MdBio Foundation's Survival! Video Game Aims to Reshape Biology Lessons
by Aliyah DeVille This article is the first in an occasional series that will highlight interesting things happening in the Montgomery County biotech community.
You may not know Stanley, Gloria, Howard, and Regina, but soon you will. They’re the new faces of biology. And while they may not be the most attractive creatures, they’re on a mission to make science – and particularly biology – more fun. These four characters are part of Survival!, a new video game from the MdBio Foundation that is designed to prepare students for biology lessons in class and then to test their understanding after the lesson.
Survival! is the first in a series of six games that the MdBio Foundation is calling “serious gaming” because of the game’s capability to instruct and assess student learning. The six games are designed to cover the topics of heredity, DNA structure and function, central dogma, manipulating genomes, and meiosis and sexual reproduction.
Jennifer Colvin, Senior Director at the MdBio Foundation, said the Foundation is developing these games for two reasons.
“First, for many kids, science is boring,” Colvin said. “We want to change the way it’s taught. Second, the Foundation wants to increase its reach.”
To make the subject more interesting, Survival! takes a real life approach. Each character has its own set of traits complete with advantages and disadvantages that come into play, especially when it’s time for a character to choose a mate and procreate. One character has no arms and must mate with another character with arms who can feed him. This is done to show students the many factors that are relevant during sexual reproduction and the dominant and recessive genes that can be passed down.
Students also have to make sure they avoid predators so their game is not cut short. There are other creatures lurking in the bushes waiting to prey on Stanley, Gloria, Regina, and Howard and if players are not careful their characters can die.
“We really wanted to make this as authentic as possible for the student,” Colvin said. “It’s totally real life.”
The game is being developed with BreakAway, Ltd., a leading developer of serious games. The game will also be designed with the University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab through a process called Cooperative Design, during which game developers and students who are part of the game’s target audience work together to create the product.
Survival! is geared primarily toward high school biology students and is designed with four levels of three to five mini tests each to serve as formative assessments. Teachers are able to monitor students’ progress and see game scores so they know where students are struggling.
“This allows teachers to better target their lessons,” Colvin said. “It also gives students the opportunity to prepare for classroom instruction ahead of time.”
Teachers are able to manipulate the difficulty of the game’s levels to accommodate a variety of students ranging from on-level to Advanced Placement.
And all of these great features would not come as a financial burden to schools. The Foundation plans to offer the game for free to students and schools nationwide.
While Survival! is not completely finished yet, the MdBio Foundation is planning for a fall 2013 release. Until then, the foundation is focused on raising the $3 million needed to finish Survival!’s development and the additional $3 million that will be needed to finish the entire series. MedImmune and Human Genome Sciences have already provided support for this endeavor, and Colvin says beyond funding, she’s also seeking research and evaluation partners who are knowledgeable about game-based learning.
Anticipating the release of the completed first series, the MdBio Foundation already has begun to look ahead to a second series of games possibly aimed towards chemistry students as they try to make science fun for all students.
If you are interested in getting involved with the MdBio Foundation and Survival! please contact Jennifer Colvin.