Investigating the Capacity of Game-based Design Elements to Enhance Affective Dimensions of Genetics Learning (GeniGames)

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The New York Hall of Science, in collaboration with the Concord Consortium, proposes an Empirical Research project in the research strand of STEM Learning in Formal and Informal Settings. We will study the extent to which adding game-based design elements to project-based science (PBS) curricula can improve students’ affect and learning. Such positive impact on students’ affect by PBS curricula has been theorized, in particular for students from ethnic and racial groups underrepresented in science and engineering careers, but this outcome has not been routinely observed. However, research in science classrooms has begun to show the potential of gaming to positively impact students’ affect. We have identified three game-based design elements that may mediate the positive impact of gaming on affect: narrative, conflict toward achieving a quantifiable goal, and a play community. We aim to empirically test the extent to which adding each of these game-based design elements to a PBS curriculum enhances students’ affect, while still supporting the gains in meaningful understanding that have been documented with PBS curricula, including for students from underrepresented groups. Students for whom we can improve both affect and learning may be predisposed to stay in the pipeline to science and engineering careers, thus addressing some of the National Academies’ recent recommendations for securing future U.S. prosperity. We will pursue this research study in the context of high school students learning genetics subject matter, building off of Concord Consortium’s well-studied Geniverse software that supports students learning genetics by breeding dragons.


New York City public high school classrooms where genetics subject matter is being taught (typically 9th grade) and at the New York Hall of Science, a hands-on science museum in Queens, NY.

Research Design: 

The project uses a cross-sectional and comparative research design and will generate evidence that is both associative [quasi-experimental] and causal [fixed-effect model and nested two-level regression analysis with students at first level and classrooms at second level].

The interventions used will be a genetics project based science (PBS) curriculum + narrative, PBS + narrative + conflict, and PBS + narrative + conflict + community as compared to a genetics PBS curriculum control. To address our research questions, we will measure changes in students’ affective and learning outcomes. Students will complete affect self-report surveys immediately preceding the instructional intervention in their classrooms. Students will do this for all of the specific affective constructs that are relevant to this study- motivation, engagement, attitudes, and plans- for which specific survey instruments have been identified from the literature. In addition, we will collect test results from students using genetics content assessments. Immediately following the completion of the instructional intervention, students will complete the same affective surveys and genetics assessments. We will also collect demographic information from all participating students: gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status in the form of free or reduced lunch status, and scores on standardized achievement tests.

We will conduct a nested two-level regression analysis (hierarchical linear modeling or HLM), with students at the first level of the model and classrooms at the second level. We will adjust the standard errors of the mean differences for clustering since students are nested within classes. Random assignment of classrooms will assure that the control and three experimental groups are similar on average in all characteristics. Our first model will address our first hypothesis about the size of shifts in motivation, engagement, attitudes, plans, and genetics achievement. Specifically, we aim to determine the value added by each game-based element on these outcomes of interest, and we will use the model to compare the change in outcomes between any two groups. To address our second hypothesis, determining for whom the game-based design elements work, we will build a second regression model that includes interaction effects for students’ membership in groups underrepresented in science and engineering careers (e.g., African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, or female) to determine if the treatment effect is moderated by specific student characteristics.


Findings will be posted as they become available.

Other Products: 

Game-based PBS curriculum products will be generated in order to pursue our research questions.