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Center for Educational Technologies projects have ended (except Challenger Learning Center) and are no longer funded.

National Science Foundation Tabs Videogame Research for Grant

Tue Sep 30 2008

The Center for Educational Technologies® has received a nearly $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study how videogames can help students learn science.

NSF said the award took effect Sept. 15. Two years of funding totaling $1,165,145 are guaranteed, and the final two years of funding totaling $834,322 will be contingent on the availability of funds and scientific progress of the project.

The grant continues research first funded by NASA at the Center for Educational Technologies in 2006. NASA had asked researchers at the NASA-sponsored Classroom of the Future, the space agency's principal research and development center for educational technologies located at the center, to study how videogames could be used to disseminate NASA science and to assess how well students learn while playing the games. That effort resulted in the creation of Selene: A Lunar Construction GaME, a prototype online videogame in which players learn how Earth's moon was formed as they create their own moon and then pepper it with impact craters and flood it with lava flows.

The NSF funding will allow researchers to continue their studies into educational videogames while refining and reengineering Selene to make the game more robust.

The project is entitled "RUI: CyGaMEs: Cyber-enabled Teaching and Learning Through Game-based, Metaphor-enhanced Learning objects" and is under the direction of Dr. Debbie Denise Reese, senior educational researcher at the Center for Educational Technologies.

"CyGaMEs is important," Reese said, "because it causes and assesses learning within instructional environments scientifically engineered to make learning intuitive and intrinsically rewarding."

Simply put, it helps students learn through gaming. Reese's CyGaMEs theory is an approach for designing videogames that spurs players to learn science concepts by drawing analogies to their experiences playing the game. Done effectively, a videogame using the CyGaMEs method helps players achieve flow, a point of immersion in the game when players best grasp the learning points the game is trying to make. "Flow is optimal experience," Reese said.

The NSF-funded research will allow Reese and her team to further develop the theory and methods of CyGaMEs. These are the first steps toward creation of a cyberlearning network of standards-based instructional environments that employ game-based technologies to guide learning. These environments will use metaphors within the games to make science learning more intuitive to players. CyGaMEs also will assess and report on learner growth.

"We want to make science learning more intuitive, and videogames designed with sound instructional principles can help us achieve that," Reese said.

The new funding continues the need for players ages 13-18 to help with the study by taking part in the Selene game. Both players and adult recruiters are needed to confirm players' ages, get parental consent and gather other players. To sign up as a recruiter or play Selene, visit the Selene website or contact Lisa McFarland at 304-243-2479 or

"Playing the Selene game and helping with our research are the rare opportunities for students, teachers, and parents to take part in what started as a NASA project and is now National Science Foundation research," said Dr. Chuck Wood, director of the Center for Educational Technologies. "And the game is a lot of fun!"

Wood, an internationally renowned lunar scientist who still works with NASA as a planetary geologist on its Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, stars in Selene's video segments as he explains the different stages of development it took to form Earth's moon. Students will get a chance to work directly with Wood as part of the new funding as the research team seeks teenage volunteers and classrooms to help write a "teenspeak" version of the game's open-ended assessment items. Contact McFarland to get involved with that.

Later this fall the team will seek proposals from game designers and developers to apply for a $260,000 contract to refine Selene. The contract is expected to be awarded in the winter.

The team also hopes to attract other research partners to use Selene in their research, Reese said. Free CyGaMEs data support will be available to a limited number of project partners.

"This project builds on our growing international reputation as a leader in instructional game research, design, assessment, and evaluation," Wood said. Earlier this month Reese was a keynote speaker summarizing CyGaMEs at an international evaluation conference in Veracruz, Mexico, and has also spoken about the CyGaMEs approach in Oxford, England, as well as at various national conferences. In addition, the Selene game has won a number of awards over the last year from game developers and educational research organizations.

Two others playing a key role in the CyGaMEs project will be Dr. Ben Hitt, director of the Schenk International Center for Informatic Sciences at Wheeling Jesuit University, and Dr. Beverly Carter, WJU associate professor of computer science. Both Hitt and Carter have worked on the initial videogame research.

The NSF grant comes through its Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering (REESE) program, which supports basic and applied research and evaluation that enhances science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning and teaching. NSF awarded funding to CyGaMEs because the research program is potentially transformative, Reese said. According to the NSF, "Transformative research describes a range of endeavors that promise extraordinary outcomes, such as revolutionizing entire disciplines, creating entirely new fields, or disrupting accepted theories and perspective. It is research that has the potential to change the way we address STEM challenges."