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Learning in the Wild: Evaluating WolfQuest’s impact on game players


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A presentation from Museums and the Web 2009.

Kate Haley Goldman, Institute for Learning Innovation, USA
David Schaller, eduweb, USA
Grant Spickelmier, Minnesota Zoo, USA
Steven Allison-Bunnell, USA
Jes Koepfler, Institute for Learning Innovation, USA

The enormous popularity of computer and videogames (Lenhard et al. 2008), and the inherent pedagogical qualities of such games (Gee 2003, Squire et al. 2003) has inspired many efforts to create games that successfully fuse compelling gameplay with learning goals. This session examines the results of one such effort. WolfQuest is a 3D wildlife simulation game developed by Eduweb and the Minnesota Zoo, funded by the National Science Foundation, and distributed on-line as a free download for Mac and Windows computers. With over 250,000 game downloads and 30,000 multiplayer game sessions per month, the game has definitely found an audience. But are these players learning what we intended? Summative evaluation found that players do indeed report knowledge gain, stronger emotional attachment to wolves, and significant behavioral outcomes, with large percentages of players following their game sessions with other wolf-related activities, including such further explorations of wolves on the Internet, in books and on television. This paper details the evaluation results from the summative evaluation, discusses the theory behind the project, and reflects on our experience developing the game.

Session: Learning From Games [design]

Published in: Entertainment & Humor
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Learning in the Wild: Evaluating WolfQuest’s impact on game players

  1. 1. Learning in the Wild: What WolfQuest taught developers and game players Dave Schaller Kate Haley Goldman eduweb Institute for Learning Innovation Monday, April 27, 2009
  2. 2. Game, Community, Network ‣ Immersive 3D game with single-player and multi-player missions ‣ Online community of players/ learners ‣ National Network of zoos promote project locally Monday, April 27, 2009
  3. 3. The Game Monday, April 27, 2009
  4. 4. The Game in the Wild Does Usage = Learning? ‣ 250,000 game downloads in fifteen months ‣ 46,000 registered members of WolfQuest community forum ‣ 1,200 forum posts daily ‣ 20,000 multiplayer sessions per month Monday, April 27, 2009
  5. 5. Audience Age Under 9 9-15 years old 16-17 years old 18-25 years old 18-24 2% 4% 1% years old 25-34 years old 12% 35+ 16-17 years old 14% 9-15 years old 67% Monday, April 27, 2009
  6. 6. Audience WolfQuest Players in Bartle’s Player Types 80% 64% 48% 32% 16% 0% Explorer Achiever Socializer Killer Discovering new Mastering the game Getting to know Attacking parts of game Scoring points other players other players Creative ways to advance Monday, April 27, 2009
  7. 7. Go Where Your Audience Is Branding by topic and game ch 16,000 Registered forumNot by institution un La members e m Website hits (thousands) Ga ow Sh e th 12,000 of ck ta At ch un 8,000 La o m De de ch un la um 4,000 r Fo 0 Nov Dec Jan Feb March April May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Jan 2006 2007 2008 Monday, April 27, 2009
  8. 8. Summative Evaluation Does playing WolfQuest… ✦Increase players’ knowledge of, and interest and attitudes towards wolves? ✦Increase players’ intended or actual wolf-related conservation behaviors? ✦Support or reinforce players’ scientific habits of mind? Monday, April 27, 2009
  9. 9. Methods ✦Retrospective pre-post Web Survey (n=964) ✦Semi-stratified telephone interviews (n=40) ✦Forum content analysis (Random sample of 321 threads) Monday, April 27, 2009
  10. 10. Self-Rated Wolf Knowledge: Pre- and Post-Game 50% Pre-Game Post-Game 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Novice Beginner Intermediate Experienced Expert Monday, April 27, 2009
  11. 11. What are some things you learned, or found out, about wolf behaviors and habitats from playing this game? Response Category Percent (n=182) Social Behaviors 116% Hunting 79% Defense/Territory 45% Other Wolf Knowledge 46% Habitat 19% Affective/Experiential/Social/ 13% Behavioral Humans (of and related to) 2% Monday, April 27, 2009
  12. 12. Due to playing WolfQuest, have you done or do you intend to do any of the following…. Response Percent Look up information about wolves on the Internet? 84% Watch a TV show or video about wolves? 83% Read about wolves in books, magazines, or newspapers? 82% Talk to friends or family about playing the game? 82% Make art related to wolves? 76% Visit a zoo? 72% Visit a nature center, park, or wilderness area to see wildlife? 69% Participate in outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing, etc. 67% Visit a wildlife area to see wolves? 62% Write something about wolves or wolf habitats? 58% Create a wildlife friendly backyard garden? 42% Plan a school project related to wolves? 41% Attend a wolf class or program at a zoo or nature center? 38% Monday, April 27, 2009
  13. 13. Real Gameplay Encourages Replay Replay positively correlates to interest in wolves and behavioral outcomes Monday, April 27, 2009
  14. 14. Ancillary Activities are Essential Elements for Learning Discussion, artmaking, storytelling and other projects extend the experience in meaningful ways Monday, April 27, 2009
  15. 15. Scientific Habits of Mind Alternative explanations of data: No matter how well one theory fits observations, a new theory might fit them just as well or better, or might fit a wider range of observations. In science, the testing, revising, and occasional discarding of theories, new and old, never ends. This ongoing process leads to an increasingly better understanding of how things work in the world but not to absolute truth (AAAS.1.A.12.3, AAAS.12.A.8.3) Model testing and prediction: The usefulness of a model can be tested by comparing its predictions to actual observations in the real world. But a close match does not necessarily mean that the model is the only ‘‘true’’ model of the only one that would work (AAAS.11.B.12.2) Steinkuehler and Duncan (2008) Monday, April 27, 2009
  16. 16. Scientific Habits of Mind Example of “Alternate explanation of data” in World of Warcraft discussion forum The calculations correctly show that mind flay [spell] “receives just as much damage percentage as mind blast. However mind blast has a 1.5 second cast time, and mind flay has a 3 second cast time. And therefore mind flay receives half the dps [damage per second] boost it should. (post #2609.43) Steinkuehler and Duncan (2008) Monday, April 27, 2009
  17. 17. Scientific Habits of Mind Example of “Alternate explanation of data” in WolfQuest discussion forum “Okay but why dose [sic] it say when you run from a wolf it says you lost your territory and if you make a wolf run away something appears really fast that says the word home at the end? (I think).” Monday, April 27, 2009
  18. 18. Scientific Habits of Mind How did you overcome challenges in the game? “Well, at first, I was a very terrible hunter. I mean. I was pitiful. I couldn't even take down the weakest elk in the herd, even WHEN I had a mate! It was a very sad sight to see. Well, to overcome such a problem, I just kinda practiced. And watched a few videos that people had made. And... Well, I made a few observations myself. And you know what... it worked! I kinda just practiced, watched my status bars and stuff, took notes.” Monday, April 27, 2009
  19. 19. Matching Content to Gameplay System • Rules • Feedback By analyzing gameplay, players are analyzing the ecological system Monday, April 27, 2009
  20. 20. It’s the Player’s Game, We Only Created It Users will always take your work and use it toward their own ends Monday, April 27, 2009
  21. 21. Dave Schaller Kate Haley Goldman Monday, April 27, 2009