Examining scientific thinking processes in open-ended serious games through gameplay data
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Research on scientific problem-solving emphasizes the importance of problem solving and scientific inquiry as central components of the twenty-first century skills. Research has shown that open-ended serious games can facilitate students’ development of specific skills and improve learning performance through scientific problem-solving. However, understanding how students learn these complex skills in a game environment is a major challenge, as much research depends on typical paper-and-pencil assessments and self-reported surveys or other traditional observational and quantitative methods. The participants of the study were 237 sixth graders from two middle schools in the Southwestern area of the United States. The students used an open-ended serious game called Alien Rescue as their science curriculum for three weeks. The purpose of this study is, first, to identify students’ navigation behavior patterns in cognitive processes between at-risk and non-at-risk students within Alien Rescue. To accomplish this purpose, this study intends to use gameplay data by incorporating the integrated method of lag sequential analysis and sequential pattern mining together with a statistical analysis. The findings confirmed that the integrated method helped to explore students’ latent navigation behaviors as well as discover the differences of problem-solving processes between non-at-risk and at-risk students. The second purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between students’ learning performance and their scientific inquiry behaviors, which emerged as students engaged with Probe Design Center in this serious game. The results showed that the game metrics developed in Probe Design Center improved the predictions of both in-game and after-game performance. The cluster analyses with game metrics confirmed four unique groups regarding students’ scientific inquiry behaviors in Probe Design Center. This study concluded that the integrated methods of serious games analytics enabled researchers to investigate in-depth cognitive processes and scientific inquiry behaviors within a specific cognitive tool, Probe Design Center, and discover unique behavior groups across different school settings. The researcher identified the challenges of at-risk students in their cognitive processes and highlighted the support needs for these students. Consequently, this study proposed an interactive dashboard using the data-driven evidences to provide teachers just-in-time information to support students’ cognitive processes.