Thanks to generous new support from four federal funding organizations, the FAS Learning Federation will begin developing some of the new approaches to learning called for in its national vision. Grant awards totaling $2.4 million over three years have been provided by: the National Science Foundation, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Health and Human Services (Centers for Disease Control) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The funds will support development of three 'games.' Each will engage the student in a series of challenges in a virtual environment that can adapt to the learner's individual needs. Each game project aims at different learners - elementary school students, adolescents, and adult workers. They will test the approach for three different subjects: strategies for responding to terrorist attacks, the science of immunology, the culture and mathematics of ancient Mesopotamia.
"These projects will jumpstart the Learning Federation's implementation of the research plan we developed with our partners over the past two years," says Kay Howell, who manages FAS' Learning Federation project. The plan lays out key problems to be studied and timelines for progress and is known as the Road Maps. The Road Maps can guide a nationwide response to the crisis of underachievement in US schools and to our workforce's need for frequent retraining if we are to prosper in the 21st century. The three projects will help FAS and its partners address some of the key challenges laid out in the Road Maps.
Discover Babylon will show how digitized library and museum collections can be combined to provide rich learning experiences. Set in ancient Mesopotamia, players will let students solve puzzles and challenges by exploring the art, culture, and science of this ancient world in a historically accurate virtual environment that will include 3D images of real objects from collections. The Institute for Library and Museum Services will support initial work on the game.
The Immune Attack project will teach young adults about the human immune system via a game that uses stunning, realistic 3-D visualizations and simulations that faithfully represent human biology. It will involve biologists, disease specialists and computer scientists. The National Science Foundation will support work on the prototype.
The Mass Casualty Incident Response instructional game will be developed in collaboration with the New York City Fire Department, and will train over 2,000 first responders. This project is supported by a highly competitive Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) award from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce and by the Centers for Disease Control.
The potential of games for learning is becoming widely recognized. The $7 billion dollar video game industry is becoming interested in educational games, an area the military pioneered with pilot training simulations.
"We are delighted that the federal government has made such a strong commitment to pursuing research that leaders in cognitive science and information technology agree can revolutionize how we communicate complex ideas," says Henry Kelly, FAS President. "People are willing to master an enormous amount of information to win games. If we succeed, they'll be pestering their teachers and friends and reading up on complex subjects like biology in order to win.
"The Learning Federation's research Road Maps suggests that huge gains are possible. They also show that success will require sustained investment. We're delighted that these federal agencies have given FAS an opportunity to move forward on one of the nation's most pressing research problems."
The mission of the FAS is to focus the energies of US scientists and engineers on issues of critical national importance. Through its Learning Federation project, the FAS is trying to assure that the United States does not miss this historic opportunity to take advantage of emerging information and communications technologies to solve the crisis of student underachievement and an underskilled workforce.