Archives for May 2008

NASA’s Attempt at Educational Gaming

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An article in Campus Technology discusses how NASA is approaching the idea of introducing a gaming element into education. Massively multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft are hugely popular, especially with college students and high school students. Simulation-type games that allow you to live a "virtual" life (e.g. The Sims) or control the growth and development of civilization (e.g. Civilization) are also enormously popular.
NASA apparently wants to build science-focused games that will increase interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

"NASA will continue to pursue innovative strategies to encourage students to improve their interest and performance in STEM and related careers," said Joyce Winterton, NASA assistant administrator for education, in a statement released Monday. "The use of online educational games can capture student interest in NASA’s missions and science."

As an avid gamer myself, I tend to believe that games can teach students in a wide variety of disciplines. Games have always been used to supplement educational activities. If it is fun for students, they tend to have much more interest in it (at least based from my own experience as a student).
The enormous increase in computing power over the last decade or so has led to increasingly realistic and sophisticated games. Players from all over the world can interact with each other, fostering cooperation as well as competition. If there is some inherent structure in the virtual world the gamers inhabit such that they have a shared set of goals they need to achieve, even if the game is open-ended, then they will work together (or, if in a competitive mode, against each other) to achieve that goal.
In NASA’s case, they have an obvious goal of trying to more effectively explore space. Numerous challenges are involved in space exploration. Some challenges have been overcome by NASA (e.g. landing on the moon), while others still require significant research to answer (e.g. landing a man on Mars).
I would argue that for this project to succeed, the real challenge for NASA is to create a game that is a) fun to play, b) scientifically accurate, and c) engaging enough that students learn complex material without realizing what they are learning until they have to apply it to the challenges within the game.

Blackboard Upgrades over Summer

logo-blackboard-full.gifBlackboard will be upgraded to version 8.0 over the summer of 2008. This includes vast improvements in functionality and features. Here are just a few of the features that will become available:
Grade Center – A new and much improved way of keeping track of students’ grades. This feature supports an interface similar to a spreadsheet, directed e-mail to students and the ability to generate progress reports.
Blogs – Gives instructors and students the ability to create blogs and journals within a course, providing a structured and engaging forum for writing about course-related topics, projects and ideas, reinforcing critical thinking and reflective learning strategies.
Wikis – Enables students and instructors to collaboratively create interactive, multimedia websites within a Blackboard course. In a collaborative online workspace, individuals and teams author, organize, and present their work.
Blackboard Scholar – A social bookmarking web site that allows students and instructors to collect and tag links to online resources and share those resources with other interested individuals.
Educational Technology will provide more information about using these new and improved Blackboard tools as the summer progresses. Watch the EdTech web site for self-help materials and the schedule for a Blackboard seminar series in the fall semester. If you don’t find what you need here, or have specific questions, please contact EdTech for more information at edtech@mst.edu. Stay tuned for more information!