WolfQuest Summative Report
The Institute for Learning Innovation (ILI) conducted a summative evaluation of the NSF-ISE funded project, WolfQuest. WolfQuest is an educational video game, downloadable free of charge, developed by Eduweb (Educational Web Adventures, Inc.) and the Minnesota Zoo. WolfQuest intends to increase the knowledge of, interest in, and attitudes towards wolves and wolf habitats in children ages 9 to 15. This evaluation report synthesizes key analysis and findings from data based on a web survey of players, in-depth phone interviews of players, and content analysis of the game conversation forums. WolfQuest has a large audience on average, players engage in over 100,000 multiplayer game sessions per month. While WolfQuest was a downloadable game available to anyone, the game achieved reaching its target audience of 9-15 year olds, with nearly 70% of players coming from that age range. Analysis shows that player interest in, connection to, and knowledge regarding wolves, their behaviors, and their habitats has increased significantly. This is despite the fact that STEM-content knowledge was woven throughout the game and rarely, if ever, explicitly taught. Individuals playing WolfQuest also report a stronger emotional attachment to wolves after playing the game. Emotional connection has a statistically significant negative correlation with incoming self-ranked knowledge, so that individuals who rank themselves as experienced or expert were less likely to report that WolfQuest increased their connection to wolves. In self-reported knowledge, there is a definite cognitive gain, with respondents naming either general or specific items they learned, including facts related to habitats, hunting behaviors, territories and threats to wolf survival, social behaviors, and other wolf facts related to the anatomy and species of wolves. After playing WolfQuest, players continue with other wolf-related learning and behaviors. Over three quarters of the survey participants either actually or intended to look up information about wolves, watch videos or television shows about wolves, read further about wolves, make art about wolves and talk to friends and family about wolves and the WolfQuest game specifically. Over half of the individuals connect playing WolfQuest with their desire to visit zoos, nature centers and state parks and to participate in outdoor activities. Overall, age was a strong contributing factor in subsequent behavior, as younger players are more likely to show behavioral change than older ones. The amount an individual plays WolfQuest is also correlated with behavior change, with individuals who played more likely to exhibit the intended behaviors. WolfQuest players demonstrated the use of scientific habits of mind, including model-based testing, social construction of knowledge, and use of evidence, in their problem-solving and discussions around problem-solving. While this finding corroborates findings elsewhere in current gaming research, it is notable in that it demonstrates these skills at a younger level and within the context of a learning game. Throughout the evaluation, WolfQuest was shown to be a highly effective in achieving the goals laid out, and providing a rich and rewarding learning experience for the players. While this was an evaluation of a particular game, rather than a research study of STEM-related gaming, it raises several topics for future potential research. The appendix of this report includes the web-based survey and telephone interview protocol used in the study.