The effects of a problem based learning digital game on continuing motivation to learn science

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Toprac, Paul K., 1960-

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The purpose of this study was to determine whether playing a problem-based learning (PBL) computer game, Alien Rescue III, would promote continuing motivation (CM) to learn science, and to explore the possible sources of CM. Another goal was to determine whether CM and interest to learn science in the classroom were identical constructs. CM was defined as the pursuit of academic learning goals in noninstructional contexts that were initially encountered in the classroom. Alien Rescue was played for a total of 9 hours in the seventh grade of a private middle school with 44 students, total, participating. The study used a design-based research approach that attempted to triangulate quantitative and qualitative methods. A science knowledge test, and two selfreport questionnaires--one measuring motivation and one measuring CM--were administered preintervention, postintervention, and follow-up. Qualitative data was also collected, including student interviews, classroom observations, written responses, and a science teacher interview. Repeated measures ANOVAs were used to determine any significant changes in scores. A multiple regression analysis was used to explore whether a model of CM could be determined using the Eccles’ expectancy-value achievement motivation model. The constant comparative method was used to obtain relevant information from the qualitative data. Based on contradictory quantitative and qualitative findings, results were mixed as to whether students exhibited an increase in CM to learn space science. Students continued to freely engage Alien Rescue during the mid-class break, but this does not strictly adhere to the definition of CM. However, many students did find space science more interesting than anticipated and developed increased desire to learn more in class, if not outside of class. Results also suggest that CM and interest in learning more in class are separate but related constructs. Finally, no satisfactory model emerged from the multiple regression analysis but based on students’ interviews, continuing interest to learn is influenced by all the components of Eccles’ expectancy-value model. Response effects may have confounded quantitative results. Discussion includes challenges of researching in classrooms, CM, and Eccles’ motivational model, and the tension between PBL and game based approaches. Future design recommendations and research directions are provided.