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Overview of Gaming in Education

Games in education can be looked at in two different ways. First, there are games that are strictly used for skill, drill, and practice (e.g. mathblaster, type2learn, or spelling city). The focus, of the game, is strictly on developing a particular skill and the game ends if the player fails to meet the required number of problems in a set amount of time. Second, there are games are meant to be more interactive or engaging. The player usually is asked to problem solve a medical issue (e.g. Immune Attack), research information and gather data to determine why residents are becoming ill (e.g. River City), or act as an expert to solve a social problem/issue (e.g. Quest Atlantis). It is the problem-solving interactive game that we focused this project on, in particular, the game, Quest Atlantis. QA is considered a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) and a problem-based learning (PBL) type of game that promotes inquiry skills.
Quest Atlantis (QA) is designed around seven social commitments which are; compassionate wisdom (be kind), creative expression (I create), environmental awareness (think globally, act locally), personal agency (I have a voice), healthy communities (live, love, grow), social responsibility (we can make a difference) and diversity affirmation (everyone matters). The goal of QA is concerned with student learning; however, in order to solve these problems the participant must take on an identity of an expert to solve the problem presented to him/her.
This game was designed by Dr. Sasha Barab and other researchers at Indiana University. Their goals are to (a) rewrite the narrative of videogames as something pro-social and about things that have significance in the real world, (b) rewrite the narrative of school content such that students appreciate its real-world value, (c) rewrite the narrative of schools as personally engaging, and (d) rewrtie the narrative about what it means to be a person in the world, providing students with pro-social identities and trajectories of participation. (Retrieved from ttp://www.questatlantis.com/site/view/Questers#32)


Learning Assessments
In Designing Assessments and Assessing Designs in Virtual Educational Environments, a study done by Hickey, Ingram-Goble and Jameson (2009), the authors discussed the levels of assessment used to test student learning in early versions of Quest Atlantis. Basically there were three levels of assessment.

The first was the close level which involved virtual assignments or "quests" within the game. Teachers gave feedback to students on their quest submissions (as formative assessment) and students were allowed to re-submit their reports for a higher number of points. After the first study, the researchers developed a rubric and "scripted menu" for teachers to give more effective feedback to students. They found that when students took the time to use the affordances of the game (guidance of a "Lab Technician" and access to teacher's specific remarks about their work) their subsequent submissions improved.

The second level of assessment was the proximal level which involved a performance assessment after the first part of the game had been played. Using a similar environment, students were able to use what they had learned during the first section to transfer that knowledge and skills to the second part of the game. These open-ended problem-solving assessments tested individual understanding of concepts that were closely tied to the science curriculum.

The third level of assessment was the distal level which consisted of 14-20 existing multiple choice items culled from achievement tests aligned to state science standards. This test was not directly related to the gaming experience.

The current version of QA assessment consists of a student portfolio home page which is constructed by the student and commented on by the teacher. Assessment is formative as students are able to make changes based on suggestions from the teacher.

Additional Assessment Information:

1. Article examining effectiveness of River City and Middle School Students learning Science Inquiry skills. Findings show that learning in a MUVE environment such as River City increases student motivation; however, results from assessments varied depending on testing strategies.

2. Information on Virtual Assessment Project (to test Middle School Students on Science and Inquiry Skills): http://vpa.gse.harvard.edu/, from Chris DeDe, creator of River City (Science Inquiry): http://www.gse.harvard.edu/academics/masters/tie/faculty/dede.html

What Does the Data State on the Effectiveness of Using Virtual Worlds Learning Environments?

Dr. Terry Smith

In an interview with Dr. Terry Smith, assistant professor at Western Illinois University, he believes there is a lot of value in having youth play in a 3D environment. He believes in this epistemology of teaching so much that his main focus for his dissertation was on virtual world learning environments with a major emphasis on Quest Atlantis. I spoke with Terry about his dissertation and experience using Quest Atlantis in a Skype conversation on December 11, 2011.

He explained the various aspects of the game; teacher must interact with the game, the ability to rent land using COLS, various dilemmas and how to solve them as they are encountered inside of the game which can than be transferred to course content in the classroom, and the ability to become an expert in an area. These aspects he describe could and can be carried over into the classroom. Within his research he said “students are involved in a high level of play and that transformative play is extremely evident in QA” (T. Smith, personal communication, December 11, 2011). He mentioned the students are highly motivated and engaged with this type of 3D narrative.

Within his research on QA, he looked at three main areas; 21st century competencies acquisition, student engagement, and any other benefits of participating in this game. He said that what was the most interesting aspect of his research results was the percentage of 21st century skills that were addressed and student engagement.

In an excerpt from his dissertation, Cultivating 21st century competencies in a virtual worlds learning environment, Smith states:
Results from the Quest Atlantis teacher survey showed that their students were practicing and exhibiting 21st century competencies in the classroom. Reports on specific competences showed technology skills (98%), communication (92%), global awareness (91%), critical thinking (87%), collaboration (84%), problem solving (83%), and creativity (65%), (Smith, 2010, p. 102).

Smith went on to report his results on student engagement:
Because of the outcome of enhanced student engagement in schools has been seen as directly related to higher student achievement, this study incorporated a pre- and posttest to examine the effect of the virtual world on learning. Students showed by their test scores that they had mad a significant gain in learning the genetics content of the Drakos mission (Smith, 2010, p.104).

