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Empiric Empires: Game-based learning preparing students for health careers

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: National Institutes of Health
Contract: 1R43GM137619-01
Agency Tracking Number: R43GM137619
Amount: $149,895.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: 500
Solicitation Number: PAR18-402
Solicitation Year: 2018
Award Year: 2020
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2020-05-01
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2020-10-31
Small Business Information
2111 7TH ST #8
Santa Monica, CA 90405-1279
United States
DUNS: 801258315
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: Yes
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 (310) 717-9089
Business Contact
Phone: (260) 402-1172
Research Institution

Students from under-served and minority communities are not only under-represented in the health
professions but also academically unprepared to succeed in majors leading to those jobs. Existing applications
have been unsuccessful in raising math scores, in large part because two-thirds of educational technology
licenses purchased by schools are never used. To be usable in educational programs, software must
accommodate limits on budget, hardware and Internet yet still offer engagement of students, ease of
installation and use. Our goal is to develop and test a prototype integrated software platform to rapidly create
mobile game-based learning software that is engaging, effective and runs on low-end devices.The innovation in Empiric Empires is four-fold; 1) a platform that develops software faster and cheaper,
2) emphasis on character and narrative, over video and 3D graphics, enabling installation on low-end mobile
devices 3) educational and assessment content embedded in a true adventure game and 4) cross-curricular
content including mathematics, social studies and health science. In-game data collection of players’ answers
to math and health science questions provides a baseline of student pre-existing knowledge and a measure of
effectiveness of the instructional material. Video is largely replaced with voiceovers and animated gifs, graphic
novels and ‘text-messaging’ between characters.We will validate this platform with the creation of Aztec Era, a mobile app for middle school
mathematics standards with incorporation of concepts from epidemiology and biostatistics. We will conduct
usability testing on Aztec Era with a maximum variation sample of 60 middle school students. Testers will be
drawn from programs in three sites: a diverse urban community in California and American Indian reservations
in North and South Dakota. Qualitative data generated from interviews and observations will be summarized in
five user case studies, identifying typical and “edge” users. Throughout the project, quantitative data will be
collected electronically on frequency and duration of gameplay sessions, modules completed and correct or
incorrect responses to STEM challenges. Descriptive statistics will be generated for number of learning tasks
completed, correct answers, for mathematics and health science questions, overall and by site. MANOVA will
be used to test for differences by gender and site.The prototype phase ends with a completed design document, data on usability and a codebase of data
collection activities, game-based instruction and in-app reinforcers that can be expanded in Phase II
development of a commercial product. Having solved the problem of getting students to use the software
regularly in Phase I, we can assess the impact of use on knowledge of mathematics and public health science
and interest in health careers in Phase II.
!Increasing the number and diversity of students entering health careers requires both
sparking students’ interest and preparing them academically. Empiric Empires demonstrates the
ability to achieve these dual goals, by repurposing assets from existing commercial games to
deliver high quality software at half the time and cost of traditional development. The prototype
developed will be a mobile application using game-based learning to teach middle school
mathematics standards, with incorporation of concepts from epidemiology and biostatistics.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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