Learning chemistry through inquiry with the game legends of Alkhimia: An evaluation of learning outcomes

Yam San Chee, Kim Chwee Daniel Tan, Ek Ming Tan, Mingfong Jan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Traditional modes of chemistry education in schools focus on imparting chemistry knowledge to students via instruction. Consequently, students often acquire the mistaken understanding that scientific knowledge comprises a fixed body of "proven" facts. They fail to comprehend that the construction of scientific understanding is a very human and social endeavor. To provide students access to an enhanced learning curriculum, "Legends of Alkhimia" was designed and developed as an educational game for 13 to 14-year-olds to foster the learning of chemistry through inquiry. The multiplayer game supports four concurrent players. It is played on personal computers connected via a local area network. The game embeds students in problem solving challenges related to the use of chemistry in realistic contexts. In attempting to solve these problems, students must engage in individual laboratory work using an in-game virtual chemistry lab. The game levels take students through a narrative arc that provides coherence to the entire gameplay experience. "Legends of Alkhimia", together with its associated curricular materials, instantiates classroom learning based on performance pedagogy: a pedagogy that constructs learning through the lens of performance theory (reported in the ECGBL 2010 conference). Leveraging the immersive affordances of 3D game environments, the learning experience is designed to engage students in the dialectic interplay between learning in the first person, based on playing the game, and learning in the third person, based on the Bakhtinian notion of dialog. In the first part of the paper, we motivate the rationale for game-based learning grounded on performance pedagogy. The second part of the paper investigates the research question: "Is learning lower secondary chemistry more effective with the inquiry-based Alkhimia curriculum compared to learning chemistry using traditional classroom teaching?" We report on an empirical study comparing learning outcomes from a class of 40 students who learned chemistry using the Alkhimia curriculum with a control class of 38 students who learned chemistry through traditional classroom instruction. The students in our study were 13-year-olds from a typical government secondary school. Students in the Alkhimia program were engaged in an 8-week curriculum sequence involving six levels of game play. The chemistry understanding of all students was evaluated through a common assessment that comprised a complex separation task in chemistry, involving mixtures, solutes, and immiscible liquids. Two evaluation criteria were used: (1) effectiveness of separation, and (2) demonstration of conceptual understanding of chemistry. We found that the Alkhimia students significantly outperformed the control students when assessed on the extent to which effective separation was achieved in the students' proposed solution (t75 = 2.56, p =.026) and when assessed with respect to conceptual understanding of chemistry in the separation task (t75 = 3.41, p =.002). We discuss, from a theoretical perspective, how and why learning with the Alkhimia curriculum is efficacious. Our findings are significant in that they suggest how inquiry learning can be successfully enacted in a chemistry game-based learning curriculum, and they underscore the efficacy of approaching game-based learning in terms of performance.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 5th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2011
EditorsMichalis Meimaris, Dimitris Gouscos
PublisherDechema e.V.
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781908272188
StatePublished - 2011
Event5th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2011 - Athens, Greece
Duration: 20 Oct 201121 Oct 2011

Publication series

NameProceedings of the European Conference on Games-based Learning
ISSN (Print)2049-0992


Conference5th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2011


  • Chemistry
  • Dialog
  • Inquiry
  • Performance
  • Play


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