Posts tagged ‘educational gaming’

April 9, 2013

Thoughts from the Field: A Non-Gamer in a Gaming World

What is it like being a non-gamer at the largest gaming event on the east coast? Particularly, what’s it like being a non-gaming, STEM education writer whose idea of a ‘good game’ started and ended with Myst at the largest gaming event on the east coast?

Three words: complete sensory overload.  Energy stores depleted. Game over!

Suffice it to say that PAX East was like nothing I had ever experienced before. The typical education conference trajectory of an orderly check-in followed by easy session scheduling did not apply…at all. Instead, taking in the PAX exhibit hall, play areas, and panels at the Boston Convention Center was like being thrust into Times Square on New Year’s Eve—if Times Square was overrun with fast-moving, fast-talking youngsters wearing backpacks and whizzing into lines amidst booming sound effects, flashing camera bulbs, and the smells of stale pizza and sugary carnival fare.

Games, gamers, and more gamers at PAX East...

Games, gamers, and more gamers at PAX East…

If I had been attending PAX for user research purposes, I would have been far too intimidated to even begin the process of conducting interviews. In actuality, I was attending PAX in the company of the EdGE team—TERC’s in-house group researching and designing robust science games that gamers like to play. This year, EdGE was checking PAX East out to examine the gaming landscape —and search out any  points of intersection between the education and gaming spheres.

As we learned from the not one; not two; but THREE packed panels that examined gaming and learning, there is widespread colloquial agreement among developers and gamers alike that games should be vehicles for meaningful learning, alternative assessment, and augmenting self-efficacy in underserved populations (including those with physical and cognitive disabilities ). However, we also learned that the development pathways, empirical research, and salient examples of educational, accessible, and fun-to-play games are few and far between…

…so what does that mean for TERC, and EdGE? Well—three panels about education-driven design at a trendy gamer-focused conference just served to solidify the value and prescient orientation of EdGE’s research and game development.

In fact, EdGE is about to release a couple of wireless games to engage high school students in physics and evolutionary biology while they play games like the ones they download from the App Store. EdGE collects data from these games to research learning, and recently joined an international team of U.S. and Finnish researchers investigating engagement in game-based learning (Project FUN).  They also attended and presented at GDC  a week or so ago.  It’s clear that their playable body of work truly is at the cutting-edge cusp of gaming and education. And now, excitingly, the hippest-of-hip gamers and developers are catching on!

For news, new games to test, and more goings-on from the EdGE team, be sure to check out: edge.terc.edu.

 

February 14, 2013

Beat the Winter Doldrums With…the ‘EdGE’ of Science!

This week, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is convening in Boston for the 2013 Annual Meeting—bringing together scientists, educators, and research luminaries to share the latest innovations in (and applications of) scientific research.

And speaking of the applications of science—AAAS has organized a fun, free, family-centric event called the Family Science Days, happening this Saturday and Sunday (2/16 and 2/17) from 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. at the Hynes Convention Center. The AAAS Family Science Days showcase interactive tabletop exhibits, hands-on demonstrations, kid-friendly activities, and stage shows from experts in the fields of biology, chemistry, nanoscience, earth and space science and more. This event open to all, but organized especially for students in grades 6 to 12. And TERC will be there!

Play Impulse, a new particle propelling challenge from EdGE@TERC!

Play Impulse, a new particle propelling challenge from EdGE@TERC!

Have a son or daughter who loves gaming, science, or solving puzzles? Be sure to check out the Educational Gaming Environments (EdGE )@TERC’s exhibit booth on Saturday or Sunday at the Family Science Days. The EdGE team of scientist-game designers and developers will be showing their newest ‘Leveling Up’ learning games, Impulse and Quantum Spectre. Stop by, play the games, ask questions, share your ideas, and learn more about how EdGE is creating compelling science-rich game experiences that gamers like to play.

Play Quantum Spectre, EdGE's new laser puzzle game!

Play with lasers in EdGE’s new Quantum Spectre at AAAS’ Family Science Days, but watch out for the spectres!

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For more information about where the EdGE team and other TERC staff will be presenting this spring and summer, be sure to visit: TERC’s newsroom.

