Learning Science in a video game
September 5, 2010 4:39 PM   Subscribe

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."
posted by Made of Star Stuff (16 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Virtual Gengis: Hi Lisa, I'm Gengis Kahn. Togeter, we'll tavel back in time. You'll see what I see, Eat who I eat, Defile what I defile.Hmm?
posted by The Whelk at 4:42 PM on September 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

What a seriously cool idea! Can't wait for the Kinsey Village Module.
posted by helmutdog at 4:45 PM on September 5, 2010

I think it's trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for POOL.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:53 PM on September 5, 2010 [11 favorites]

So you're saying they've got trouble? With a capital T that rhymes with G that stands for germs?
posted by zorrine at 4:54 PM on September 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

posted by zorrine at 4:54 PM on September 5, 2010

What's the cheat code for the railgun?


Problem solved!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:58 PM on September 5, 2010

Zebediah: BARRRF! (turns into coins)
posted by infinitewindow at 5:00 PM on September 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

Railgun? No, you build a large number of inexpensive units to interfere with the enemy's resource gathering; then you defeat them using a board with a nail in it.

posted by Mister_A at 5:16 PM on September 5, 2010

Achievement #15: "Rites of Passage"
Send 10 villagers to church on Sunday to unlock the catapult so you can launch infected villies into the neighboring village.
posted by Lukenlogs at 5:22 PM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the post, Made of Star Stuff, this is really neat. After making that Active Worlds post I was convinced that the platform was all but abandoned -- it's cool knowing that people are still getting mileage out of it, especially for educational purposes.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:36 PM on September 5, 2010

Here you see footage of them beating the sickenss out of the citizens, who then barf and evaporate. Take that, science!
posted by Menthol at 6:27 PM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rhaomi: I didn't actually realize, until I was getting stuff together for this post, that the virtual world I'd seen in the presentation back in February was made in Activeworlds. I logged into Activeworlds for a little bit after you made your post, and was pleased by how easy it was to get around and do stuff.

It's really excellent that Activeworlds is going to continue running the River City servers now that their NSF funding has run out. The licensing fee they're charging is not *too* onerous, either; it's the kind of thing that teachers could possibly pay for out of pocket (teachers pay for way too many things out of pocket, damnit) or that they could get funding for through DonorsChoose.

I'm very hopeful that this develops into a financially sustainable venture for Activeworlds, because there's a real need for educational software like this that isn't totally stupid and boring. (Mathblaster, anyone?) Being able to easily set up virtual simulations of open inquiry in science classes would be a tremendous benefit, especially in classrooms where there's too little funding for equipment. Science learners really need to be able to mess around and try stuff out and explore -- and expensive, hard to come by equipment is not conducive to creating an exploratory environment for middle schoolers.

I wish I could have found some more engaging stuff, though. The video of the two fifth graders talking about taking their final exam within the virtual world was amazing.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 6:29 PM on September 5, 2010

Made of Star Stuff: "there's a real need for educational software like this that isn't totally stupid and boring. (Mathblaster, anyone?)"

posted by Rhaomi at 9:02 PM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

So...it's a sort of virtual Village?
posted by maryr at 10:34 PM on September 5, 2010

River City? BARF! *drops some coins*
posted by pyrex at 3:31 AM on September 6, 2010

Great. T-shirt promotion: "I traveled through time, and all I got was this lousy lab assignment."
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:59 AM on September 6, 2010

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