Leveling Up: Supporting and Measuring High School STEM Knowledge Building in Social Digital Games

This project designs, develops and tests a digital gaming environment for high school students that fosters and measures science learning within alternate reality games about saving Earth's ecosystems. Players work together to solve scientific challenges using a broad range of tools including a centralized web-based gaming site and social networking tools, along with handheld smart-phones, and an avatar-based massively multiplayer online environment. The game requires players to contribute to a scientific knowledge building community.

Project Evaluator: 
New Knowledge Organization
Full Description: 

This project designs, develops and tests a digital gaming environment for high school students that fosters and measures science learning within alternate reality games about saving Earth's ecosystems. Players work together to solve scientific challenges using a broad range of tools including a centralized web-based gaming site and social networking tools, along with handheld smart-phones, and an avatar-based massively multiplayer online environment (MMO). EdGE at TERC joins with GameGurus, high school teachers and assessment specialists to develop Leveling Up. The game requires players to contribute to a scientific knowledge building community; and players rate each other's contributions for their value to the communities' learning and decision-making in solving the challenge. Designers also work with high-school teachers to develop bridge activities that leverage science learning in games for use in formal education. Overall, the project goal is to understand the potential of the gaming environment as a direct intervention and as a catalyst to transform and measure high school STEM learning.

The research on Leveling Up compares the science learning measured within social digital games to class-based assessments of similar content and skills and explains the results using data from design documents, participant observations, surveys, interviews and student work. Formative research and iterative design with a cohort of with 15 testbed classes (grades 10-12) result in a set of assessments that have been validated in terms of scientific constructs and a set of common equivalent curriculum and assessments for implementation studies. In the third year of the project, researchers study 12 treatment classes and 3 control classes to compare students' advancement in the game to their gains on classroom assessments. In addition, half of the testbed classes use the classroom bridge activities and half do not, yielding samples of 180 students for each treatment and 90 students for the control sample. Researchers use multilevel models to examine the impact of the Leveling Up game play and bridge activities on high-school students' science knowledge. Independent evaluators (ILI) validate the interpretation of findings from the formative and implementation research.

Leveling Up is a fundamental first step for the STEM education field to understand how the pervasive social media emerging in today's society, including the phenomena of social digital gaming, can be leveraged to create exciting and productive STEM learning environments for the future. These technologies and knowledge building processes are critical for building a workforce of tomorrow that is scientifically, technologically, and data literate and also embody the inquiry and collaboration skills to contribute to productive and informed decisions about Earth's ecosystems and other important scientific and societal issues of our times. The project, Leveling Up, results in an ongoing STEM gaming environment for the public as well as a model for high school STEM assessment that may be used in other social digital games. Finally, Leveling Up also contributes a model for activities that bridge scientific inquiry occurring in social digital games with skills and content taught in high school STEM classes.