It’s Not just STEM–Epistemic Games and the Humanities?

The Problem

In the process of developing an epistemic frame, games like Nephrotex and Land Science teach reading, writing and vocabulary- skills that are very important for the educational development of any student. It becomes difficult to teach students about STEM subjects when literacy is a problem.

Education Week  cited a study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2011 that found that

“only one in three U.S. students is able to read and understand grade-level material.”


Epistemic Games can help

The results of Land Science research have demonstrated an increase of vocabulary and literacy from pregame levels. In a presentation at the VLOS Research Meeting at Utrecht University, David Williamson Shaffer  highlights a student’s growth of scientific thinking.

At the beginning of the game, the student said things like:

“Uh, I mean, they could look for a new landfill, like a new place to build a landfill…”

By the end of the game, the student demonstrated thinking consistent with the epistemic frame of an urban planner:

“They should have not closed down the recycling plant. They could have cut other stuff, or they could have raised taxes to increase revenue…They should keep a recycling plant because they should be helping to reduce the amount of waste which is…their goal…They could export the trash…, but then that would cost a lot more money…and they’re making budget cuts.”

In addition to the scientific thinking demonstrated in these quotes, there is also evidence of vocabulary growth. As Shaffer says in his book How Computer Games Help Children Learn, an epistemic game works because it

‘requires that players care about what they are doing. They have to care enough to persist in doing it in the face of obstacles significant enough that overcoming them leads to real learning.’ (p. 126)

For more posts about video games and reading:

Both…And – David Williamson Shaffer
Literacy Skill – Elizabeth Bagley

GAPS is housed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison.