The development of Alien Rescue is guided by a Design-Based Research framework (The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003) and research is an integral part of the development and is an ongoing effort by the R&D team. At each step of the development process, classroom based research is conducted to see how students use various features of the program and what teachers think of the new features. Program features/tools that are shown to be effective through research has been incorporated into the core of the Alien Rescue and disseminated to schools. Here are the research papers completed so far. This list is growing as we continue conducting studies with Alien Rescue. 

Research Studies Using Alien Rescue as a Context

Examining Cognitive and Affective Factors of An Immersive Learning Environment

Liu, M., Horton, L., Kang, J., Kimmons, R. and Lee, J. (2016). Making Learning Fun: An Investigation of Using a Ludic Simulation for Middle School Space Science . In B. Dubbels (Ed.) Transforming Gaming and Computer Simulation Technologies across Industries (pp. 130-152), Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Liu, M., Rosenblum, J., Horton, L., & Kang, J. (2014). Designing Science Learning with Game-Based Approaches.Computers in the School, 31(1/2), 84-102. DOI:10.1080/07380569.2014.879776

Liu, M., Horton, L., Kang, J., Kimmons, R. and Lee, J. (2013). Using a Ludic Simulation to Make Learning of Middle School Space Science Fun. The International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1). 66-86. DOI: 10.4018/jgcms.2013010105, 5(1). 66-86. DOI: 10.4018/jgcms.2013010105

Kimmons, R., Liu, M., Kang, J. & Santana, L. (2011-2012). Attitude, Achievement, and Gender in a Middle School Science-based Ludic Simulation for Learning. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 40(4), 341-370.

Liu, M, Horton, L., Olmanson, J. & Toprac, P. (2011). A Study of Learning and Motivation in A New Media Enriched Environment For Middle School ScienceEducational Technology Research and Development (ETR&D) 59(2), 249-266. doi:10.1007/s11423-011-9192-7.

Liu, M., Toprac, P., & Yuen, T. (2009). What Factors Make a Multimedia Learning Environment Engaging: A Case Study. In R. Zheng, (Ed.) Cognitive Effects of Multimedia Learning (pp. 173-192). Hershey, PA: Idea Group Inc.

Hsieh, P. H., Cho. Y., Liu, M., & Schallert, D. L. (2008). Examining the interplay between middle school students’ achievement goals and self-efficacy in a technology-enhanced learning environmentAmerican Secondary Education Journal, 36(3), 33-50.

Liu, M., Hsieh, P., Cho, Y. J. & Schallert, D. L. (2006). Middle school students’ self-efficacy, attitudes, and achievement in a computer-enhanced problem-based learning environmentJournal of Interactive Learning Research, 17(3). 225-242.

Liu, M (2005). The effect of a hypermedia learning environment on middle school students' motivation, attitude, and science knowledgeComputers in the Schools, 22(3/4), 159-171.

Liu, M. (2004). Examining the Performance and Attitudes of Sixth Graders During Their Use of A Problem-Based Hypermedia Learning EnvironmentComputers in Human Behavior, 20(3), 357-379.

Use Cognitive Tools to Mediate Learning in Immersive Learning Environments

Bogard, T., Liu, M., & Chiang, Y. H (2013). Thresholds of Knowledge Development in Complex Problem Solving: A Multiple-Case Study of Advanced Learners’ Cognitive Processes. Educational Technology Research and Development, 61(3), 465-503..DOI 10.1007/s11423-013-9295-4

Liu, M., Yuen, T. T. Horton, L., Lee, J., Toprac, P. and Bogard. T.(2013). Designing Technology-Enriched Cognitive Tools To Support Young Learners’ Problem Solving. The International Journal of Cognitive Technology, 18(1), 14-21.

Liu, M., Horton, L., Toprac, P. & Yuen. T. (2011). Examining the Design of Media Rich Cognitive Tools as Scaffolds in a Multimedia Problem-Based Learning Environment. In M. Orey, S. A. Jones, & R. M. Branch (Eds.), Educational Media and Technology Yearbook (EMTY), 36. DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-1305-9_10. New York: Springer.

Liu, M., Horton, L., Corliss, S. B., Svinicki, M. D., Bogard, T., Kim, J., & Chang, M. (2009). Students’ problem-solving as mediated by their cognitive tool use: A study of tool use patternsJournal of Educational Computing Research, 40(1). 111-139.

Li, R. & Liu, M. (2008). The Effects of Using A Computer Database Tool on Middle School Students’ Cognitive Skill Acquisition in A Multimedia Learning Environment. In R. Kobayashi, (Ed.) New Educational Technology. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Li, R. & Liu, M. (2007). Understanding the effects of databases as cognitive tools in a problem-based multimedia learning environment.Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 18(3), 345-363.

Bera, S. & Liu, M. (2006). Cognitive tools, individual differences, and group processing as mediating factors in a hypermedia environmentComputers in Human Behavior, 22(2). 295-319.

Liu, M, & Bera, S. (2005). An Analysis of Cognitive Tool Use Patterns in a Hypermedia Learning EnvironmentEducational Technology Research & Development, 53(1), 5-21.

Liu, M., Bera, S., Corliss, S., Svinicki, M., & Beth, A. (2004). Understanding the connection between cognitive tool use and cognitive processes as used by sixth graders in a problem-based hypermedia learning environmentJournal of Educational Computing Research, 31(3), 309-334.