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November 29, 2012

Q&A: Dr. Jodi Asbell-Clarke and Being Cutting ‘EdGE’, Leveling Up, and Making Project FUN

At TERCtalks, we’re excited to be kicking off a series of Q&As with PIs, PDs, and the other talented staff that make us tick out here in Cambridge. In our maiden Q&A voyage, I sat down to chat with Dr. Jodi Asbell-Clarke, an astrophysicist, educator, and Senior Principal Investigator (PI) who has been working at TERC for over 20 years developing online learning progressions, coursework, and curricula in the Earth and Space Sciences. In 2009, Jodi started the Educational Gaming Environments (EdGE) group to study science learning through ‘gamer-approved’ games. In the three years since, she and her team have developed and evaluated numerous transmedia games (including Martian Boneyards and Canaries in a Coalmine); presented at GLS (Games, Learning, Society), the Cyberlearning Research Summit, and Games for Change; published an extensive compendium of research papers; and picked up a lot of consoles and tablets to clock countless in-world hours. Here, Jodi talks with me about EdGE’s current work, favorite games, and what’s next from the ‘cutting-EdGE’…of STEM gaming research and development.

Jodi Asbell-Clarke of the Educational Gaming Environments (EdGE) group at TERC

TERCTalks: Hi Jodi. Would you mind starting off by telling us how learning and gaming fit together?

Jodi Asbell-Clarke: Our research within EdGE has focused on how games people play in their free-choice time (that is, in out-of-school or informal environments) can be leveraged for STEM learning outcomes. We’re not designing to the common notion of an “educational game”— we’re trying to design and evaluate young adult games that are highly challenging, immersive, and have compelling graphics and science-rich storylines that appeal even to seasoned gamers.

TT: Could you tell us a bit more about why ‘highly challenging’ games appeal to players?

JAC: I can. Seymour Papert coined the term ‘hard fun’ in relation to his studies in engagement and motivation in learning. ‘Hard fun’ defines an experience that is fun because it is hard. Translated into game design, that means designing a game that is persistently challenging but within grasp of the player to motivate them to keep playing. Interestingly, this notion encapsulates exactly what good teaching does as well. We are constantly thinking about the notion of ‘hard fun’ or how to make our games robust with advanced science content but simultaneously within grasp for our players.

TT: Can you share with us some familiar examples of young-adult games or game experiences (either of EdGE’s own creation or of familiar name) that have had positive results for the research you do?

JAC: I have two familiar examples that have informed the game development we’ve done in EdGE. The first is the Portal series. The Portal games really intrigued me as an educator and a budding gamer. Portal features an immersive first-person environment—and the way Valve developers have scaffolded the gaming experience to build on player knowledge for advancement mirrors formal educational pedagogy. Did I mention that Portal is extremely addictive? I actually spent a lot of time grinding at the game when I should have been finishing up my dissertation…

Another example is Angry Birds. With earlier versions of Angry Birds, you again have this engaging gaming model—so like Portal, you have an embedded mechanism that is highly addictive—especially in relation to players experiencing physics. But in the early games, the developers chose not to tweak the game content to include accurate laws of motion. So with Angry Birds—you have a cool model, but the physics was misleading.  That could be worse than not having physics content at all!

In short, Portal and Angry Birds are two different models we examined when thinking of how to design games that are exciting and compelling and—with good design—can ALSO be educationally substantive.

TT: Can you tell us about a current project EdGE is working on currently to design ‘exciting and educationally substantive’ games?

JAC: We’re working on a project called Leveling Up, in which we’re designing at least four games to support and measure standards-based high school science content. We’re currently recruiting players for a game called Impulse! that starts with a simple-but-effective structure similar to that of Angry Birds—players have to propel a ball into a net. That impetus doesn’t change, but ascending levels require players to contend with gravitational forces, electrical forces, and ambient “enemy” particles that change, move, obstruct paths, and are notably dictated by Newton’s Laws. So, we’re anticipating that students who play this game will not only be better predictors of physical laws when they encounter them in class, but will have that intimate experience with physics that they can leverage in the classroom and beyond. We are using really cool new methods to measure learning in these games. NSF has funded us to look at these games as innovative assessments that could be used in future learning environments.

TT: In another current project, you’re partnering with Finnish researchers to examine STEM learning and engagement in transmedia games. How did this partnership come about?