Over the course of the conversation, his feelings on role-playing and engagement in learning were very evident. He strongly feels that these types of virtual world environments that engage the student, allow for transfer of knowledge from virtual to a physical one, and have low readers strive needs to be further encouraged in schools. He went on to say that playable fiction and transformative play are needed within education.

Arefeh Karimi & Yan Peng Lim

In their study, Children, engagement, and enjoyment in digital narrative, the researchers were looking at engagement and learning using the game Quest Atlantis. The sample used was from Imam Khomeini Iranian Primary School in Malaysia. During the course of one-week 20 minute sessions, researchers observed how students interacted with the game and how long they were engaged with the missions inside of QA. Their results showed student engagement was high (95% of the students played the game for the entire time allotment), and over (91% felt either true or very true about solving the quest). Even though this study was very brief and only looked into student play for a brief time, there is evidence that students enjoyed being involved with the game and its missions.

Curriculum Standards Alignment
Link to Blog that shows QA is relevant to major content areas, from Science to Art:

Link to a document that shows alignment of the Mesa Verde Unit to the McREL State and National Standards:

Link to a site that shows QA alignment of quests to Florida State Standards, Gr. 4-8:

Similarities between QA and the Primary Years Programme (PYP) as part of the Internal Baccalaureate: Both Teach values, character education and life-long learning skills as well as academics. Both promote socially responsive actions through student-centered, inquiry-based, problem-based, and projects-based learning.

PowerPoint from David Deeds highlighting alignment of QA to IB:

Research Funding
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Press Release in April 2011 on $20 million investment to develop new teaching and learning tools and partnering with Pearson to develop a common national curriculum based on the Common Core State Standards:
The foundation is also investing in several game-based learning tools:
    • $2.6 million for iRemix, which is being developed by Digital Youth Network. It will be a set of 20 literacy-based trajectories that allow students to earn badges and move from novice to expert in areas like creative writing
    • $2.5 million to Institute of Play will build a set of game-based pedagogical tools and game-design curricula that can be used within both formal and informal learning contexts.
    • $2.6 million to Quest Atlantis is creating video games that build proficiency in math, literacy and science.
All these applications will support the Common Core State Standards.

Another source of funding/grant for QA comes from the MacArthur Foundation, which has awarded $85 million to organizations and individuals in support of digital media and learning, with $500,000 going to QA research.

Online Educational Games for Primary Grades

Academic Skill Builder

Brain Pop Jr.


Fun Island


neoK12 - Educational Videos, Lessons, and Games for K-12 School Kids

PBS Kids

Power My Learning

Learning Games for Kids


Math Playground

Primary Games

Sheppard Software

The Kids Page

Zur Institute


Barab, S.A., Gresalfi, M.S., Dodge, T., & Ingram-Goble, A. (2010). Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives: Games as 21st Century Curriculum. International Journal for Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 2(1). 17-30.

Barab, S., Dodge, T., Tuzun, H., Job-Sluder, K., Jackson, C., Arici, A., Job-Sluder, L., Carteaux, R., Jr., Gilbertson, J., & Heiselt, C. (2007). The Quest Atlantis Project: A socially-responsive play space for learning. In B. E. Shelton & D. Wiley (Eds.), The Educational Design and Use of Simulation Computer Games (pp. 159-186). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Barab, S., Thomas, M., Dodge, T., Carteaux, R., & Tuzun, H. (2005). Making learning fun: Quest Atlantis, a game without guns. Educational Technology Research & Developemnt, 53(1), 86-107. doi: 10.1007/BF02504859

Barab, S. & Jackson, C. (2006, January 20). From Plato’s Republic to Quest Atlantis: The role of the philospher-king. THEN: Journal (Technology, Humanitiies, Education, Narrative), 2 Article 2. Retrieved from http://www.thenjournal.org/.

Cole, Wilson. (2002). Freedom to Play: We Made Our Own Fun :[1]. Canadian Journal of Education, 27(4), 530-533. Retrieved November 20, 2011, from Education Module.

Gerstein, J. (2011). Games in education. Retrieved from http://livebinders.com/play/play/5696.

Hickey, D., Ingram-Goble, A., & Jameson, E. (2009). Designing Assessments and Assessing Designs in Virtual Educational Environments. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18, 187-208.

Karimi, A., & Lim, Y. P. (2010). Children, engagement and enjoyment in digital narrative. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/sydney10/procs/Karimi-full.pdf

Smith, T. K. (2011). Cultivating 21st century competencies in a virtual worlds learning environment. Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations. (AAT 3478529)

Squire, K. (2011). Video games and learning. Teaching and participatory culture in the digital age. New York: Teachers College Press.

Steinkuehler, C., Compton-Lilly, C., & King, E. (2010). Reading in the contet of online games. In K. Gomez, L. Lyons, & J. Radinsky (Eds.), Learning in the disicplines: Proceedings of the 9th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS 2010) Volume 1, Full Papers (pp. 222-230). Chicago, IL: International Society of the LEarning Sciences.

Young, M. F., Schrader, P. G., & Zheng, D. (2006, April 1). MMOGs as learning environments: An ecological journey into Quest Atlantis and Sims Online. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 2(4).