and formal and informal learning. The project provides a dynamic and evolving place where gamers, educators, parents, and citizen scientists can come together to share, rate, and build knowledge through a variety of fun science inquiry games.

The research associated with Arcadia looks specifically at how game design (tools, environment, storyline, reward system) can support and sustain scientific inquiry. Researchers will relate these design features to the extent and nature of scientific inquiry in Arcadia, the impact the gaming experience has on players' sense of science identity and behaviors, and how this varies for different types of players. Researchers are using methods from netnography (Kozinets, 2002, Hine 2000) where digital records of avatar activity are incorporated along with participant observations, surveys, and interviews. A group of players recruited through colleagues' programs in informal and formal science education settings are the subjects for a smaller sub-study that looks at how to help transfer the science skills and knowledge gained in social games to classroom and other forms of science education. EdGE has two small advisory groups: a group of formal and informal educators to help with formative evaluation and a group of experts in the areas of research to help guide the interpretation of the research findings.

Arcadia: The Next Generation is an important step in working towards a vision of future learning environments that span schools, homes, community settings, and social entertainment sites where transmedia learning networks integrate real-life components such as indoor and outdoor classrooms with free-choice Internet experiences and citizen science programs. The primary deliverable of Arcadia: The Next Generation is a model game environment that attracts and retains a player audience and engages them in high quality scientific inquiry. The associated research informs the field on how to leverage the tremendous amount of time the public spends in social digital games, and how to direct that time towards productive science learning. EdGE is partnering with youth and adult programs at informal and citizen science centers to recruit and select the research sample that is representative of the US population, including minority youth and adults, so that researchers can learn how to sustain inquiry for a broad and diverse population of social game players.

Project Report

The TSL project (originally named Arcadia: The Next Generation) had three major outcomes. The first outcome is a game-based learning research architecture able to track data across three different multi-platform digital games (from the EdGE Leveling Up project), allowing researchers to track players’ STEM learning across games and across devices. The second outcome is advanced knowledge about digital outdoor STEM learning experiences gained through research of a prototype outdoor adventure that explored geocaching as a blurred reality project. The third outcome is the identification of social and economic factors of gaming to work towards equitable and sustainable models of game-based learning. For the first outcome, EdGE worked with game development partner, GameGurus, to build a research-data architecture that enables data collection, organization, storage, filtering, and exporting from multiple digital games. In that architecture, players (and teachers) are able to register in the system, through a class or independently, so that surveys, assessments, and data logging are blended seamlessly with an anonymous player ID and timestamps. This integrated data stream allows game-based learning researchers to tie everything together for a multi-dimensional model of a game-players experience and learning progression. The broader impact of this data architecture includes its contribution to enhancing the capability of research for the Leveling Up project (NSF#1119144 ) and providing data for dissertation theses at North Carolina State (with advisor Tiffany Barnes) and at Utah State (with advisor Taylor Martin), as well as for collaborative research with Northeastern University. Moving forward, we are working with Landmark College and MIT to integrate eye-tracking and EEG data into this data architecture broadening our model of game-based implicit learning. For the second outcome, EdGE worked with Daphne Minner at Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University to co-design, build, and study a prototype location-based game, The Nature’s Apprentice Geocaching Adventure, a series of 10 geocaches distributed near key plant locations throughout the Arboretum in Spring 2014. A small exploratory study of Nature’s Apprentice during its 8-week pilot relied upon use data from the geocaching tool, as well as Google analytics, supplemented with surveys and informal interviews of participants during their experience. During the pilot, 176 unique geocache users logged caches as part of the geocaching adventure. Because most participants were in families and groups, a closer estimate is 300 participants. Of the 41 survey respondents, 63% were first time visitors to the Arboretum and only 7% considered themselves regular visitors. Over 90% of survey takers indicated that geocaching enhanced their experience at the Arboretum. Participants found the following aspects of the adventure "highly enjoyable": Being outside (100%); Exploring outside (90%); Solving puzzles to unlock caches (77%); Learning about some of the science behind caches (72%), and 85% said they were very likely to participate in this type of adventure at other outdoor sites like arboretums, parks, and zoos. Although the initial draw and outreach for Nature’s Apprentice was to geocachers, non-geocachers engaged in the experience and enjoyed it. Both new and veteran geocachers saw it as an engaging way to explore the Arboretum as well as be introduced to STEM concepts related to plants. The third outcome of this award is lessons learned about the distribution of learning games and the social aspects of game adoption. We studied several different models of dissemination and sustainability in an effort to get a large, broad, and diverse audience for our games. We explored advertising on facebook and other social media as well as distribution of web versions on commercial sites (such as SoGood games). We found that advertising through social media is expensive and promotion takes considerable staff time, so these options would also not be sustainable without substantial revenue from the games. An easier and potentially sustainable channel of distribution for our games has been through our own web site, the app stores (e.g. iOS, google, kindle) and also agencies such as BrainPop who disseminate learning games with related materials to educators. Recruiting players for EdGE learning games by recruiting through high school science classrooms was also relatively easy and reached a broad and diverse demographic. The TSL grant enabled contributions to the fields of game-based learning, learning sciences, educational data mining, and informal STEM learning. Numerous publications and presentations stemming from this work shared the results with an international audience and several current and pending projects build from this work.

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