SBIR Phase I: An environmental geology game for discovery-oriented science and mathematics education
This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I research project aims to solve a growing need for environmental science education. The project focusses on the development of a dynamic, group-based, immersive virtual environment (IVE). The primary innovation of the project lies at the intersection of three fruitful lines of research. First, IVEs show improved learning gains in science classrooms. Second, group learning is increasingly important, both from an employer's viewpoint and an educator's viewpoint. Finally, the fast-paced, immediate nature of our society requires individuals to respond quickly and effectively to dynamic events. The combination of these three will lead to a new, and potentially more intrinsically motivating, method of teaching environmental science. A study will be performed to determine the efficacy of the approach in terms of both learning outcomes and attitudinal measures, using high school students in a controlled laboratory setting. The 'degree of casual adoption' among high school students will be assessed through the 'landing site' developed for a related project. At the conclusion of the project, the IVE will be a fully-contained experimentally validated software package feasible for Phase II distribution to a number of markets.
In the recent OECD international study of developed countries, the US ranked 21st in the percentage of the population with a high proficiency of environmental science skills and knowledge. This presents a marketable need for experimentally validated pedagogical software solutions that align with state and national standards. Meanwhile, environmental issues are reaching the forefront of national thought. This provides unique commercial opportunities for environmentally focused IVE software. Key players in the market include educational publishers and software developers. Competing technology is mainly non-immersive video clips, simple one-off activities, or in the best case, static games with a single outcome. Our solution is better than products developed by these companies because it leads the way by bringing three emerging technologies to bear on an environmental science curriculum. This project is tailored to take advantage of the One-to-One Initiative arising in states such as Michigan and Maine, through a combination of exit screens and landing sites with potential to be accessed by thousands of students per year. The software developed from this project will be purchased by high school students interested in environmental science and 'green' issues currently topical, and by parents interested in providing their children a more complete and socially relevant science education.
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