NASA gets serious about educational gaming

NASA this week moved a step closer to branching into educational gaming. The agency presented its vision of a science education-focused massively multiplayer online game to more than 200 potential software development partners in a workshop sponsored by NASA Learning Technologies, an educational technology incubator project.

The idea of the MMO educational game is to present NASA content in such a way as to draw students into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning and to spark interest in STEM-oriented careers. It will be aimed primarily at teenagers, according to NASA, focusing on middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students.

“NASA will continue to pursue innovative strategies to encourage students to improve their interest and performance in STEM and related careers,” said Joyce Winterton, NASA assistant administrator for education, in a statement released Monday. “The use of online educational games can capture student interest in NASA's missions and science.”

The effort is a partnership between NASA Learning Technologies and the Innovative Partnerships Program, which is run out of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and acts as a go-between for collaborative projects between the space agency and private industry.

The groups said the game will be designed to act as a virtual laboratory, a visualization tool, and a collaborative workspace.

“The power of games as educational tools rapidly is gaining recognition. Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to experiment with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity,” NASA explained in an announcement issued Monday. “The goal is to make it easier to grasp complex concepts and transfer this understanding quickly to practical problems.”

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