Australia is facing a STEM skill shortage. Insufficient numbers of children develop and maintain an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) while at school. The RALfie Project (Remote Access Labs for Fun, Innovation and Education) aims to develop children’s STEM knowledge whilst fostering a positive attitude towards STEM learning. Using Design Based Research, a group of investigators, unconstrained by past thinking, is redefining how remote access labs are used in education.
In the RALfie game, children are able to make real experiments. The quests are designed to maximize online collaboration and communication. Learners advance through a series of levels and achievements rewarded by badges and points. This aims to motivate participation, and maintain engagement with STEM content and build positive attitudes.
Intrinsic motivation to engage with STEM is nurtured using an online community called a ‘guild’. Becoming an active Guild member fosters responsibility, not reliance. Children use communication and collaboration tools to safely engage with the wider STEM community to get help and mentor peers. With community support in forums and a repository of web based plans and models as well, children involved in the RALfie Project will be connected into a wider community sharing experiments via the Internet for local and remote use.
This paper describes the design based research plan and current iteration of the design of this online learning environment. RALfie aims to prepare children for the digital future by building confidence with and vital knowledge and understanding of design and digital technologies as well as production skills which are all key outcomes of the national Technology curriculum. The research conducted within the RALfie Project is investigating:
- the gamification of STEM learning with RAL;
- curriculum and pedagogical implications of using a ‘maker’ approach to RAL in STEM education
- the self-efficacy of teachers incorporating RAL; and
- the technical aspects of a child-friendly system for interfacing experiments to the Internet to form a distributed network of labs.
Using an iterative process called the Integrative Learning Design Framework, the research team are developing and testing a quest-based game environment that uses a custom made, innovative, online, technical system. Trials in 2013 in controlled laboratory conditions indicate children as young as 6 can understand the networking concepts required to assemble and interface experiments to the Internet. In early 2014, pre-service primary teachers will explore the curriculum possibilities of RALfie in a hands-on trial during their engagement with the Technology curriculum. Children in informal learning situations at home will engage with RALfie in trials in mid-2014.