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Becoming chemists through game-based inquiry learning: The case of Legends of Alkhimia
Chee, Y. S., & Tan, D. K. C. (2012). Becoming chemists through game-based inquiry learning: The case of Legends of Alkhimia. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 10(2), 185-198.
Traditional modes of chemistry education in schools focus on imparting chemistry knowledge to students via instruction. Consequently, students often acquire the mistaken understanding that scientific knowledge comprises a fixed body of “proven” facts. They fail to comprehend that the construction of scientific understanding is a human and social endeavor. Consequently, there can be alternative and conflicting views and theories. To provide students access to an enhanced learning curriculum, Legends of Alkhimia was designed and developed as an educational game for 13 to 14-year-olds to foster the learning of chemistry through inquiry. The multiplayer game supports four concurrent players. It is played on personal computers connected via a local area network. The game embeds students in problem solving challenges related to the use of chemistry in realistic contexts. In attempting to solve these problems, students must engage in individual laboratory work using an in-game virtual chemistry lab. The game levels take students through a narrative arc that provides coherence to the entire gameplay experience. Legends of Alkhimia, together with its associated curricular materials, instantiates classroom learning based on performance pedagogy: a pedagogy that constructs learning through the lens of performance theory. Leveraging the immersive affordances of 3D game environments, the learning experience is designed to engage students in the dialectic interplay between learning in the first person, based on playing the game, and learning in the third person, based on the Bakhtinian notion of dialog. The learning process follows a developmental trajectory of becoming a chemist. Enacting performance pedagogy in the classroom requires a shift in traditional classroom culture toward that of a professional practice community. We report on an empirical study of a game-based learning classroom intervention where students in the Alkhimia learning program participated in an 8-week curriculum sequence involving six levels of game play. We compared pre- and posttest survey responses from a class of 40 students who learned chemistry using the Alkhimia curriculum. We also compared learning outcomes of students in the said intervention class with a control class of 38 students who learned chemistry through traditional classroom instruction. All students in our study were 13-year-olds from a typical government secondary school. We noted significant shifts in intervention students’ perceptions of their identity, their epistemological beliefs, their dispositions toward science inquiry, and of classroom culture. Students’ understanding of chemistry was evaluated through a common assessment that comprised a complex separation task involving mixtures, solutes, and immiscible liquids. Two evaluation criteria were used: (1) effectiveness of separation, and (2) demonstration of conceptual understanding of chemistry. We found that the Alkhimia students significantly outperformed the control students when assessed on the extent to which effective separation was achieved in the students’ proposed solution (t75 = 2.56, p = .026) and when assessed with respect to conceptual understanding of chemistry in the separation task (t75 = 3.41, p = .002). We discuss, from a theoretical perspective, how and why learning with the Alkhimia curriculum is efficacious. Our findings are significant in that they suggest how inquiry learning can be successfully enacted in a chemistry game-based learning curriculum, and they underscore the efficacy of approaching game-based learning in terms of performance.
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