Chilean Universities develop educational video games

With support from the government, academic institutions are developing two educational products: a video game on molecular biology and a role playing game for cellular telephones.

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Protecting a human cell from the A H1N1 influenza virus using a nanorobot is not within the reach of science in the real world. But it can happen in Kokori, a video game on molecular biology that a group of academics in Universidad Santo Tomás, in Chile are developing.

“We hope to bring cellular biology closer to high school students in an entertaining way and in that way support teachers’ efforts,” the developers say. The project is aimed at secondary school students and will be distributed for free in schools as well as on the Internet.

The project participated in the contest on educational information technologies organized by the National Scientific Research and Techology Commission (Conicyt), a government institution that allocated US$ 2.3 million to different educational information technology programs.

For its part, Kokori (which means “collective play” in Rapa Nui, the language of Easter Island) received US$ 424,000, with which its creators hope to develop, test and launch the software in schools in seven of the country’s regions in 2011. The video game will be developed based on free distribution software for use with any operating system, such as Windows or Linux.

In addition to Universidad Santo Tomás, researchers from Universidad Diego Portales (UDP) and Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) took part in this project, along with the biotechnology company Austral Biotech and the Argentine software company Gaia Sur Inspiro.

The initiative’s director Virginia Garretón affirmed that they hope that “the video game increases players’ motivation and curiosity regarding biology and the life phenomena that can be explained by biology, as well as becoming a handy tool for teachers.”

Garretón adds that “we also hope that the team of biologists, programmers, engineers, philosophers, social workers, biochemists, and teachers who are developing it will create capacities for  the creation of new games or information science tools for education.”

Also for Cellular Phones

But Kokori is not the first initiative in Chile to develop educational video games. In 2008, researchers from Universidad de Chile obtained Conicyt support to develop a video role playing game project, or RPG, for cellular phones to stimulate the learning of skills related to scientific thought for elementary school students in the country.

The work will be undertaken by a team of researchers from Universidad de Chile’s Center for Computing and Communication for the Construction of Knowledge (C5), together with the company Andina Tech, which specializes in mobile marketing. Jaime Sánchez, a professor at Universidad de Chile and director of C5, explains that the game can be modified by teachers using a software editor so it can be adapted to the subject being taught.

“The video game will be flexible and will consist in the activities that teachers design for its use, and students will work on the modules that they have defined — in groups, individually, over periods of time, and according to goals — where each person takes on a character that will allow them to develop in a virtual environment engaged in scientific tasks and problems,” Sánchez states.

The name of the project is “Video Games for the Development of Science Skills via Cellular phones, VIDHaC2,” and will be tested during 2010. The researchers highlight that “in the current market there are no solutions to articulate mobility in cellular phones, video games, and educational uses that are flexible, scalable, and modular and allow teachers to use them with ease, save time in the preparation of educational material, and to produce innovative mobile-learning activities.

This post is also available in Spanish