WKAR and ComArtSci Present STEM Game Crew

Jan 9, 2017

Curious Crew fans can now further explore science and become a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) scientist through the STEM Game Crew website. The new site is a companion to the WKAR original television series Curious Crew and is currently in the beta stages.

A collaboration between WKAR Public Media and the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences (ComArtSci) research team, the new site launched in August of 2015 with a $10,000 grant from ComArtSci.

How does it work?
ComArtSci Assistant Professor and AT&T Scholar Rabindra Ratan said the site is quite unique in that it offers a scientific method-based approach to the curation of STEM games. Players read the information about a game before playing it, hypothesize whether the game will be fun and educational, play the game and then report their observations back on the site. Their hypotheses and observations are viewable by other players. They can also suggest new games to add to the site.

“This will hopefully help people identify the best STEM games out there and then share them with others,” said Ratan who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Media and Information (MI) and is partnered with MI Associate Professor Casey O'Donnell on the project. 

With a research team of ComArtSci students and faculty, the goal of the project is to allow elementary school kids to be STEM Game Scientists at home, and to see if and how this impacts their learning of science concepts.

"The user adopts the scientific method (observing, hypothesizing, testing, reporting, refining) while playing games that happen to be about science," explained Ratan. "It's meta and quite novel."

The young students’ participation in problem-solving games and puzzles will in turn provide a further understanding for the research team on the connection between science learning and digital gaming.

“Curious Crew is all about encouraging kids to have fun while investigating science concepts in everyday life, which can also mean playing games online.” said Interim Director of Broadcasting and General Manager of WKAR Susi Elkins.

Laundry list of updates
During this beta stage, Ratan and his team continue to improve the website's features as well as advocating for further funds.

"There is a laundry list of updates before the site can graduate from beta," said Ratan.

Updates include the recent changes to the overall general usability, appearance and the development of an avatar customization platform for users.

This avatar customization was also tested during a pilot study at the 2016 MI Summer Camp. Ratan’s advisee, doctoral student Leticia Cherchiglia, led a research project with a group of honors college undergraduates using the site to study how different types of avatar icons motivate middle schoolers' interest in and attitudes about STEM.

“Having the first data collection over the summer made us realize some areas for improvement in the website,” shared Cherchiglia. “So now for the next round of data collection those issues were fixed.”

Round two
In December 2016, the research team conducted a second round of data collection from a local middle school and will use the results to continue to improve the STEM Game Crew website.

The STEM Game Crew research project also partnered with WKAR in another grant proposal submission. The grant will help to launch a project that utilizes augmented reality-based activities, complement WKAR's Curious Crew show and will be featured on the website.

As Elkins said, “We want to know if our content is having an impact on how kids think about and understand these science concepts.”

The public can stay informed on the progress of the STEM Game Crew website at wkar.org.