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Building Biologically Based Immune System Simulations for Education and Training

Henry Kelly

Kay Howell


Background: This project is building a PC-based educational game that will combine realistic three dimensional depiction of biological structure and function with advanced educational technologies to provide an introduction to basic concepts in immunology. The immune system is inherently fascinating but can be extremely difficult to understand. Its operation involves complex interactions between a large number of different cell types, antigens, and many intercellular processes. This project is researching how video game technologies coupled with advanced educational technologies processes can make biology instruction readily understandable to diverse learners who will be strongly motivated to master the complexity because of the interesting, high-stakes challenges presented by the game.

Purpose: This research is designed to produce a prototype of a simulation game that can be used for teaching high school students and college freshmen about immunology and infection in an engaging manner with validated instructional content and effective educational elements. The game will be used to test the hypothesis that visualization of, and immersion in realistic depictions of human biology will be highly engaging to high school students and hold their interest long enough for learning to occur.

Intervention: The evaluation will focus on three key questions: (1) Does the system improve understanding in areas of immunology that are particularly difficult to master? (3) Does the system increase student interest in science and their interest in a career in science? (4) Does the effect of 1 and 2 depend significantly on sex, ethnicity, or other characteristics of the learners?

Setting: The educational game is being evaluated in high school biology classes. The teachers have the students play the game during one class period of the immunology section, which is usually taught over a one week period. Students are each provided one copy of the game, on CD-Rom, which they are permitted to take home and play on a voluntary basis. Interviews with the students and teachers are conducted in the classroom immediately following use of the game. The project started September 2004 and will be completed August 2007.

Research Design: The target population is high school and freshman college students. The Phase 1 evaluation was conducted at five high schools, 10 biology classes, and 225 students. The Phase 2 evaluation will include two community college classes, in addition to the high schools.

Pre- and Post- Questionnaires completed by students (start and end of the semester) to measure science attitudes and interest in immunology compared to other biology topics. Pre- and post- general science attitude questionnaires completed by students (immediately prior and post game use). Interviews with students and teachers immediately following game use focus on game design and use issues.

Findings: Interviews with students and teachers immediately following game use was very favorable. Outside evaluator analysis of pre- and post-questionnaires is expected July 2006.

Publications and Papers
K. Howell (2005). Games for Health Conference 2004: Issues, Trends, and Needs Unique to Games for Health. CyberPsychology & Behavior: The Impact of the Internet, Multimedia and Virtual Reality on Behavior and Society, Vol. 8, Number 2, April 2005, 103- 109.

K. Howell (2005). Exploiting the Features of Games to Teach Biology. Games for Health Conference 2005, Baltimore, MD. September 2005.

K. Howell (2005). Trends in Games for Health. Serious Games Conference. Washington, DC. October 30, 2005.

K. Howell & D. Solomon (2006). New Trends in Advertising: Using Games for Advertising and Messaging. New Communications Forum, Palo Alto, CA. March 3, 2006.

New America Foundation Strengthening America's Competitive Edge Through Investment in Advanced Technology Tools for Learning (Senate Briefing) May 3, 2006

New America Foundation Strengthening America's Competitive Edge Through Investment in Advanced Technology Tools for Learning (House Briefing) June 14, 2006

Robert Woods Johnson Foundation Games for Health Hill Demonstrations

Games for Health Conference 2005 September 2005

Serious Games Conference October 2005

Summit on Educational Games October 2005

MERLOT Conference 2005 Technology That Teaches October 2005

Games Health Day University of Southern California April 2006

Media & Press
USA Today September 26, 2005

MultiMedia and Internet @ Schools November 8, 2005

Inside Higher Ed, October 26, 2005

WRAL LocalTech Wire, June 19, 2006

San Jose Mercury News - CA May 11, 2006

The Daily Advertiser - Lafayette, LA May 18, 2006

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists July/August 2006

Internet Week May 19, 2006 June 5, 2006

Washington Times, June 15, 2006

Chronicle of Higher Education June 17, 2006

PHYSORG.Com June 16, 2006

Edutopia ExtraCredit, July 2006

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, July 2006

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