May 4, 2008

NASA's promotion of MMO games to support STEM learning; Vision-play's SpaceStationSim game; EASe games for children with autism spectrum disorders

NASA is looking for a partner to develop a massively multiplayer online learning game to support education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, known as STEM. The following is a quote from NASA's website regarding the advantages of providing learners with MMO games:

"Persistent immersive synthetic environments in the form of massive multiplayer online gaming and social virtual world, initially popularized as gaming and social settings, are now finding growing interest as education and training venues. There is increasing recognition that these synthetic environments can serve as powerful “hands-on” tools for teaching a range of complex subjects. Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to tinker with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity, making it easier to grasp complex concepts and transfer this understanding quickly to practical problems. MMOs help players develop and exercise a skill set closely matching the thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills increasingly in demand by employers. These skills include strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and execution, team-building and cooperation, and adaptation to rapid change."

NASA's Request for Proposals document outlines the specifics for game developers who'd like to partner with NASA on this project. The MMO's target audience is teens in highschool and above, with adoption expected at the middle school level. Partners should be know how to make the game accessible to people with disabilities.


If you like games about space, or know young people who do, you might be interested in Vision-play's SpaceStationSim, which was developed in collaboration with NASA. For more information, you can visit the Vision-play website, where you can find an on-line manual for the game, screenshots, and a free demo.


Vision-Play also created four games for use with children who have autism spectrum disorders, building on the EASe CD series used by some occupational therapists to help with auditory hypersensitivity, hyperacusis, central auditory processing disorders, or sensory integration disorders. The EASe games "not only fun to play, but stimulate a child’s auditory/vestibular and visual/balance sensory inputs, and help teach them to manage noise and regulate balance." EASe games allow for three speed settings. It is not clear if they are switch-adaptible.

It will be interesting to see how these games play out in school settings!

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