JAC: The National Science Foundation brought together a team of 15 US and 15 Finnish researchers from different institutions—all of whom were already funded by NSF, or the equivalent Finnish agency, to do ‘cutting edge’ research in STEM education. We met at the Finnish embassy for 2 days—to learn from each other, network, and design a collaborative project. At first, that seemed impossible, but magically, at the end of 48 hours, we had a blueprint for Project FUN—short for the “Finnish-US Network”.

Over the next 2 years and 4 meetings, we’ll be sharing and evaluating our tools and methodologies for looking at engagement and learning in transmedia gaming. Right now, our US partners are comprised of WGBH (who has designed online games and some augmented reality games for elementary age students), NIU (led by Brianno Coller, who has lead the design of highly creative games with creative outcomes for college students that rely on engineering problem-solving) and the EdGE team. Our Finnish partners are also experienced in game design for public school and university audiences. Interestingly, in their research, our Finnish partners use innovative methods such as sensory tracking—things like Computer-Human-Interaction devices to study eye movement and biofeedback to examine engagement. We are really excited to blend those methods into studies with our new forms of assessment of emergent learning in games that use educational data mining techniques. We think this could be a powerful new form of assessment that will change the way people think about STEM learning and assessment.

TT: What does the education climate look like in Finland in regards to school systems, assessments, etc.? How will this inform the Project FUN?

JAC: The Finnish educators I met in in Washington talked about entirely different measures used in their school system. They look more holistically at students’ learning experience. They measure “sense of purpose” and “wellbeing” in evaluating a learning activity or assessment.

Finland is interesting because it has repeatedly performed in the top three in international comparisons of education, such as PISA. They have extremely high standards for the teaching profession, and high respect and pay for teachers. They also focus on creativity, imagination, and individual initiative in their education system, and it seems to work!

We hope that FUN will help us all to ask the right questions going forward, use the most effective tools and methodologies for studying game-based learning from our studies and the Finnish studies to create some of the most innovative learning environments out there.

TT: Do you anticipate STEM-learning through gaming can be useful for underserved learners? Why?

JAC: This gets to the heart of my work as an educator. Most of the curriculum development work I’d been doing for the past 20 years only reaches a select audience—and doesn’t impact on a significant population of underserved learners. Through game design and development, I don’t have to go through schools or struggle with trying to reach those students with learning difficulties by offering up a traditional curriculum. I get a point of entry where many underserved learners already are. Actually, I was an apathetic student in the science classroom and lab early on, so I certainly understand the need for educational content that appeals to different learning styles and capabilities!

TT: So, what’s on the horizon for you and EdGE beyond Leveling Up and Project FUN?

JAC: We have a really strong team within EdGE. Beyond our game design and development work, we’re in the process of submitting a proposal to support teachers in using games as curricular examples in school environments through new toolsets and methodologies. We just submitted a proposal for a e-sports lab that would employ collaborative tools we’ve developed in our own games and engineering design challenges to create this participatory experience where players can design everything from prosthetics to parkour shoes. And of course, we need a couple more years to validate the learning outcomes in our current games and gameplay.

We want to get to the point where it’s evident that gaming can pass muster for real learning assessments. We have great partnerships with GameGurus, our evaluation team New Knowledge Organization, and other researchers like the University of Wisconsin with whom we are designing backend mechanisms to collect research data on players that can be integrated with school data. Ultimately, the goal of all of our work with EdGE is to build towards ubiquitous learning environments—through the measurement, tracking, and further validation of game-based learning.

For more information about EdGE, please visit the EdGE website, and connect with the team via their blog, Facebook and Twitter.

July 27, 2012

Post-GLS 8.0: The Recap

A few months ago, I was rather gutted that I couldn’t justify (much of) a reason to attend GLS 8.0. I was pretty certain it would be a) one of the most fun “professional” conferences I could attend; b) a good opportunity for some covert iPhone video coverage; and/or c) an excellent opportunity to exercise pent-up enthusiasm—manifested as frenzied clapping—for TERC presenters. But despite my not attending, here’s the vicarious recap—straight from the presenters and attendees themselves!

This June marked the 8th annual Games + Learning + Society (GLS) conference—the most prolific event dedicated to the intersection of high-quality digital media design, learning, and public interest. Experts from disciplines including game studies, education research, learning sciences, industry, government, educational practice, media design, and business gathered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to share research, network, and propose solutions to catapult learning (both in-school and out) into the 21st century using games and simulations.

