SPSU collaborates with elementary students to create learning software
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November 24, 2009 01:00 AM | 2597 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By Marcus E. Howard

mhoward@mdjonline.com

MARIETTA - Students at the Marietta Center for Advanced Academics are getting a firsthand lesson in the business of gaming, thanks to Southern Polytechnic State University.

SPSU's School of Computing and Software Engineering has been focused on developing learning games with elementary students to support curricula at local schools.

The university conducts campus visits to teach elementary students what it takes to build a game. SPSU sees the collaboration as an important component of its service to the community as well as a good recruiting effort to show students how fun science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, can be.

Professors Jon Preston and Briana Morrison have led the project since inception a year ago. Their students at SPSU have been developing a series of educational games in the area of oceanography with about 25 MCAA third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, and are working on a game to teach economics.

MCAA students have been deeply involved in designing the game, from naming it to coming up with suggestions for how it should work. In "Ocean Quest," the user maneuvers a submarine through the ocean in different levels of quests to catch fish. Along the way, he or she learns about ocean inhabitants.

"From what we did last year, we've added quests over the summer," Preston said. "This semester and the fall, we're extending and adding to it. We have other schools that are interested as well."

The idea for the gaming collaboration occurred when TechMatters, a Marietta-based technology consulting firm, learned of SPSU's new Computer Game Design and Development degree program. A gaming club had been formed in anticipation for the program and TechMatters saw an opportunity to put it to good use.

"We had a meeting between MCAA and SPSU and said, 'Here we have people that develop games and you have a curriculum. Can we make that work?'" said Marka Ormsby, a TechMatters senior partner.

Current plans allow the games to be distributed for free beginning next spring. They're also compatible with Microsoft's Xbox systems.

"The intent is to not only use it in class, with teachers supervising, but to make it available for parents to download and put it on the home computers, Preston said. "The students can be playing and learning outside of class."

MCAA fifth-graders Eli Good and Lana Cross, both 10, have been involved in the development of "Ocean Quest" from the beginning. There's no end date for the gaming project at MCAA, so new students get to contribute each year.

"It was very interesting," Cross said of the early development stages. "We would shout out comments and maybe see how we can improve the game. A couple of times we got to play it and after a while, it's made some really large improvements."

SPSU seniors Lee Yingfan, 22, Nicholas Mowry, 21, and Xi Li, 23, have participated in the project. Li, a technical communications major, said it has helped her build her resume as she prepares for life after graduation.

"I can use the knowledge that I've learned and put it in a real case," she said.

The gaming program has received a combined $25,000 STEM grant from SPSU to expand the program at other Cobb schools.

"It's very unique and probably one-of-a-kind to have such a strong partnership between a university, an elementary school and business partner," Morrison said. "What's especially important to this is that there's a benefit to everyone who participates. It's a true partnership among three very diverse groups coming together for one goal."

For more information, visit www.games.spsu.edu.

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