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A multi-user virtual environment for building and assessing higher order inquiry skills in science


  • Diane Jass Ketelhut is an assistant professor of Science Education at Temple University. She is currently investigating the use of virtual environments for science assessment. Brian C. Nelson is an assistant professor of Educational Technology at Arizona State University. His current research examines learning, assessment, and engagement issues involved in the use of immersive computer games for STEM education. Jody Clarke is a research associate at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research focuses on how immersive technologies enable new approaches and methods for assessing and understanding learning. Chris Dede is the Timothy E. Wirth professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard Graduate School of Education; his fields of scholarship include emerging technologies, policy, and leadership.

Dr Diane Jass Ketelhut, 1301 Cecil B. Moore Ave, Ritter Hall 450, CITE Department, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA. Email:


This study investigated novel pedagogies for helping teachers infuse inquiry into a standards-based science curriculum. Using a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) as a pedagogical vehicle, teams of middle-school students collaboratively solved problems around disease in a virtual town called River City. The students interacted with ‘avatars’ of other students, digital artefacts and computer-based ‘agents’ acting as mentors and colleagues in a virtual community of practice set during the time period when bacteria were just being discovered. This paper describes the results from three implementations of the River City virtual environment in 2004–05 with approximately 2000 students from geographically diverse urban areas. The results indicated that students were able to conduct inquiry in virtual worlds and were motivated by that process. However, the results from the assessments varied depending on the assessment strategy employed.