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Games Conference to Feature CyGaMEs Research

Apr 22 2010

Participants at the Games, Learning, and Society Conference 6.0 will hear about some of the lessons learned so far during the development of an educational videogame by the Center for Educational Technologies®.

Dr. Debbie Denise Reese, senior educational researcher at the center, will present Learning New Things through Gaming: One Company's Journey Toward CyGaMEs Expertise at the conference to be held June 9-11 in Madison, WI. The presentation will discuss the development of the Selene videogame and the corresponding CyGaMEs approach to creating sound educational videogames. Selene was funded by NASA to study how to best use videogames in the teaching of NASA science concepts. The videogame research continues under a grant from the National Science Foundation. Reese is principal investigator of the project.

Here is the abstract for the presentation:

Some game designers want to use gaming methods to improve teaching and learning. But how? The award-winning CyGaMEs approach to instructional game design and assessment is one research-driven, theory-laden, and data-supported way to make learning more intuitive. This session shares the tale of one commercial company's journey toward CyGaMEs expertise while developing the CyGaMEs title: Selene: A Lunar Construction GaME. Attendees preview the newest Selene release.

Instructional games have potential to transform teaching, learning (Gee, 2003, 2005), and assessment (Borgman, et al., 2008), but success requires investment. Jesse Schell (2008) and Will Wright concur that instructional games "require the same investment as commercial games" (Langhoff, et al., 2009, p. 24). Wright said sound game design positions "learners to discover targeted knowledge by making, testing, and refining hypotheses about the game system." Although this "may seem obvious" . . . Wright says it is not intuitive and often unrealized. The CyGaMEs approach can help the industry design instructional games (Reese, 2007, 2008; Reese & Tabachnick, 2010). Funded by NSF, the CyGaMEs Project created Selene. Players form the Moon, pepper it with impact craters, and flood it with lava to learn the basic concepts of solar system formation and evolution. Selene gameplay measures student learning and flow experience.

Session cases identify and quantify challenges and victories using CyGaMEs during design and development, such as:

Case 1. Scoring is important because it guides gameplay. Originally, Selene game developers focused on rewarding player effort. The Moon surface features game module had a hard cap on players' cratering activity at which they stopped gaining points. In one timeframe this cap could be reached by either placing a single large crater (50 points) or placing 10 small craters (10 points each). By expending more effort and only using small craters, the player could achieve twice the points. This philosophy made sense because it has been used in games for years (e.g., earn more points in original Donkey Kong by delaying maiden rescue and jumping extra obstacles). In Selene rewarding for effort could actually cause players to overlook learning moments or learn incorrectly. Two targeted surface features concepts are (a) many types of craters were formed early in the Moon's life and (b) number and size tailed off drastically over time. Scoring should reflect these events. A player who forms diversely-sized craters early on and small craters toward the end should receive more points than a player who forms large craters throughout. We implemented a flexible scoring solution in which crater value changed as time went on. High scores now correlate to how well the player picks up the concept.

Case 2. Successful instructional game design may require iterative cycles of collaboration. The case of the surface features metering system led to redesign from a static goal state to a dynamic goal structure that in turn mandated and directed modifications to the timed report embedded assessment measure of player progress.

Game-based technologies are powerful teachers. Properly applied, the CyGaMEs approach ensures that players learn the right stuff.