Educational game designers from Rice University’s
Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning (CTTL) are preparing to create
their first online game series about clinical trials.
The new series, called “Virtual Clinical Trials,”
will be the sixth in CTTL’s popular Web Adventures series for young teens. The
center has designed games over the past decade with a set of titles that lets
students try out different science careers, track the origin of disease
outbreaks, solve crimes by using forensic science, and more.
“Virtual Clinical Trials” was made possible by a
five-year $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and is one
of eight grants nationwide funded by the Blueprint for Neuroscience award. The
Rice team will design a game in which teens play the role of a patient, doctor,
or research nurse in a neuroscience clinical trial. By playing the game,
students will learn about the steps that clinicians must take to find out
whether a new treatment or therapy is effective. Over five years, three games
will be developed, evaluated, and disseminated worldwide.
“There is a great deal of knowledge about neuroscience
topics and science process skills that can be woven into games about clinical
trials,” says Kristi Bowling, science education project manager at CTTL.
“These are topics students normally study, but the games give real-world
context and applications.”
Bowling says the new game will be a role-playing adventure.
Students will be able to experience from the perspective of a patient, research
nurse, and doctor what it is like being involved in a clinical trial.
“As another potential, we hope to find that students
who have played the game are more inclined to participate in clinical trials in
the future,” Bowling says.
CTTL’s previous games use some of the same techniques to get
middle school students interested in science. “CSI: Web Adventures,”
a game based on the popular TV show “CSI,” lets students gather
forensic evidence to solve crimes. “MedMyst” lets students
investigate infectious disease outbreaks. In “Reconstructors,”
students are challenged to solve mysteries about chemical substances that have
both harmful and helpful effects. “N-squad” is another forensic game
that focuses on the science behind alcohol abuse. “Cool Science
Careers” allows students to experience what it is like to be a scientist
by role-playing neuroscience-related careers and performing virtual
Bowling says it can take up to a year to produce one game.
CTTL staff work with teachers and subject-matter experts to create the plot,
characters, storyline, and learning objectives for a game. The final step with
any game is finding out whether and how much it helps students learn. CTTL
completes a detailed assessment of how well the game performed. Dozens of
teachers and hundreds of students are typically involved in an experimental
design to test how well each game meets its objectives.
“Our goals are to create engaging games that teach
science and to contribute to research about learning through games,”