11:41am Wednesday 16 October 2019

Rice University developing game for teens about clinical trials

The award-winning 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,” said Kristi Bowling, science education project manager at CTTL. “These are topics students normally study, but the games give real-world context and applications.”

Bowling said 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 said.

CTTL’s previous games, which are all available free online for anyone at http://webadventures.rice.edu, 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 experiments.

Bowling said 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,” Bowling said.

CTTL’s games have won awards, but Bowling said the highest praise comes from teachers, medical professionals and students who write to tell the center’s staff how helpful the games are for them.

“The room of seventh-graders was so quiet as they worked … that you could hear a pin drop!” wrote one teacher. “They even came in on their own time to finish.”

To find out more about CTTL, visit http://cttl.rice.edu/.

Jade Boyd

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