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Methodological Overview

SMTE will develop, research, and evaluate an instructional model and a prototypical six-week hybrid learning experience that consists of an educational computer game with screen-based 3-D design simulations (three weeks) and follow-up hands-on physical modeling activities and reflection time (three weeks). The game will situate the students in an inhospitable environment and invite them to undertake a quest that requires solving technological design problems to sustain themselves. The quest will contextualize grades 6-8 Standards for Technological Literacy (PI Hacker was a member of the STL development team) and apply standards-based mathematics and science.

Development of materials will be guided by the process described by Wiggins and McTigue in Understanding by Design (UbD), and will be informed by NRC’s How People Learn and by research on anchored instruction. The Project will follow the planning process described in UbD: 1) identify desired results, 2) determine acceptable evidence, and 3) plan learning experiences and instruction. Grant and Denise Wiggins will serve as Project consultants to ensure congruence with the UbD model.

The Project will foster a thoughtful pedagogical approach to design that will serve as the core instructional strategy. The NSF-developed informed design model melds guided inquiry with open-ended design and leads students to develop conceptual understanding before they engage in design activity. Consequently, students approach design from a more “informed” perspective. CTL co-directors Burghardt and Hacker will embed the informed design pedagogy into both the 3-D simulations and the physical modeling.

Bloomsburg University’s Institute for Interactive Technologies will provide the expertise in gaming, game development, and instructional design. Bloomsburg faculty and students will build the active 3-D worlds, design the background scenery, and develop animated human-like characters (avatars).

Knowledge and skill builder activities (see informed design text box), designed to teach important STEM background concepts and skills, will be presented as realistic 3-D simulations.

The simulations will be driven by a knowledge-based engineering (KBE) framework. Using KBE (an object-oriented programming language tightly integrated with a geometric modeling tool), developers capture knowledge about a design process, so that users, aided by 3-D simulations, can evaluate the effect of design changes.

Tom Robertson, president and CEO, Kinetics Inc., Chapel Hill, NC, is one of the nation’s foremost KBE experts. He will serve as a senior Project consultant and will program the animated contexts within which the 3-D simulations occur. Robertson, an engineer, has developed numerous simulations for a wide variety of companies internationally, and is a pioneer in the deployment of KBE in education. The simulations will appear realistic; 3-D graphics will be consistent with the context. The 3-D simulations will be well integrated into the online gaming environment.

Informed Design

Informed design, a design pedagogy developed and validated through several NSF projects conducted by the Hofstra CTL [24], prompts research, inquiry, and analysis; fosters student and teacher discourse; and cultivates language proficiency. Students acquire knowledge to inform their understanding before they begin designing. Student design teams will clarify specifications and constraints; conduct research; generate alternatives; justify the optimal design; test, evaluate, and modify the solution; and communicate achievements in a class presentation and final design report.

To provide the foundation for informed design activity, the Project will engage learners in a progression of knowledge and skill builders (KSBs) – short, focused activities designed to teach salient concepts and skills. KSBs prepare students to approach the design challenge from a knowledgeable base and provide evidence for assessing understanding of important ideas and skills. As background for design activity, KSBs enable students to reach informed design solutions, as opposed to engaging in trial-and-error problem solving where conceptual closure is often not attained. A uniqueness of this Project is that KSBs will be rendered as animated 3-D simulations of varying complexity.