Use of constructivism in the development and evaluation of an educational game environment.
Formal learning contexts often present information to learners in an inert and highly abstract form, making it unlikely that learners would ever use this information in their every-da y lives. Learners do, however, show a greater propensity for retaining information that is seen as having relevance in their lives . Constructivism is an educational paradigm that has gained popularity amongst educationists. The core tenet of this paradigm is that learners learn through interaction with their environment and that all knowledge construction is based on previous life experience. Information that is presented to learners in a contextualised form not only has a better chance of being retained in long-term memory, but also has a greater likelihood of being applied in relevant life situations. This publication deals with the research, design and delivery of important information concerning diseases that have a major impact in Southern Africa. Firstly, learners at the University of Natal, Durban were polled for their existing knowledge concerning four widespread diseases, namely HIV/AIDS , tuberculosis, malaria and cancer. Aspects of these diseases where learners demonstrated a low level of awareness were defined as the primary learning object ives for an educational 3D- immersive microworld. Areas of knowledge concerning the transmission, symptomatic expression, biology and prevention of these diseases were generally not well represented in the learner sample. Hence, information regarding these aspects is presented to learners in a contextualised form within the microworld. Motivation for learners to play in this microworld is provided by a storyline that was researched and written for the portal. In addition, the model used in the storyline design was evaluated for its effectiveness as a tool to be used in the planning of future educational games. A model, the Puzzle Process model, was proposed to inform the design of puzzle interfaces for these types of interactive learning environments, and puzzle interfaces were designed for the virtual environment according to the model guidelines. The learning environment was tested as part of the formative evaluation with a small sample of learners . The testing process made use of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to evaluate the effectiveness of the learning environment as a possible learning tool. Comparison of pre- and post-gameplay questionnaires showed that learners gained a more indepth and richer understanding of the topics being dealt with in the portal. In particular, the puzzle objects situated in the environment stimulated learners to negotiate meanings for the puzzle interfaces and, in the process, encouraged learners to discuss the topic being dealt with. Results from this study also show that the longer learners discussed and negotiated a certain knowledge domain, the greater their increase in richness of information was for that knowledge domain after gameplay. These results highlight the importance of social dialogue in the knowledge construction process and suggest that environments like these have great potential based on their ability to encourage learners to talk to one another and their facilitators while negotiating mutually acceptable knowledge. The original Puzzle Process model, as well as the Game Achievement model and the Game Object model were modified to account for the need for social dialogue and content. These more comprehensive models are instrumental for use in future virtual world environment design.