Wisconsin Researchers Use Games to Engage Science Learners

Making learning fun is the Promise Land of education reform, and joining the crusade is the Educational Research Integration Area, a University of Wisconsin laboratory run by Susan Millar. The lab, which is part of the Morgridge Institute for Research, studies and designs games that help educate students about science. One of the lab’s most popular efforts, the Wisconsin State Journal reports, is called Virulent, a game that is modeled on the behavior of viruses.

“You’re a virus trying to infect a cell,” explained Kurt Squire, the lab’s creative director. “It’s about the process by which a virus takes over a cell.” The advertising for the game draws gamers with this tease, “We are infectious, we are disease, we are the Raven Virus. We have numbers and speed on our side, use us wisely and recklessly.”

The game, which is available for download on iTunes, and has a user base of nearly 2000, is only the beginning. The ultimate goal of the ERIA is a whole series of games that would move science beyond its traditional laboratory setting . Upcoming releases include games that teach diabetics about disease management and a program about blue-green algae. The researchers also hope to utilize the latest in technological offerings, like touchscreens and tablet computers, although Squire does claim for himself a bit of the “we were there before it was cool” ethic:

Squire said the lab was designing games tailored to touch screens long before they became the rage.

Combining education and technology, including games, is also a part of the recent Digital Promise initiative announced by the White House and Congress. In addition to the usual tech industry heavy hitters like Microsoft and AMD, one of the newcomers this year is the game distribution and creation company Valve, best known as the creator of gaming hits like Half-Life. According to Inquisitr, Valve will be sponsoring a competition for students and teachers, challenging them to create new levels for its popular puzzle game Portal 2, and would award prizes of up to $250,000.