Technology-Headlines

by George Heymann

MIT’s Education Arcade uses online gaming to teach science

$3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will fund development

by Eric Klopfer 

MIT Education Arcade

With a new $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the MIT Education Arcade is about to design, build and research a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) to help high school students learn math and biology.

In contrast to the way that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are currently taught in secondary schools — which often results in students becoming disengaged and disinterested in the subjects at an early age — educational games such as the one to be developed give students the chance to explore STEM topics in a way that deepens their knowledge while also developing 21st-century skills.

As director of the Education Arcade and the Scheller Teacher Education Program, Associate Professor Eric Klopfer has been conducting research into such educational gaming tools for more than 10 years. He is the creator of StarLogo TNG, a platform for helping kids create 3-D simulations and games using a graphical programming language, as well as several mobile game platforms including location-based Augmented Reality games and ubiquitous casual games.

The game to be developed under this grant, according to Klopfer, will be designed as an MMOG, a genre of online games in which many players’ avatars can interact and cooperate or compete directly in the same virtual world. “This genre of games is uniquely suited to teaching the nature of science inquiry,” he says, “because they provide collaborative, self-directed learning situations. Players take on the roles of scientists, engineers and mathematicians to explore and explain a robust virtual world.”

The game will be designed to align with the Common Core standards in mathematics and Next Generation Science Standards for high school students and will use innovative task-based assessment strategies embedded into the game, which provide unique opportunities for players to display mastery of the relevant topics and skills. This task-based assessment strategy will also provide teachers with targeted data that allows them to track the students’ progress and provide valuable just-in-time feedback.

Klopfer’s team will be working closely with Filament Games, a Wisconsin-based games production studio as the project’s primary software developers. A small number of Boston-area teachers and students will take part in a pilot phase of the project in the spring of 2012 using a prototype of the game. By the end of the three-year project, the game is expected to have 10,000 users nationwide.
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