STTR Phase I: Independent Science Learning through Serious Games with Expert Avatars and Complementary Stories

Period of Performance: 01/01/2016 - 12/31/2016

$225K

Phase 1 STTR

Recipient Firm

THEBEAMER LLC
87 Church St Array
East Hartford, CT 06108
Firm POC, Principal Investigator

Research Institution

TERC Inc
2067 MA Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140
Institution POC

Abstract

This STTR Phase I project will develop and test a learning platform to facilitate independent, personal and enjoyable science education. The platform combines an engaging book, whose characters employ a fictional virtual environment to solve a mystery, with a complementary computer-based virtual environment to support games, explorations, and interviews with Expert Avatars (XAs), such as Albert Einstein and Henrietta Leavitt, that appear in the book. The goal is to increase the interest in science for children in grades 5-8, where there is a shortage of science teachers, and where educational tools must compete with the high level of technology to which young people are attracted, like games with talking avatars and virtual personal assistants to answer their questions. Increasing students' interest in science careers can help fill the projected worker shortage for high tech industries and provide desperately needed science teachers. Filling these jobs is expected to increase America's GDP (and tax revenues) and high tech exports. This project will develop the initial offering in a projected series to facilitate independent learning of science, mathematics, engineering, history, the arts and other subjects through interesting stories and exciting virtual environments populated with XAs for the leaders in their fields. The project will build on the successful application in education of computer-based virtual environments and games by adding two important features. First, the digital content will be complemented by the book, whose characters use a fictional virtual environment to solve the same STARDUST MYSTERY posed in the game. What is STARDUST? Where, when and how did it form? How did it get into George Washington and from him to you? The book provides an introduction, user's guide, scaffolding and sales channel for the game. Second, the virtual environment and game, developed with Unity 3-D, will be populated by XAs for some of the great minds in science. The game will support virtual explorations, such as a trip back through time to the Big Bang and virtual visits with the XAs. The XA's will be backed by an artificial intelligence (AI) system to support a conversation where students' can get answers to questions about the XA's contributions, their lives and their period in history. Responses will be generated using customized knowledge bases for each XA and a hybrid, cloud-based AI system. The project will include a formative evaluation of the game combined with book excerpts to assess the benefits of, and receptivity to, the game, book and XA combination.