Learning By Playing

Video Games Becoming Teaching Tools

Learning By Playing: Video Games Becoming Teaching Tools

Video and computer games once were blamed for short attention spans and incomplete homework.

No more.

Instead, a team of IUPUI students and faculty has used a MacArthur Foundation grant to develop educational gaming tools for teachers that allow younger generations to learn in fun and entertaining ways.

The 36-member student team created an interactive game called Creatures Classified, along with supplemental materials, to help Hoosier fifth-graders tackle science by learning how to biologically classify animals by genus, species and phylum.

Students work on computers

The Creatures Classified team had to use their technical expertise and creativity to imagine the characters, set up the action sequences, write the story lines and establish an entire “world” for an audience of younger children eager to explore the unknown.

The game consists of 10 distinct worlds, each representing an educational adventure, challenging students to identify and classify original, student-created creatures within the various defined animal kingdoms based on specific characteristics. Other features and supplemental components include a customizable field guide for players, an opening 3D animated sequence, and a Droid app for parents to test kids outside of the classroom.

The IUPUI team of media arts and science majors began creating the game in the fall of 2010 using the School of Informatics’ one-of-a-kind Media Arts Research and Learning Arcade (MARLA) as home base. They used Electronic Arts’ popular Spore game engine to develop the storyline and all artwork, refining their skills in 3D animation, game design, programming, project management and digital storytelling—skills they had to demonstrate when competitively applying for a spot on the team. In the near future, they hope to test the game with students in actual fifth-grade classrooms across the state.

Stacia Lowery, a double major in Informatics and the Herron School of Art & Design, worked on both the video and photo teams, and on the planning phase. “One of the most helpful aspects has been working with my teachers and other students,” Lowery says. “I got to collaborate with some of the most talented people in the school; that, in turn, improved my own work and helped motivate me. These connections always pay off when you need to start a team for a project, or look for a job later.”

The project was a 2010 winner of the Digital Media and Learning Competition funded by the MacArthur Foundation and administered by HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory). Over the past several years, the MacArthur Foundation has actively poured tens of millions in grant dollars towards the enhancement of learning through digital media.

Working on a project funded by the MacArthur Foundation is a significant milestone for any academic, let alone for undergraduate students who infrequently get the opportunity to participate in such intensive pursuits. But for 16 students involved in this project, the rewards are even greater. Each earns the honor of being listed as co-principal investigator on the grant.

Joel Bergman, a student who worked on both the story and design teams, considers the Spore project a unique personal opportunity. “I’ve wanted to be a video game designer for a long time, but this project helped solidify my decision,” he says. “I’ve gotten real experience working on a video game while I’m still in college.”

Powers calls the project “… an incredible opportunity” for students. “They’re just so talented, and this project, this grant … all of it goes a long way towards certifying that talent and setting the groundwork for a future career as a game designer, artist, programmer and creator.”