Nokes - Game environments for Chemistry

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Summary Table

PIs Tim Nokes, David Yaron
Other Contributers Daniel Belenky, Michael Karabinos
Study Start Date February, 2010
Study End Date Ongoing
LearnLab Site ChemCollective web site, and Carnegie Mellon Modern Chemistry (09-106)
LearnLab Course Chemistry
Number of Students 500 per month on web site, 150 in CMU class
Total Participant Hours 500 per month on web site, 450 in CMU class
  • Log files of student interactions with virtual lab and other instructional materials.


This set of studies is built around two gaming environment in the chemistry learnlab. The first is online murder mystery activity that currently is carried out by about 500 students per month. The second is a chemistry game being built around the ChemCollective virtual lab.

Background & Significance


Research questions

Study One

Mixed Reception ( is a online game activity in which students investigate a murder. Students use chemistry topics that are typically covered in the first few months of a high school chemistry course to solve the mystery. In addition, the mystery is set in a chemistry research group and is designed to expose students to the goals and processes of modern chemistry research.


Engagement with a game set in an authentic chemistry context will alter students attitudes regarding the domain of chemistry and their perceptions of themselves as relates to science careers.

Independent Variables

This activity is freely available on the web. A questionaire is being added to the beginning of the activity to determine the instructional context (Is this activity part of a course? If so, what course?). Students are randomly partitioned into groups that differ only in the set of questions asked before and after engagement with the activity.

Dependent Variables

Students will be given a short questionaire at the start and the end of the activity. The questions are chosen from a pool that includes questions on self-efficacy, learning goals and career goals.


The study is now designed and the Mixed Reception web site is being updated for data collection.


Study Two

The ChemCollective virtual lab has a curriculum base of about 100 activities. Many of these activities fall in the category or analytical chemistry, where students are asked to determine the contents of a solution (identifying the identity of the chemical species and/or their amounts). Such activities can be recast in a one-one-one game format. The game begins by having each student prepare a solution (the opponent's unknown) that they believe their opponent will have a hard time identifying. (The contents are constrained in a way that sets the difficulty level of the game, for instance, an easy level would be one strong acid, and a hard level would be a mixture of a weak acid and a weak base.) The students then take turn performing an experiment on their unknown solution, and can opt to use their turn to guess at the contents.


Independent Variables

An advantage of this game format is that each game can be cast in a non-game format that is highly parallel with regards to domain content: students can be given an unknown and asked to identify its contents, they can be given an unknown and asked to identify its contents with the fewest possible number of experiments, or they can play against an opponent as described above.

Dependent Variables

Data will be collected on interactions with the virtual lab, along with measures of student learning.



This study is under design for deployment in late March 2010.

Further Information

Connections to Other Studies

Annotated Bibliography


Future Plans