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Journal Article Summary

Title: " A Multi-user Virtual Environment for Building Higher Order Inquiry Skills in Science "
Name: Susan Lulee
Date: 10/15/06

Reference: Ketelhut, D. J., Dede, C., Clarke, J., & Nelson, B. (2006). A Multi-User Virtual Environment for Building Higher Order Inquiry Skills in Science. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, Retrieved October 10, from

Problem: The research intends to answer the following questions: Do students engage in inquiry in the MUVE, River City? What types of significant gains in affect and learning are produced in MUVE and classroom-based inquiry learning? How do results on inquiry learning compare between standardized type testing and performance assessments? What are MUVE’s strengths and limits in facilitating classroom-based inquiry learning?

Context: Approximately 2000 American middle school students from diverse urban and suburban areas were divided into focus group and control group, work in team to minimize cross-contamination of disease in a city. Focus group adopted a computer-based multi-user virtual environment, River City; the control group utilized a paper-based curriculum including features similar to River City, such as a historical scenario and unknown disease transmission. Both groups were taught the same content and skills in equivalent time via a guided social constructivist-based pedagogy. The paper-based control treatment was randomly assigned to whole classes. Each teacher offered both the computer-based treatments and the control.


Engagement: Students engage in more data-gathering behaviors; they use more data sources to base their experiments; and they continue to increase their commitment throughout the data-gathering period. Many students claim that they feel like a scientist for the first time, “We had to figure out things and ask questions and use our brains and think really hard”.

Affective results: In focus group, “student attendance is improved and disruptive behavior dropped”; “thoughtfulness of inquiry” is improved nearly double their starting score; “interest in a scientific career” is 5% higher than students in control groups.

Biology Content Results: One of the focus group shows 32~35% higher in their biological knowledge improvement than control group but the other two focus groups show little differences.

Inquiry Content Results: Overall, students in River City treatments outperformed students in the control treatments; in most of the groups, boys outperformed girls on inquiry survey questions; low entering grade students did nearly equally as well as high entering grade students. The ‘Letter to the Mayor’ written for the control curriculum often: was much shorter in length, showed less engagement, did not mention the experiment, and did not explicitly recognize the interconnectedness of different problems.

MUVE on improving inquiry: Nearly all teachers want to implement the project in following years. The project proves that River City can facilitate teaching with inquiry.

Recommendations: As a complex form of multimedia technology, MUVE creates an interactive computer simulation of a geographical area that helps linking students’ old knowledge and experiences to novel settings. Researches conducted by Harvard and UCLA have found positive results on applying MUVE to education. Researchers recommend that, besides technology, educators should pay high attention to skills in facilitating inquiry and discussion.


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