GeniVille: Exploring the Intersection of School and Social Media

October 1st, 2012 - September 30th, 2014 | PROJECT

This project examines the design principles by which computer-based science learning experiences for students designed for classroom use can be integrated into virtual worlds that leverage students' learning of science in an informal and collaborative online environment. GeniVille, developed and studied by the Concord Consortium, is the integration of Geniverse, a education based game that develops middle school students' understanding of genetics with Whyville, developed and studied by Numedeon, Inc., an educational virtual word in which students can engage in a wide variety of science activities and games. Genivers has been extensively researched in its implementation in the middle school science classroom. Research on Whyville has focused on how the learning environment supports the voluntary participation of students anywhere and anytime. This project seeks to develop an understanding of how these two interventions can be merged together and to explore mechanisms to create engagement and persistence through incentive structures that are interwoven with the game activities. The project examines the evidence that students in middle schools in Boston learn the genetics content that is the learning objective of GeniVille. The project uses an iterative approach to the modification of Geniverse activites and the Whyville context so that the structured learning environment is accessible to students working collaboratively within the less structured context. The modification and expansion of the genetics activities of the project by which various inheritance patterns of imaginary dragons are studied continues over the course of the first year with pilot data collected from students who voluntarily engage in the game. In the second year of the project, teachers from middle schools in Boston who volunteer to be part of the project will be introduced to the integrated learning environment and will either use the virtual learning environment to teach genetics or will agree to engage their students in their regular instruction. Student outcomes in terms of engagement, persistence and understanding of genetics are measured within the virtual learning environment. Interviews with students are built into the GeniVille environment to gauge student interest. Observations of teachers engaging in GeniVille with their students are conducted as well as interviews with participating teachers. This research and development project provides a resource that blends together students learning in a computer simulation with their working in a collaborative social networking virtual system. The integration of the software system is designed to engage students in learning about genetics in a simulation that has inherent interest to students with a learning environment that is also engaging to them. The project leverages the sorts of learning environments that make the best use of online opportunities for students, bringing rich disciplinary knowledge to educational games. Knowing more about how students collaboratively engage in learning about science in a social networking environment provides information about design principles that have a wide application in the development of new resources for the science classroom.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Paul Horwitz, Principal Investigator, Concord Consortium
Jennifer Sun, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: ISE/AISL
Award Number: 1238625
Funding Amount: 498251


Audience: Educators | Teachers | Middle School Children (11-13)
Discipline: Education and learning science | Life science
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Games | Simulations | Interactives | Informal | Formal Connections | K-12 Programs | Media and Technology