I have to confess that I had a different experience than I would have had as a student because I saw a video about EcoMUVE before playing. Because of that I knew that the fish had died and that the objective was gathering data to establish casual patterns in ecosystems. I also knew that fertilizer was the culprit. Nonetheless exploring EcoMUVE was highly educational.
EcoMUVE is a multi-user virtual environment that represents an ecosystem (a pond) and which students can explore with an avatar. For me the experience of exploring the world was very lonely, I had no classmates to ask practical questions to, like "how were you able to click on the fish that swims very quickly" or "what is a heron and where are they?" also I missed having the opportunity of telling others… Did you talk with the guy from the development? Did you notice something that looked like a leak? Somebody must have reported it because there was a woman here saying that there was no sewage leak… where did the bad smell (that probably made somebody call sanitation) came from? I spent 3 hours collecting data and exploring the world and I enjoyed some of it (I loved learning about the atoms!) some of it was frustrating (here we go again with the submarine!) but most of it was tedious because I didn't have anybody to talk to and share my findings. I don't think that exploring the world in my own corresponds to the experience the students might have in a classroom so I think my evaluation of the motivation factors wouldn't be fair!
More than concrete facts I think exploring this EcoMUVE gave me a great introduction to what research entails, also it made me wonder about a lot of issues and to see in action things that I already knew (when a predator disappears, the populations soars…) I can imagine that for the students it must be very motivational to be able to discover such things and to answer the questions that arise during the exploration.
The big fish died because of low oxygen concentrations! But why that happened is actually quite difficult to explain! I could see a surge in nitrogen and phosphorous in the water (probably came from the fertilizer the new resident used) and that probably caused an increase in algae population. Because of the abundance of algae and the warm cloudy days there was an important decrease in oxygen which I think is what killed the big fish (see photo of how phosphorous is used by algae during photosynthesis, we can see in that picture that oxygen is produced during photosynthesis but not at night! there were very cloudy days before the fish died!) Also… the algae that grew too much also started to died… and the bacteria started eating it which further depleted the oxygen.
I think I would put more questions that students can answer and not only a big question like: Why the fish died? Probably a teacher when she uses the EcoMUVE in class does that… ask questions that guide and highlight facts that they already know and need for the interpretation. In a nutshell… more scaffolding and a lot of interaction between the students. Also, I had to forget about the assignment and really just think about learning to enjoy it. For a while I was frustrated because it was taking forever to take all the measurements and I had already spent two hours but then I decided to investigate and learn about the phosphorous atom and everything illuminated!
I got lost a few times, I would have liked to have a map or more signs.