Dino Lab: Designing and Developing an Educational Game for Critical Thinking

Dino Lab: Designing and Developing an Educational Game for Critical Thinking

Kirsten R. Butcher, Madlyn Runburg, Roger Altizer
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 34
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0513-6.ch006
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Dino Lab is a serious game designed to explore the potential of using games in scientific domains to support critical thinking. Through collaborations with educators and scientists at the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU), game designers and learning scientists at the University of Utah, and Title I middle school teachers and students, the authors have developed a beta version of Dino Lab that supports critical thinking through engagement in a simulation-based game. Dino Lab is organized around four key game stages that incorporate high-level goals, domain-specific rule algorithms that govern legal plays and resulting outcomes, embedded reflection questions, and built-in motivational features. Initial play testing has shown positive results, with students highly engaged in strategic game play. Overall, results suggest that games that support critical thinking have strong potential as student-centered, authentic activities that facilitate domain-based engagement and strategic analysis.
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Dino Lab represents a collaborative effort among educators and scientists at the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU), game designers from the Games and Apps Lab (GApp Lab) at the University of Utah, a cognitive learning scientist from the University of Utah, and Title I middle school teachers and students. Dino Lab is an educational, or serious, game that uses digital representations of actual museum objects (i.e., dinosaur fossils) to facilitate engagement in and practice with a set of key cognitive processes involved in critical thinking. This chapter describes how museum objects and paleontology research, research on critical thinking processes, and principles of game design were synthesized and balanced during the conceptualization, development, and refinement of Dino Lab. Using examples from Dino Lab’s iterative development cycles, we discuss our findings about the potential boundaries between educational and entertainment features in games for critical thinking. We also highlight key challenges in creating educational games that target complex cognitive processes. Finally, we share a set of principles for future development of educational games for critical thinking as informed by lessons learned during this project.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Comparison: A critical thinking process during which the learner makes comparisons to educational materials/guides/information or makes comparisons and connections between the current problem and known objects/information/situations in the world.

Evaluation: A critical thinking process in which a student evaluates the quality, sufficiency, or accuracy of an idea, hypothesis, or claim. Evaluation statements may be accompanied by evidence or may be made without supporting evidence. Evidence-based evaluations are considered a critical process for critical thinking.

Design Box: A participatory design methodology that allows end-users, stakeholders, and developers to collaborate on a synthesized and meaningful “pitch” for a project. Design Box is an inductive process that asks participants to focus on constraints before pitching solutions. By unpacking the audience, technology, aesthetics, and problem of a project, participants can brainstorm nuanced and innovative designs ‘inside’ the box formed by the constraints.

Game Algorithm: A type of formula that represents the rules of a game. A collection of game algorithms comprises a game system. The game system akin to an automated rulebook from an analog game. A game algorithm governs a specific rule or feature of that rule set.

Observation: A critical thinking process in which learners name or identify particular information about an object, idea, or situation. This may include articulating sensory information (e.g., look, feel), observing features forming an object (e.g., the features that comprise an overall object), or observing the action of an object (e.g., this joint bends). In critical thinking, observations form critical data for evidence-based evaluations.

Authentic Games: Games that are based on realia, or objects and information that exist in reality. Authentic games focus on utilizing real-word knowledge, as opposed to fiction, as a means to achieve engagement as well as promote the learning of the artifacts or knowledge. For example, using representations of authentic fossils from the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry to promote critical thinking.

Connection: A critical thinking process in which students make connections to prior knowledge or ideas about the world. This may include making analogies, bringing in additional examples, and reasoning based upon prior knowledge (e.g., frequency of natural disasters).

Embodied Self (in games): When a user plays a game without an avatar or token that represents them in the game. Players engage with the system as themselves. This differs from board or videogames that have a virtual character or physical object that serves as the player. For example, Monopoly does not utilize the embodied self as the player chooses a token to represent them on the game board; in virtual blackjack games, the player plays as their embodied self to whom cards are dealt.

Reflection Questions (in educational games): Questions that appear after a major stage, decision, or action in the game and are designed to elicit thinking and analysis about the conceptual content of the game. Usually involves analysis or inference about the underlying game algorithms, provided those algorithms reflect conceptual relationships from the domain.

Problem Finding: A critical thinking process in which the learner articulates an idea that should be addressed, a question that needs to be answered, a hypothesis that should be analyzed, or an issues that must be resolved.

Flexible Thinking: A critical thinking process that is exhibited when the learner remains open to multiple possibilities, ideas, or hypothesis, particularly early during a critical thinking problem when information and evidence is being gathered. Also exhibited when learners incorporate the thinking of others into their own during collaborative critical thinking activities.

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