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

Noted Software Firm Gets Nod to Enhance WJU Videogame

Fri Apr 17 2009

An award-winning software development company whose clients include Discover magazine and leading textbook publishers has been contracted to enhance and support the Selene videogame that has helped the Center for Educational Technologies® study how students best learn science through videogames.

Second Avenue Software of Pittsford, N.Y., was selected to carry out the next iteration of Selene, said Dr. Debbie Reese, senior educational researcher at the Center for Educational Technologies and principal investigator of the CyGaMEs project, of which Selene is part. CyGaMEs stands for Cyberlearning through GaME-based, Metaphor-Enhanced Learning Objects. The videogame research began in 2006 with funding from NASA and continues today as part of a four-year grant of nearly $2 million from the National Science Foundation.

Reese said the Center for Educational Technologies received strong proposals from a number of companies with established track records in game design and development. Second Avenue Software was chosen, Reese said, because of its "commitment to good software development practice, the aesthetic quality of its products, and because the Second Avenue Software approach to educational software is forward looking and complements the CyGaMEs method for instructional game design."

In March, Second Avenue completed Star Formation, a game for the Discover magazine website. The game demonstrates the coalescing of interstellar gases to form stars. It was designed with Adam Frank, professor of astronomy at the University of Rochester, based on his article for the February 2009 issue of Discover. The gameplay allows the user to trigger supernovas in a cloud of cosmic particles so that each supernova scatters particles away from itself.

In the prototype Selene: A Lunar Construction GaME, players learn the major geologic processes scientists believe formed the modern moon. Players create their own moon and then pepper it with impact craters and flood it with lava. The online game offers a great opportunity for students to learn about lunar geology while helping researchers study some key videogame design principles, especially whether young people would learn science better if it were packaged in a videogame.

"The CyGaMEs approach to instructional game design and assessment is the core of this NSF-funded research program," Reese said. "CyGaMEs instructional games such as Selene are designed to make learning more intuitive."

"We're excited to work with the Center for Educational Technologies," said Victoria Van Voorhis, chief executive officer of Second Avenue Software, "because of their commitment to the educational potential of serious gaming."

Last year Second Avenue won a Communicator Award of Distinction from the International Academy of the Visual Arts for Virtual Science Investigations, a set of interactive learning applications for biology and the physical sciences it developed for Holt, Reinhart, and Winston textbook publishers. Virtual Science Investigations was launched to the high school market in 2007. Second Avenue's work on that project also earned it a spot as a finalist in the 2008 Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) CODiE Awards in the Best Science Instructional Solution category.

Second Avenue has also contributed interactive media for textbook publishers Prentice Hall, Pearson Health Science, WW Norton, and McGraw Hill.

The updates to Selene are part of the NSF-funded research that 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. CyGaMEs needs both players and adult recruiters to confirm players' ages, obtain parent consent, and register other players. To sign up as a recruiter or play Selene, visit the Selene website or contact Lisa McFarland at 304-243-2479 or