Enhancing Children's Interest and Knowledge in Bioengineering through an Interactive Videogame

Amanda Strawhacker, Amanda Sullivan, Clarissa Verish, Marina Umashi Bers, Orit Shaer
Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice  •  Volume 17  •  2018  •  pp. 055-081

Bioengineering is a burgeoning interdisciplinary learning domain that could inspire the imaginations of elementary aged children but is not traditionally taught to this age group for reasons unrelated to student ability. This pilot study presents the BacToMars videogame and accompanying curricular intervention, designed to introduce children (aged 7-11) to foundational concepts of bioengineering and to the interdisciplinary nature of scientific endeavors.

This pilot study explores the bioengineering-related learning outcomes and attitudes of children after engaging with the BacToMars game and curriculum intervention.

This study drew on prior findings in game-based learning and applied them to a videogame designed to connect microbiology with Constructionist microworlds. An experimental comparison showed the learning and engagement affordances of integrating this videogame into a mixed-media bioengineering curriculum. Elementary-aged children (N = 17) participated in a 9-hour learning intervention, with one group of n = 8 children receiving the BacToMars videogame and the other group (n = 9) receiving traditional learning activities on the same content. Pre- and post-surveys and interview data were collected from both groups.

This paper contributes to education research on children’s ability to meaningfully engage with abstract concepts at the intersection of science and engineering through bioengineering education, and to design research on developing educational technology for introducing bioengineering content to elementary school children.

Children in both groups showed improved knowledge and attitudes related to bioengineering. Children who used BacToMars showed slightly stronger performance on game-specific concepts, while children in the control condition showed slightly higher generalized knowledge of bioengineering concepts.

Practitioners should consider bioengineering as a domain for meaningful, interdisciplinary learning in elementary education..

Design researchers should develop playful ways to introduce bioengineering concepts accurately and to engage children’s imaginations and problem-solving skills. Education researchers should further investigate developmentally appropriate ways to introduce bioengineering in elementary education.

BacToMars introduces a meaningful scenario to contextualize complex con-cepts at the intersection of science and engineering, and to engage children in real-world, interdisciplinary problem solving.

Future research should explore BacToMars and bioengineering curricula for elementary-aged children in larger samples, with longer intervention times.

biological engineering, elementary school, videogames
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