Judging from their substantive R&D work and expertise on the frontiers of games and education, it was only natural that GLS 8.0 included a banner session from the EdGE team. Lis Sylvan and Jamie Larsen presented “The Canary’s Not Dead, It’s Just Resting: The Productive Failure of a Science-Based Augmented-Reality Game”, co-authored by EdGE-rs Teon Edwards and the Director of EdGE, Jodi-Asbell-Clarke.

Another very exciting feather-in-the-cap for TERC? Jessica Simon of TERC’s Evaluation group netted a “Best in Show” award for her contributions to the “Vanished” evaluation poster and session. “Vanished” was a curated game co-developed by MIT’s Education Arcade and the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. TERC evaluators Simon, Jim Hammerman, and Jonathan Christiansen analyzed and summatively evaluated player demographics, game ubiquity, and the qualitative impact of “Vanished”. And It’s fairly safe to say that when exposed to “Are We Having Fun Yet?” (see below) by Simon and MIT’s Caitlin Feeley and Scot Osterweil—the audience’s response was a resounding “yes”!

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A worthy “Best in Show” audience winner at GLS 8.0!

Want to know which conferences TERC is headed to next? Stay tuned for the Winter 2012/Spring 2013 Conference announcement on www.terc.edu!

March 14, 2012

Games for Thought

“What is your favorite game?”

That question caught me entirely off-guard when I recently attended an after-hours user testing event hosted by EdGE (Educational Gaming Environments) @TERC with the sole intention of jotting down a few notes for this web feature.

After a quick scan of my memory, I was at an impasse. I hastily blurted out “Scrabble. I’m a lexophile”. Blank stares from the young, hip, and connected console and mobile players around me. In that very moment, time caught up and lapped me. “But on the iPhone as well,” I added. It was already too late. The world had moved on. Generation Y, meet Generation Z. There’s no need to shake hands or exchange contact info—just bump Androids. And definitely download the Temple Run app—it’s going viral.

There had to be something I was forgetting.

I worked my way around the room multiple times after that, recording (with a pen and paper) gamers chatting over Where’s My Water?, Angry Birds, Physics 101, and Limbo. And then it happened—I remembered something. I heard a gamer say, “I like it when I can learn about topics and try new things that would be impossible in real life—and pick up and try again if I make a mistake”. Strangely, I could almost hear a lone bongo drum, and then the rattle of maracas…was that the distant yowl of a black panther? There I was, photographing the fauna of the forest floor, consulting my guidebook, searching for the elusive, near-magical cinchona…but was I running low on supplies? Would I stave off malnourishment and get to the next level before dinnertime?

The Amazon Trail. Memories came rushing back, carried on a swift current. Propelled by an in-game glimpse of the Blue Morpho butterfly, I took it upon myself to catalogue the Monarchs and Swallowtails in our backyard. I would sneak out of bed to the window when my dad took our puppy out at night—hoping to catch a glimpse of an errant Luna moth by the floodlight. My world—and that of the digitized Amazon jungle—blurred together around the edges.

I didn’t realize then that I was learning (let alone learning a lot). I certainly didn’t realize that I’d remember researching Blue Morphos only to discover that they live for a mere 115 days. That broke my heart at the time, and still pulls at my heartstrings.

Check out ‘Games and Ubiquitous Science Learning Environments’ from EdGE’s Director Jodi Asbell-Clarke for the 2012 Cyberlearning Research Summit

In a dizzying time where the allure of many technologies doesn’t last much beyond 115 days, the R&D work that the EdGE team is doing has lasting implications for the intersection of meaningful science content and gaming. More specifically, they’re researching and developing the kind of gripping, highly-visual transmedia experiences that cutting-‘EdGE’ gamers like to play (and will likely continue to like to play in the future) and measuring these games’ impact on science learning.

Suddenly, it’s not so difficult to imagine a future where we’re all engaging in science-centric gaming and real-world learning through our various devices. Even as a lexophile/Luddite, I guarantee that I’d be doing a lot more mobile gaming and Lepidopteran observation if MECC made an app version of The Amazon Trail

So I leave you with two questions—what’s your favorite game to play? And what did you learn from it?

I bet it’s more than you think.


 

 

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