A Virtual Learning World for Tweens to Experience Possible Selves (ME GAMES)

Period of Performance: 04/12/2016 - 12/31/2016


Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Research and Evaluation Solutions, Inc.
Principal Investigator


? DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): The word adolescence derives from the Latin word adolescere, meaning, to grow up. Adolescence is a crucial period of transition between childhood and legal adulthood, with individuals following more uncertain and complex paths based on gender, race, ethnicity, social class, and geography. The passage to adulthood revolves around a complex web of factors, which include social, socioeconomic, and cultural contexts. Research studies have established that growing up in under-resourced environments (e.g., poverty, low-income, geographical isolation, fragile family structures) can seriously threaten a teen's successful passage to adulthood. Education has become a primary source of social stratification, dividing the haves and the have-nots. As a result, dropping out of high school pretty much consigns individuals to a life of permanent poverty, and having only a high school degree offers career options that rarely pay a livable wage. Young people from low-income families are considerably less likely than their higher-income peers to move successfully through school, and more likely to drop out - making it much more difficult for them to earn family- sustaining wages. It is not that these youth devalue academic success and attainment, but rather they gradually may begin to see academic success as impossible even though it is still valued. Possible identities reflect how individuals think about their potential and their futre. Adolescents living in under-resourced environments rarely have the opportunities or means to reflect on and consider their future goals, dreams, threats, fears and assets. Hence, an intervention focusing on these elements is necessary. Afterschool programs are an excellent location for these interventions because they provide a safe context for development of identities, as well as interpretations of difficulties and strategies that can be used to attain positive possible selves. This Phase II project completes the full development of ME GAMES(tm), a digital media intervention focused on early adolescents, ages 11-14 in afterschool settings. ME GAMES(tm) will be part of a virtual world (Afterschool Virtually(r)) environment that serves as a scaffold for multiple theory-based Edugames (My World of Dreams, The Valley of Others, Disappointments Bridge and The Sea of Hope) and structured on-line and off-line activities linked to them. The goal of ME GAMES(tm) is to support early adolescents' successful transition to adulthood by increasing their academic engagement, motivation, and performance through digital learning activities that make the future feel close and connected to the present, promote a productive interpretation of experienced difficulties and create a link between possible selves and current action. Using a virtual world with different Edugames, not only creates a feasible and scalable alternative to a totally face-to-face intervention, it also offers an appealing space n its own right, especially for early adolescents, aged 11-14. Almost all (92%) adolescents currently go online daily and nearly three in four (72%) play games, regardless of the socioeconomic status, age, race, or gender. This product will be subscription-based and licensed to afterschool programs for use as an adjunct to other services and activities they provide. In this Phase II project, REESSI proposes to continue the research and development activities of the successful Phase I study, based on the outcomes and lessons learned. The setting for implementation and evaluation will be 22 local Boys and Girls Clubs in the United States. The REESSI team will complete the Phase II tasks utilizing the foundation of five key aims: (1) Develop the final After School Virtually(r) virtual world based on the Phase I paper version of this world. This world includes seven components: the orientation theatre, the games (Aim 2), a site for structured reflections after each game, a site for structured chats after each game, approved personal pages, program newsroom, program neighborhoods and a parents' place; (2) Refine and complete the final versions of all four Edugames (My World of Dreams; The Valley of Others; Disappointments Bridge and Sea of Hope); (3) Refine and complete the post-game face-to-face structured activities based on their Phase I development. There are two elements: structured discussions with a supportive adult in the participant's life and structured group discussions with a designated program staff member; (4) Beta Test each of the elements of the virtual world and the face-to-face activities at two Boys and Girls Club sites and after the outcomes study conduct cognitive interviews with a sample of study participants to understand what elements of the virtual world and Edugames caused the most impact and (5) Conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to test the effects of the full intervention (which includes the virtual world, Edugames and the face-to-face activities). The RCT will assess the effect of participation on the theoretical process model of change (identity-based motivation, formerly possible selves) and test the effect of participation on change in academic outcomes (school grades, attendance from school records, and self- reported engagement and time spent on homework). REESSI will engage and strategically manage a transdisciplinary team of seasoned experts that includes developmental psychologists/behavioral researchers, research assistants, a statistician, youth development experts, intervention and curriculum developers, creative and technical writers and gaming/digital media experts.