EcoMUVE: A Case Study on the Affordances of MUVEs in Ecosystem Science Education

EcoMUVE: A Case Study on the Affordances of MUVEs in Ecosystem Science Education

Shari J. Metcalf (Harvard University, USA), Amy M. Kamarainen (Harvard University, USA), Eric Torres (Harvard University, USA), Tina A. Grotzer (Harvard University, USA) and Chris Dede (Harvard University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3719-9.ch001


This chapter considers classroom strategies that have been shown to support student science learning and discusses the affordances of multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) as a platform to implement those strategies. EcoMUVE, a middle school curriculum for ecosystem science education, is presented as a case study to demonstrate the design of a MUVE-based curriculum that enhances science learning and engagement. The chapter concludes with a summary of research findings on student learning and engagement, and suggestions for consideration in implementing MUVE-based curricula in classrooms.
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The National Research Council Framework for K-12 Science Education outlines a vision for science education:

In which students, over multiple years of school, actively engage in science and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields. The learning experiences provided for students should engage them with fundamental questions about the world and with how scientists have investigated and found answers to those questions. Throughout the K-12 grades, students should have the opportunity to carry out scientific investigations and engineering design projects related to the disciplinary core ideas. (National Research Council, 2012, pp. 8-9)

This vision has grown out of work in areas such as constructivism and situated learning theory, which recognize science and science learning as social processes of knowledge construction and argue for leveraging student-centered approaches as well as inquiry- and project-based pedagogies (National Research Council, 2005). The integration of knowledge and practice suggested by the NRC Framework and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is heralded as a powerful approach to science learning (National Research Council, 2012; NGSS Lead States, 2013), but there are currently few curricula that can deliver on this promise.

The book Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations, published by the National Research Council (2011) presents a framework of five learning goals for quality science education. These learning goals have to do with cultivating the motivation to learn about natural phenomena, the conceptual understanding of how science represents the world, the ability to understand and apply scientific methods, the awareness of and participation in scientific discourse, and the development of a scientific identity (National Research Council, 2011). The authors present research suggesting that computer games and simulations have the ability to advance each of these learning goals. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013), likewise, call for student learning experiences that involve engaging in investigation, data analysis, developing and using models, and constructing explanations. Computer-based models and simulations offer rich opportunities for supporting students in these activities.

Multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) offer opportunities to provide rich learning experiences like those described by NGSS and the National Research Council. MUVEs are 3-D graphical worlds used to construct simulated immersive experiences. In a MUVE, each user has a virtual representation, an avatar, which they can move through a 3-D virtual world. These simulated contexts provide rich, immersive environments in which participants can interact with digital objects and tools, with each other and with computer-based agents, providing a sense of presence in a virtual place (Dede, 2009a; Fishman, Dede, & Means, 2015; Slater, 2009). MUVEs are a promising platform for educational applications, in part because MUVEs can simulate environments and experiences otherwise impossible in school settings (e.g., Barab et al., 2005; Kafai, 2010; Schaller et al., 2009). Research with MUVEs for science education has shown that these platforms can be effective in engaging middle and high school students in various science topics (Clarke et al, 2006; Lim et al., 2006; Nelson & Ketelhut, 2007; Trindade et al., 2002).

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