Feds Team With Local College to Produce Low-Cost Gaming Training
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Ocean Service has developed a way to reach and engage younger people using a method with which they are intimately familiar: games.
"I think what people are finding is that digital students, called millenials, don't want to sit and do paper and pencil activities or sit and listen to boring lectures," said Peg Steffen, education coordinator for the NOS. "They use the Internet and phones almost constantly, so we have to find a way to go where they are and use methods where they will learn better."
As Steffen explains, digital natives have grown up with interactive digital technologies. They integrate computers, the Internet, texting, and mobile computing seamlessly into their lives.
NOS has designed interactive Internet-based games to train young people to be better environmental stewards. Using the same model may help organizations with limited funds create training programs developed with the new generation of workers in mind.
Funding the program.
"Producing games is very expensive," Steffen said. "In the commercial world, they spend millions. In the federal world, we don't have that kind of funding support."
Steffen and her team turned to a local facility, Montgomery College. Partnering with its Computer and Simulation Program gave NOS the ability to have a sophisticated Internet-based training tool that otherwise would have been prohibitively expensive.
"We supported students in developing the games. We worked closely with the professors. It became part of their coursework," Steffen said. "They did all the animation, artwork, and the soundtrack."
The technology is fairly simple. The games are easily accessed through the Internet.
"Our websites are public domain; the information is free," Steffen said. "Many other federal agencies are using Internet-based games so you don't need Xbox or PlayStation. We're producing Internet games. It's a slightly different genre then some of the other platforms."
Steffen said having the students develop the games not only saved money for NOS, it resulted in a more effective training vehicle. "The nice thing is we received games produced by young people," she said. "Sometimes folks in the older generation don't know how to reach young folks as effectively."
In addition to helping NOS, the project has been a tremendous boon to the students too. "They also received something they can put on their resumes," Steffen said. "It gives them a little bit of an edge in terms of career options in the future; they worked with a federal agency to produce a game."
While focused primarily on younger people, the interactive training tools can also be used for older workers. The University of Virginia has a training simulation module that integrates and deepens the focus on estuarine concepts with a focus on the Chesapeake Bay.
"This allows players to take the role of stakeholders and make decisions," Steffen said. "The nice thing is you get to see the impact of your decisions on the watershed and on each other over 20 years. People get to see immediate results of their decisions as opposed to waiting to see the results."
In the UVA Bay Game, players take on various roles, such as farmers, developers, watermen, and local policymakers. They make decisions about their livelihoods or regulatory authority and see the effects of their decisions on their own personal finances, the regional economy, and watershed health.
Hailed by corporate and education leaders as "the first of its kind," the UVA Bay Game combines a video game format with current demographic, economic, and scientific data to create a tool with real-world applications and impact. It was also developed by a multidisciplinary faculty and student team.
Steffen believes gaming and simulation tools may be the answer to helping improve America's position in the world by developing a skilled workforce and leadership in technology. Strategic thinking, interpretive analysis, problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and adapting to rapid change are skills employers are seeking in new workers.
"Educational games can be used to develop these critical skills," Steffen said. "The old manner that you and I used in school is not the way to reach students used to multitasking, used to digital information."
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July 11, 2011
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