Advancing Informal STEM Learning Through Alternate Reality Games

Advancing Informal STEM Learning Through Alternate Reality Games

This collaborative 3-year, Full-Scale Development and Research project will help Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) realize their potential as transformative, informal STEM learning environments. This project creates and evaluates 2 large-scale ARGs, led by leading game designers, creative artists, researchers, and content experts from Brigham Young University, University of Maryland, the Computer History Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, NASA, Writerguy LLC, and UXR Consulting. Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are interactive experiences where players collaboratively hunt for clues, make sense of disparate information, contribute content, and solve puzzles to advance a narrative that is woven into the fabric of the real world. Unlike video games or virtual reality experiences, ARGs lead players to use a variety of media modalities (social media, texting, websites, videos, museums). Because players play as themselves and adhere to the “this is not a game” (TINAG) ethos, ARGs create unique opportunities for informal, player-driven STEM learning to occur. Key deliverables for this project include 2 large-scale ARGs with related media and technology artifacts (i.e., mythologies and associated narratives, videos, artwork, websites, social media content, inquiry platforms, mobile apps, and game elements); corresponding museum exhibits and lesson plans for formal and informal educators; and a full summative evaluation report. The ARGs target youth ages 13-15, and emphasize reaching females and other groups underrepresented in STEM including blacks and Hispanics. Their ancillary materials and lesson plans will enable replay in museums, classrooms, libraries, and after-school programs. Anticipated outcomes for the target audiences include: O-1: Players demonstrate increased knowledge of computational thinking and deep-time sciences (e.g., cryptography, digital communications, exobiology). O-2: (A) Players practice and/or improve their application of scientific inquiry skills, and (B) players demonstrate increased awareness of their scientific inquiry skills through game play (i.e. they recognize they are using them when playing the games). O-3: Players demonstrate increased engagement with STEM concepts across different media channels (e.g., print, video, museum artifacts, social media). To achieve these outcomes, the research and design team will use iterative development and prototyping, including co-design sessions with our target audience for front-end, formative, and remedial evaluation. An independent evaluator from UXR Consulting Inc. performs summative evaluations of the impact of each ARG on the stated goals and outcomes using a mixed-method approach combining data from web and social media analytics, interviews, surveys, and user-generated content. Additionally, the research team will identify successful strategies for making ARGs transformative and replicable informal STEM learning environments by tackling the following research questions: RQ-1: Which properties of ARGs effectively promote the informal learning outcomes listed above? How does this differ for open-ended and closed-ended ARGs? RQ-2: How can ARGs be customized to embed learning assessments of players as authentic components of gameplay? RQ-3: Which techniques are most effective for co-designing informal learning ARGs with teens? RQ-4: Which strategies make ARGs reusable across both formal and informal learning environments?

Duration: 
October 2013 - September 2018
Funder: 
National Science Foundation
Total Award Amount: 
$703,966

Principal Investigator: