Can web-based technology be used to effectively introduce or reinforce aspects of microbiology to middle school students? This central hypothesis examines whether brief exposure to a web adventure format containing virtual lab experiments and computer games within an engaging story line can impact student learning. An episodic adventure series, MedMyst (http://medmyst.rice.edu), focuses on infectious diseases and the microbes that cause them. The website is not intended to replace classroom instruction, but rather to engage students in problem-solving activities not likely to be encountered elsewhere. It also provides scientists with a resource to introduce microbiology to adolescent audiences through outreach activities.
In the online adventure, the player (student) enters a futuristic world in which he or she becomes a “Reconstructor,” a member of an elite team charged with preventing the spread of infectious disease. The series consists of three “missions,” each lasting approximately 30 to 40 minutes and designed to address a limited set of learning objectives.
Middle school students participated in the creation of the characters and the stylized design through focus groups. Classroom teachers oversaw the alignment of the web adventure objectives with the National Science Content Standards. Scientists and clinicians reviewed the web adventure for content and accuracy.
A field test involving over 700 students from nine different schools assessed the knowledge gains attributable to playing MedMyst. Gain scores from pretest to posttest indicated that middle school students retained important information by interacting with the online material for as little as 30 minutes per adventure; however, gains for high school students were less persuasive, perhaps indicating a different learning tool or content is required for this age audience.