Posts tagged ‘science gaming’

July 10, 2013

Post-ISTE Musings: Small Fish, Huge Pond, But Lots of Bites…

Kacy Karlen for TERCtalks

Our recent trip to sunny San Antonio to exhibit at the ISTE 2013 Annual Conference and Exposition was somewhat of a ‘wild card’ venture—and not in the least bit because the mercurial summer weather. We hadn’t exhibited at the conference in several years. We had very little sense as to whether the tech-hungry ISTE audience—teethed on the numerous big name hardware, software, publishing, and product exhibitors—would react favorably to our research endeavors, thought leadership, and prototypes, many of which are available for free or at very nominal costs (we are a not-for-profit org, after all). At the cavernous Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, it wasn’t so hard for our team of two to start feeling like the smallest fish in the biggest pond…

A small fry culled from a big pond. By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A small fry culled from a big pond. By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We shouldn’t have worried. We quickly lost count of the number of attendees who stopped by our humble in-line booth to say, “hey, I’m so glad TERC is here! What are you guys up to?” And excitingly, we had lots to share—because in the interim between our last ISTE appearance, we’ve engaged in robust assistive technology development; extensive online community building and designing for digital delivery models; and game research, design and development. We may have been the little guys in the big pond—but we still got lots of bites.

TERC's booth at ISTE 2013

TERC’s booth at ISTE 2013

Here’s what was luring ‘em in:

EdGE games1:  The EdGE team was demoing their addictive particle physics game, Impulse!, in tandem with their captivating laser light game, Quantum Spectre. Both games are in beta versions and currently being pilot tested among high school audiences for efficacy in developing students’ implicit understanding of Newtonian laws of motion and optics. We invited booth visitors to try the games on our laptops and iPad, but versions are also for the Kindle and Android.  On Tuesday of the conference, Impulse!  went live on Apple’s App Store (for free), and by Friday, was one of AppAdvice’s “Best Apps”.

Signing Math and Science2: Judy Vesel’s signing math and science apps for deaf and hard of hearing students were eye-catchers for booth visitors interested in assistive technologies, and for good reason—the portable dictionaries and pictionaries are uniquely interactive learning supports. The flagship Signing Science Dictionary (SSD) is an avatar-based dictionary of science terms and definitions in American Sign Language (ASL) or Signed English (SE) for deaf or hard-of-hearing students in grades 4-8.  A full selection of K-12 Signing Math and Science dictionaries and pictionaries is available for tablets, iPods, and iPhones from www.signingapp.com.

TERC’s Online Communities & Digital Delivery Models: From the successful third year of the IGERT Online Video and Poster Competition3 facilitated for NSF’s flagship Integrative Graduate Engineering and Research Traineeship to the expansion of the CLEAN Network4 of climate science and literacy stakeholders and resources, TERC’s reputation as a thought leader in online community development and facilitation precedes us—it even did at ISTE. Visitors to the booth also picked our brains about new digital delivery models for curricula and professional development—with The Inquiry Project ‘s grades 3-5 physical science curriculum5 and Talk Science PD available entirely online; new online coursework being served up from Investigations Workshops; and even more digital deliverables on deck; we felt—if not entirely MOOC-conversant—in-line with the times.

So here’s to taking the plunge and heading downstream to ISTE 2013. It was well worth the visit, and we should be seeing you as we come up for air next year!

TERC_web

Quantum Spectre and Impulse are part of EdGE’s Leveling Up project, funded by the National Science Foundation (DRK-1119144).

The Signing Science Dictionary (SSD) is funded in part by grants from NEC Foundation of America, the National Science Foundation (HRD-0533057), and the Department of Education (H327A060026)). The Signing Science Pictionary (SSP) was funded in part by  grants from the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, Disability Inclusion Initiative and the Department of Education (H327A080040). The Signing Math Dictionary (SMD is being funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (HRD-0833969). The Signing Math Pictionary (SMP)  is being funded in part by a grant from the Department of Education (H327A100074). The Signing Earth Science Dictionary (SESD)  is being funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (GEO-0913675).The Signing Life Science Dictionary (SLSD) and Signing Physical Science Dictionary (SPSD) are being funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DRL-1019542).

3   The IGERT Resource Center and the NSF IGERT Online Video and Poster Competition are funded by the National Science Foundation (DGE-0834992).

CLEAN is funded by grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NA12OAR4310143, NA12OAR4310142), the National Science Foundation (DUE-0938051, DUE-0938020, DUE-0937941) and the Department of Energy.

The Inquiry Project and Talk Science are funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-0918435A).

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.

 

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.

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.