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Selene Videogame Wins International Competition

Thu Jan 31 2013

The Selene videogame created by the CyGaMEs project at the Center for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University has earned top honors in the games and apps category of the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Science magazine created the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge to celebrate the grand tradition of science visualization and to encourage its continued growth. The challenge invites researchers, illustrators, photographers, computer programmers, videographers, and graphics specialists from around the world to submit creative illustrations, information graphics, interactive visualizations, and videos that intrigue, explain, and educate others about science. This year's competition received more than 200 entries from 18 countries.

Selene: A Lunar Construction Game joined Velocity Raptor, created by TestTubeGames of Cambridge, MA, in receiving the two honorable mention awards in the games and apps category, the only citations in the category. Winners are featured in the February issue of Science as well as on its companion website, Science Online.

"This year's winning entries are a spectacular collection," said Colin Norman, Science magazine's news editor. "Each one exposes a hidden facet of the natural world or puts scientific concepts in a new light. And they use cutting-edge techniques to draw the viewer in."

The first version of Selene was a semifinalist in the 2007 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, before winning this year.

The game originally was funded by NASA to study how to best use videogames in the teaching of NASA science concepts. The current version of the game is now part of the NSF-funded CyGaMEs project, an approach to instructional game design and embedded assessment.

"Earning international honors as a games or apps winner earns CyGaMEs and the Selene game the kind of credibility that speaks to educators, scholars, and the public," said Debbie Denise Reese, senior educational researcher at the Center for Educational Technologies and the principal investigator for the project. "This recognition goes beyond our reach through research publications in professional journals or awards from professional organizations. It opens the opportunity for more students to benefit from Selene and perhaps to engage with science in school and beyond."

In Selene players learn difficult geological concepts like accretion, differentiation, impact cratering, and volcanism by applying these science concepts through gameplay that helps players move toward the game's final goal of building the Earth's Moon. Players construct the Moon, then blast it with impact craters and flood it with lava to experience how our Moon formed and changed over time. All through the game Selene tracks each player's behavior to measure learning and the player's response to the game environment.

The game features the work of three accomplished scientists. Reese created the assessment and instructional concepts of Selene and has earned national awards for the game's design. Chuck Wood, director of the center, is a renowned lunar scientist who spent years with NASA training shuttle astronauts on lunar observation, and he also operates the Lunar Photo of the Day website. He guides players through Selene in a series of video segments that explain the Moon's geological history. And Barbara Tabachnick, professor emerita of psychology at Cal State Northridge, has served as a consultant throughout the project. She recently earned the lifetime achievement award from the Western Psychological Association for her 40 years as a research design/statistical consultant.

"Our research shows that the CyGaMEs' approach to instructional game design offers a great opportunity for learners to wrestle with challenging Earth and space science concepts targeted by the Next Generation Science Standards and the Framework for Science Education," Reese said. "CyGaMEs offers authentic, performance-based assessment. We can actually show players and educators what students learn and when."

According to Reese, it's these under-the-hood aspects that make Selene special. CyGaMEs uses a type of knowledge engineering to translate hard science into videogames: to translate what scientists think into a game that learners play to discover and apply fundamental science concepts. The process enables researchers to measure learning as it occurs. This permits CyGaMEs to draw each player's learning as a visual representation that researchers, educators, and even 9-year-old players can understand.

Selene recently debuted its Spanish language version.

"Because the game is now bilingual," Reese said, "it supports a dual language approach to teaching and assessment. Some research suggests that educational outcomes for English language learners improve when first language support is provided. So learning science in a student's native language, like Spanish, can help the student build knowledge and transfer that knowledge to the academic language they would use for that science in English. We are partnering with the National Association for Bilingual Education to conduct focused work on implementing dual language games in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classrooms. The potential to enhance science achievement for English language learners is very exciting."

Both versions of the game are free online and available 24-7. Players ages 9-18 and adult recruiters, who confirm players' ages, get parental consent, and gather other players, are always needed to help with the CyGaMEs research. To sign up as a recruiter or play Selene, visit the Selene website or contact Selene.

Among past honors for Selene, it has earned the Association for Educational Communications and Technology Design and Development Best Practice Award both in 2008 and 2011. Disney Research named the Selene game and CyGaMEs research one of 15 finalists worldwide in its 2010 Learning Challenge Competition.