In a 19th century village called River City
, the people are suffering from a mysterious illness. Many believe that there are bad spirits in the air or water causing the disease. Those suffering are shunned, but the plague worsens. In desperation, they turn to a group of experts in the new "Germ Theory": 21st century middle school science students. [Quicktime movie]
River City is a multi-user virtual environment, based in ActiveWorlds (Previously
). Students make avatars, talk to citizens in the world (some are dumb AIs, but they can be puppetted by the teacher), and have a workspace
in which they can perform water quality tests and other diagnostics, record the results, and create and test hypotheses. The software design includes the ability to record what steps students take, in what order, how often they repeat content lessons or experimental steps, and other aspects of their approach to solving the problem.
Can River City help students learn science? [Quicktime movie]
It appears that working in the virtual world of River City helps students learn science in part because it gives them a sense of "self-efficacy" - that is, they can take actions to try get an outcome, and see how well their actions worked. The grownups are pretty boring. They're trying to communicate to other pedagogues, so we can forgive them. Listen to what the students are saying instead. "Now I've become a mad scientist!" [Quicktime movie]
One of the researchers, Diane Ketelhut
, is investigating using simulation environments like River City [YT]
not just to teach
science, but to assess learning. In other words, the video game is the final. She hasn't published on this yet, but she gave a presentation at the AAAS meeting last February, and showed a video of fifth graders talking about taking their final exam in River City. They knew that it was a test, but they "kind of wished that it had been harder."