Theses Doctoral

Impact of game-based learning on reasoning skills

Debchaudhury, Spreeha

The ability to design controlled, unconfounded experiments in order to test hypotheses via the Control of Variables Strategy (CVS) is fundamental to all scientific reasoning and inquiry, considered a cornerstone of critical thinking as a whole which enables individuals to make valid causal inferences (Kuhn, 2005a). CVS is considered so crucial to science and science education, in fact, that various scientific and governmental agencies a have begun including it in student curricula, such as the Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012), Benchmarks for science literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993), and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013). However, despite its unique power and flexibility as a cognitive tool and its centrality to the entire architecture of scientific inquiry, most children do not spontaneously develop use of CVS without some form of instruction or scaffolding. According to the National Academy of Sciences (1995), students of various ages still have difficulty manipulating variables and conceptualizing controlled experiments.

Thus, a significant amount of research effort has gone into the examination of the circumstances under which the learning and transfer of CVS is best supported. One such avenue has been within the realm of embodied cognition. Embodied cognition is a concept in Cognitive Science which suggests people create mental perceptual simulations of concepts in order to understand them (Barsalou, 2004; Morrison and Tversky, 1997; Martin, 2007). In the realm of CVS research, the computerization of instructional and assessment materials has met with some success. Klahr, Triona, and Williams (2007), for example, found virtual training tasks in CVS to be equally effective as training tasks with real physical equipment, a result replicated by Smetana & Bell (2012), as well as Triona & Klahr, 2003). Nonetheless, even in these studies, the virtual tasks undertaken by students appear to largely be an extension of a classroom lecture, merely replicating the experience of a physical task without taking advantage of the more unique qualities of the medium. Black (2014) found strong evidence for the potential of video games as perceptually rich grounding environments for embodied learning. Further, significant literature exists establishing the beneficial impacts of game-based learning on motivation and engagement (e.g. Rigby & Przybylski, 2009; Cordova & Lepper, 1996; Malone, 1981).

This study combines these two streams of research by investigating the impact of an interactive simulation game on scientific reasoning skills, specifically effective use of CVS. It seeks to know the impact of game-based learning on scientific reasoning skills and engagement with science, as well as whether structured or unstructured access to an interactive narrative simulation game has a differential impact on immediate learning and retention after a delay following formal instruction. Students were randomized into three groups—two with unstructured and structured access to the game and a control group and given tests of scientific reasoning at baseline, immediately following the training phase, and a week thereafter. They then took two surveys on their science engagement and game experience, the latter of which also included submitting a record of their thoughts and reactions while playing the game.

The study found significant effects of group on all measures, with the game groups outperforming the control, and the unstructured group showing the strongest performance in the post-study test while the structured play group performed the most poorly in the retention test. The unstructured group also showed the highest level of intrinsic motivation, as well as higher self-determination and self-efficacy than the structured playing group in the science engagement survey. The dissertation begins with an establishment of a theoretical framework and literature review before going on to discuss the study and game design in detail. Results and implications are discussed in depth.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Black, John B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 19, 2023