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USC Creates Research-Based Educational Games

Researchers at the University of Southern California's (USC) Game Innovation Lab and Rossier School of Education have developed research-based educational games for classroom use.

While many games on the market claim to be educational, not all of them are research-based or proven to be pedagogically effective. USC researchers strive to create games that are engaging for students while also ensuring that the games achieve the educational goals the developers set out to meet.

According to Tracy Fullerton, director of the Game Innovation Lab at USC, the games her team creates are different from many other educational games on the market because researchers at the games lab and school of education work closely together to establish the goals for each game, determine how to meet those goals and then assess the outcomes to ensure students are actually learning what they set out to teach them through the games.

FutureBound is a suite of games recently developed at the lab to help students in underserved areas learn about the college application process. "High school students, particularly in underserved areas, were not getting the kind of college counseling they needed," said Fullerton. "Even those kids with good grades and ambitions to go to college didn't understand the strategy behind going to college."

The researchers brought some of those kids into the lab and taught them how to design games themselves. "They made games about this crisis in their lives, things they were afraid of, things they didn't understand," said Fullerton. "We looked at those games and learned from them what types of things we needed to put in our game to actually help the kids with these problems."

Once the games had been developed, the researchers arranged play tests in classroom settings and then did research on the outcomes of those play tests to make sure the games were helping the students. Fullerton's team have had positive feedback from students who have used the games. "They write to us and tell us that they now have a strategy and know how to present themselves as candidates," she said.

The FutureBound suite consists of four games:

  • Graduate Strike Force is a strategic action game for computers and mobile devices that is designed to teach high school students about financial aid and how to choose the right college;
  • FutureBound is an action adventure game for computers and mobile devices that is designed to help students transitioning from middle school to high school conquer self-doubt and nurture their career interests;
  • Mission: Admission is a Facebook game designed to help high school students understand the college admissions process; and
  • Application Crunch is a card game designed to help high school students understand time management, financial planning and the college admissions process.

In addition to the games themselves, researchers at the school of education have developed videos and support materials to help teachers understand how to implement the games in the classroom.

Some of the other research-based educational games developed by USC researchers include:

  • Darfur is Dying, a multiplayer online game that puts students in the shoes of a refugee in a camp in the Sudan;
  • Walden, A Game, a real-time 3D virtual environment game that simulates author Henry David Thoreau's experiment in living at Walden Pond in 1845-47;
  • Adventurous Dreaming Highflying Dragon (ADHD), a series of full-body, interactive mini-games on the Xbox Kinect platform that are designed to help elementary students with ADHD manage their symptoms; and
  • Virtual Sprouts, an interactive tablet-based game designed to help students in grades 3-5 learn about gardening, cooking and smart dietary choices.

Further information about USC's research-based educational games can be found on the Game Innovation Labs' site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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