Lucas Learning

While the rest of the world was getting worked up about the new Star Wars film, T.H.E. Journal made sure Lucas Learning got its deserved share of the spotlight. One of George Lucas' most important undertakings, Lucas Learning aims to provide students with "uncommon learning experiences." One of the firm's stated goals is to let students "own the experience," rather than only be concerned about getting the right answers. Check out the review of The Gungan Frontier and also make sure to read the interview with Lucas Learning's Jane Boston, who gives a sense of the company's philosophy and direction. - William Willis

Exploring the Gungan Frontier

Lucas Learning's The Gungan Frontier gives children ages nine and up a chance to learn about maintaining a delicate ecosystem balance while gaming in the Star Wars universe. This new hybrid CD-ROM asks players to help Boss Nass (from the new film, The Phantom Menace) and the amphibious Gungan people of the planet Naboo set up a new colony on a nearby moon. By releasing numerous plants and animals into different habitats, users must create a thriving ecosystem that is able to maintain itself while supplying the new Gungan city with food and supplies.

As a young Obi Wan Kenobi or Queen Amidala, players must then take a ship filled with plants and animals to Naboo's moon, accompanied by popular Star Wars characters Jar Jar Binks and R2-D2. Intricate, but simple to understand food webs show what plants are eaten by what animals, what an animal's predators are, etc. There's also a "Create a Critter" mode that allows players to design millions of unique animals and plants to release into the game.

Overall, we found the game very engaging, if not addictive. The game's graphics and animations are great, as is its music, which is pulled from the new John Williams Phantom Menace soundtrack. Fun and entertaining, The Gungan Frontier teaches students about the interdependence of organisms and environment, population and ecosystem dynamics, regulation and behavior of organisms, food webs, life cycles and symbiosis. Best of all, they learn about these elements not by seeing or hearing, but by doing.

- Jim Schneider

T.H.E. Journal had the opportunity to talk with Lucas Learning's Jane Boston regarding the firm's philosophy and focus. Boston manages the integration of content and pedagogy into the company's products. She is an affiliated faculty member of the Stanford University School of Education; her experience includes over 20 years as an educator, including teaching, consulting and school administration.

T.H.E.: Where do you see Lucas Learning products fitting into the "traditional" curriculum?

Boston: We offer kids problem-centered learning experiences. We design rich and motivating environments in which kids can explore, experiment, and discover important concepts such as how simple machines work, or why bio-diversity is important in an ecosystem. We give kids challenges, tools, encouragement and support - the learning is up to them. Lucas Learning games don't fit into the traditional "drill and practice" or "fact-based" methods of learning because our designs put the child at the center of the learning process. The actual content of our products is deeply grounded in solid academic information and often reflects the priorities set by national standards and other policy documents.

T.H.E.: In light of all the negativity lately regarding young people's fascination with violent video games and electronic media, how do you plan to capture their attention?

Boston: This is certainly a challenge, to be sure. We believe the high interest in Star Wars will help kids notice our products. We feel confident that we've created very interesting, highly motivating products that will engage and challenge kids. We believe that kids love to learn, especially when they are actively shaping the outcome. We test our games with very simple prototypes before adding all the art, sound, dialogue, etc. We want to be sure the basic game play itself is engaging, without all the bells and whistles. Even kids who come into our user testing sessions looking for more "action" (e.g. violence) seem to get hooked on the game play. Not enough can be said about the importance of parents as mediators of their children's experiences. We are also trusting that parents will recognize and encourage the purchase and use of exciting, yet nonviolent, games like ours.

Lucas Learning Ltd.
Online Reader Service #805

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.