Games in Education

FWD News: Educational Games Get Scientific

Immune Attack LogoIn response to American President Barack Obama’s call for greater attention to be paid to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, some major video game industry players have teamed up to announce a set of initiatives to engage students toward science.

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the Information Technology Industry Council, Sony Computer Entertainment America, Microsoft Corporation, and the MacArthur Foundation are funding a new STEM video game design competition. "Our industry's lifeblood is the energy and innovation of new, emerging developers,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the ESA. Read More...

“To create the next generation's epic titles and incredibly immersive storylines, we need America's youth to have strategic and analytic thinking skills along with complex problem solving abilities. It is my hope that it will produce games that will have a lasting impact on the STEM skills our nation's students so desperately need."

Screenshot from Immune AttackThe STEM National Video Game Competition will be looking for web-based executable game ideas. Eligibility rules and procedures will be released in early 2010 and winners will be announced at the next E3 Expo in June 2010. A second call for proposals, the annual Game Changers competition - a component of the 2010 Digital Media and Learning Competition - will also focus on innovative STEM education game ideas.

Meanwhile, serious games developer Virtual Heroes is scheduled to release MoonBase Alpha on January 18, 2010. The game will be a free downloadable prototype of Astronaut: Moon, Mars & Beyond, the much anticipated massively-multiplayer online game designed with NASA to promote STEM education, which is due for release later in 2010. The game’s immersive platform includes multiple curriculum modules for teachers and students to use both the classroom and at home.

"Students can pick a role like a roboticist, science officer, commander, or space engineer and work as a team on missions to perform experiments, solve space problems, and save the colonies from a myriad of potentially catastrophic situations," said Jerry Heneghan, founder and CEO of Virtual Heroes, a subsidiary of Applied Research Associates.

A new biology game entitled Immune Attack is also garnering a lot of attention. Developed by Escape Hatch Entertainment for the Federation of American Scientists, the video game teaches 7 to 12 graders about the microscopic world of immune system proteins and cells.

Immune Attack is as a 3D third-person shooter in which students work to save a patient suffering from a raging bacterial infection. Game actions, such as the capture of white blood cells by proteins on blood vessel walls, mimic activities that occur in nature.

According to supporting research presented at the American Society for Cell Biology 49th Annual Meeting, the video game “measurably improved [students’] understanding of cell biology and molecular science.” Currently available as a free download, a new version of Immune Attack is expected to be released in early 2010.

Screenshot from Spill!Another game called Spill!, this time focusing on ecology and the business of environmental management, is also finding its way into the classroom. In the game developed by BrandGames, students work as a team to clean up toxic waste. Each player fulfills one of several roles on a simulated professional services team and competes against other teams to mitigate an oil spill in the river of “New City”.

Spearheaded by Deloitte, Spill! was distributed free of charge to 700 schools across the United States. For students, playing the game was also part of the Virtual Team Challenge, a competition open to all high schools. The top players won cash grants for their local United Way chapter and their schools.

“When I first started this last year in my class, word spread throughout the school about Spill!,” said Nate Milsom, an accounting, consumer education, and computer teacher at Carlynton Jr.-Sr. High School in Carnegie, PA. "The students really buy into the whole fact that it is truly a competition. When a student is absent from class, they really encourage them to not miss anymore so that they can have maximum effort."

Tried and True

DimensionM, which focuses on mathematics, is getting further recognition now from the students who play it. In a recent evaluation conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Tabula Digita’s flagship title received strong positive feedback from students interviewed.

More than 90 percent found that some or most of the activities were fun; approximately 67 percent felt the activities were just right in their level of complexity, and about 89 percent believed DimensionM allowed them to demonstrate some or most of their mathematics skills and knowledge.

Teachers also expressed support for the game, describing a closer, more personal connection with their students. “During our post-research focus group, teachers were asked if they thought the relationship had changed between them and their students as a result of integrating the educational game,” said Albert Ritzhaupt, assistant professor at the UNCW Watson School of Education.  “All teachers, 100 percent, answered that the relationship had changed, indicating that many felt that the students now saw them in a different way.”