Pedersen, S. & Liu, M. (2002). The transfer of problem-solving skills from a problem-based learning environment: the effect of modeling an expert's cognitive processes. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 35(2), 303-320.

Pedersen, S. & Liu, M. (2002). The effects of modeling expert cognitive strategies during problem-based learningJournal of Educational Computing Research, 26(4), 353-380.

Overall Design of An Immersive Learning Environment

Liu, M., Horton, L., Lee, J., Kang, J., Rosenblum, J., O’Hair, M. & Lu, C. W. (2014). Creating a Multimedia Enhanced Problem-Based Learning Environment for Middle School Science: Voices from the Developers. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning8(1). Available at:

Liu, M, Williams, D., & Pedersen, S. (2002). Alien Rescue: A Problem-Based Hypermedia Learning Environment for Middle School Science.Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 30(3), 255-270.

Pedersen, S., Liu, M. & Williams, D. (2002). Alien Rescue: Designing for Student-Centered Learning. Educational Technology. 42(5), 11-14.

Facilitating Teachers’ Use of Learner-Centered Learning Environments

Liu, M., Wivagg, J. Geurtz, R., Lee, S. T. & Chang. M. (2012). Examining How Middle School Science Teachers Implement A Technology Enriched Problem-Based Learning EnvironmentInterdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning. 6(2), 46-84. Available at:

Pedersen, S. & Liu, M. (2003). Teachers' beliefs about issues in the implementation of a student-centered learning environment. Educational Technology Research and Development. 51(2), 57-76.

Exploring Emerging Data Analytics to Better Understand Learning Processes in An Immersive Learning Environment

Kang, J., Liu, M., Qu, W. (in press). Using Gameplay Data to Examine Learning Behavior Patterns in a Serious Game. Computers in Human Behavior.

Liu, M., Lee, J., Kang, & Liu, S. (2016). What We Can Learn From The Data: A Multiple-Case Study Examining Behavior Patterns By Students With Different Characteristics In Using a Serious Game . The Technology, Knowledge and Learning journal. 21(1), 33-57. 10.1007/s10758-015-9263-7

Liu, M., Kang, J., Lee, J, Winzeler, E., & Liu, S. (2015). Examining through visualization what tools learners access as they play a serious game for middle school science. In C. S. Loh, Y. Sheng, & D. Ifenthaler (Eds.) Serious Games Analytics: Methodologies for Performance Measurement, Assessment, and Improvement (pp. 181-208), Switzerland: Springer, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-05834-4.

Dissertations & MA Reports Based on Alien Rescue

Kang, J. (2017). Examining Scientific Thinking Processes in Open-Ended Serious Games through Gameplay Data. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Moudgalya, S. K. (2017). Problem-Based Learning Environment: Alien Rescue. Unpublished master report, the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Stamets, S. E. (2016). Game On: Redesign of a Teacher Professional Development Platform for Use with the Serious Game Alien Rescue. Unpublished master report, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX. 

Qiu, Y. J. (2016). 3D Modeling Tool Selection For Research-based Educational Games: An Experience. Unpublished master report, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Lee, Jaejin (2015). Effects of Fantasy and Fantasy Proneness on Learning and Engagement in a 3D Educational Game.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Horton, L. (2014). The effects of problem-based learning scaffolds on cognitive load, problem-solving, and student performance within a multimedia enhanced learning environment,  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Toprac, P. (2008). The Effects of a Problem Based Learning Digital Game on Continuing Motivation in Learning Science. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Smith, A. (2008). Using a Hypermedia Problem-Based Learning Tool in an Informal Learning Environment: Challenges and Lessons Learned, Unpublished master report, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Bogard, T. (2005). Advanced Learners’ Use of Cognitive Tools in a Hypermedia Problem Based Learning Environment: A Case Study, Unpublished master report, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Li, R. (2005). The Effects of Databases as Cognitive Tools in a Multimedia Problem Based Learning Environment. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Corliss, S. (2005). The effects of reflective prompts and collaborative learning in hypermedia problem-based learning environments on problem solving and metacognitive skills. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Stephan Bera, S. (2004). The Nature of Cognitive Tool Use in a Hypermedia Learning Environment. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Pedersen, S. (2000). Cognitive Modeling During Problem-Based Learning: The effects of a hypermedia expert tool. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Williams, D. (1999). Hypermedia-supported Authentic Learning Environments (HALE): Examination of Tools and Features Which can Support Students Learning. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Rhodes, S. (1998). Interactivity in Computer-Based Learning Environments. Unpublished master report, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

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"How do you describe Alien Rescue to a friend?"
Liu, Horton, Olmanson, & Toprac (2011)

      Alien Rescue is a great example of problem-based learning. Our test and quiz grades are higher than the years before when we did not use Alien Rescue.

Carrera Crockett (Teacher)
Running Brushy Middle School, Leander, TX

(Significantly different from the pretest, p < .01)
Liu, Rosenblum, Horton, & Kang (2014)

      I was amazed at how, after two weeks, all 125 of my students were still so drawn to Alien Rescue.

Rachel Vangsnes (Teacher)
Four Points Middle School, Leander, TX

Students were asked to compare Alien Rescue to other Science activities

Liu, Horton, Kang, Kimmons, & Lee (2013)