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IES Contract

Title: Eco: An Online Virtual World for Middle School Environmental Literacy and Collaborative Problem Solving
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Krajewski, John Awardee: Strange Loop Games
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (5/7/2015 - 5/6/2017) Award Amount: $899,871
Type: Phase II Development Award Number: EDIES15C0028

Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:

Purpose: This project will develop and test Eco, an online multiplayer virtual environment and game designed to enhance middle school students' knowledge of ecology and environmental literacy. This is important because according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, students in the United States ranked 17th in science among the world's most developed countries, and over a third of eighth-graders scored below basic level, the lowest performance level. The Framework for 21st Century Skills presents the need for education materials that engage students and use technology effectively, meet rigorous content and skill standards, foster interdisciplinary work, and promote collaborative problem solving.

Project Activities: During Phase I (completed in 2014), the team developed a prototype of Eco consisting of a system architecture that enabled user-controlled avatars to complete basic tasks. At the end of Phase I, a pilot study with 60 students from five classrooms demonstrated that the prototype functioned as intended, that students found the game to be engaging, and that students were able to collaborate with classmates during gameplay. In Phase II the developers will strengthen functionality, add content, and build a teacher dashboard to track student data and house implementation resources. After development is complete, the team will conduct a pilot study to assess the feasibility and usability, fidelity of implementation, and the promise of the game for promoting students' ecosystem learning and environmental literacy. The researchers will collect data from 150 students in 10 classrooms. Half of the classrooms will be randomly assigned to use Eco to supplement standard classroom instruction while the other half will continue with normal practice. Analyses will compare pre-and-post scores of student's ecology knowledge and environmental literacy.

Product: Eco will be a multi-player game to teach standards in ecology and prepare middle schools students to be environmentally literate citizens. To play the game, students will enter a shared online world featuring a simulated ecosystem of plants and animals. Students will co-create a civilization by measuring, modeling, and analyzing the underlying ecosystem. Students will advocate for proposed plans to classmates and make decisions as a group. Cooperation and science-based decision making activities will occur, in order to prevent the destruction of the environment. The game will include teacher resources to support the alignment of game play to learning goals, and implementation.