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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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From the cosmos to the high seas: how UW-Madison educators are using game-based learning

University of Wisconsin-Madison educators have designed numerous educational games to aid students in their learning.

From an astrophysicist’s journey into the cosmos to learning maritime archaeology through shipwreck investigations, University of Wisconsin-Madison educators have designed numerous educational games to aid students in their learning.

One example is the Field Day Lab, a research lab based in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research that creates free online games for educational purposes. Past Field Day Lab projects include a collaboration with the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center to demystify the particles of the universe and a marine biology-focused game where players take on the role of a scientist to explore marine life.

Sarah Gagnon, creative director of the Field Day Lab, told The Daily Cardinal via email that kids often have to learn things “they don’t care about.” 

Creating educational games is a way to bridge that gap, Gagnon said. “We know that kids are really into games, so it is a great way to speak their language.”.

Game-based learning is a tool some educators are looking at to increase accessibility and equity in learning. Many game creators, such as Field Day Lab, are bolstered by grants from organizations like the U.S. National Science Foundation and smaller local organizations.

The Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, for example, financially supported the development of an educational water science game at UW-Green Bay.

At UW-Madison, “The Legend of the Lost Emerald,” a game designed by the Field Day Lab, received top prize in the educational resources for classrooms category at the 2022 Public Media Awards . 

The Field Day Lab hopes for more future collaborations with educators that have visions of utilizing games as part of their curriculum, Reyna Groff, a 2D artist and the director’s assistant, said. 

Field Day Lab offers fellowships for educators interested in designing a game for practical use, Groff said. Collaborators don’t need coding experience because the in-house developers at Field Day can handle the back-end components of the games.

Scott Mobley, a UW-Madison political science professor, expanded games-based learning into his courses starting in 2010. The final project for his international security course in Spring 2024 is a multi-day simulation game where students compete with each other in maritime competition.

Students are assigned into teams, each of which represents a country. Students then will have to advance their country’s interests by claiming islands in the South China Sea, all while applying concepts of international security taught in class.

“Games are a great way to learn because the whole time we’re using concepts from the course,” Mobley told the Cardinal. “It is different from the traditional way where you learn it all, do a brain dump on an exam, and then you just forget about it.”

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Mobley observed an increase in participation and engagement when he implemented interactive games into his curriculum.

“If you see them during the games, they are engaged in heated debate. The level of engagement they put in beats anything I've ever seen in conventional lectures.”

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