Yesterday we presented a workshop on The Radix Endeavor at the MassCUE conference. We gave participants an overview of our concept of an educational MMO for STEM learning, and we had them play around with the Radix World Preview as well as an early prototype of the shape building tool. We got a great response from teachers and tech directors who were engaged in the demos and are excited to see how the final game comes out!
We also got a question that really gets at some of the important things we are trying to create in the Radix experience. That question was: How long does a quest take? This is naturally a very important question for teachers who will need to know how to plan their class time or their students’ homework assignments, and once the game is more developed we do hope to have some quantifiable answers to help teachers gauge those things.
However, we also feel that in a way if this question is unanswerable, it’s a sign that we’re going in the right direction. In the real world, some tasks are quick and easy to accomplish, and others are multistep, challenging problems that take many tries to solve. Not all jobs fit into a class period! Especially if you need some down time in between to think things over before you come up with a solution to a hard problem, which is the type of problem-solving experience we want students to have. And perhaps most important is that different students will be most interested in different content areas – Radix should provide a space where they can complete their task and move on, or choose to go deeper and “mess around” with an intriguing concept. Given the opportunity and motivation to experiment, many students will thrive and make discoveries on their own which is one of the most valuable experiences we can hope to create for them!
So what are we working on these days you might ask? There are many pieces that go into developing a game such as Radix but one of our main areas of focus for the 2012-2013 school year is testing prototypes with students. Well before the game is completely developed, we are hard at work testing out everything from narratives to in-game tools. Once we decide on a particular curriculum topic and create a quest, we make a prototype of that quest. These can be either simple computer based tasks or even paper activities that will mimic what students will do in the game. We have a great group of staff and students, both undergraduate and graduate who help us create and test these prototypes. We are currently working with four local teachers, two in math and two in biology who are allowing us to come into their classrooms and get feedback from their students. These sessions with the students are extremely valuable to us and help inform many aspects of development. We learn about whether the content is at the right level, whether the tools are usable and whether students enjoy the activity overall. Students are generally very happy to tell us exactly what they do and do not like about the tasks and we’ve received some fabulous suggestions regarding art, storyline and how to offer in-game hints to complete quests. Over the next several months we’ll be testing activities for genetics, ecology, geometry, algebra and statistics. Stay tuned for more updates from the classroom!
One of the topic areas covered in The Radix Endeavor is geometry, and more specifically modeling with geometry. This can mean building things in the world that are made up of geometric shapes, as well as solving volume and surface area problems by approximating the shape of real-world objects with prisms. We’ve already created a bare-bones prototype and had high school students use it this summer. What we found is that students took the basic prisms the prototype let them create and really ran with them! They created cities and geometric sculptures, and enthusiastically asked each other how to create the cool things they saw on each others’ screens. We loved the potential we saw in this tool and we hope to be able to incorporate this level of creative play in the final version of the game.
While the Radix shape-building toolset will be kept relatively simple, it’s fun to look at other places where spatial thinking and design skills could be applied. The Stata Center building right here at MIT is a real-world example of geometric shapes gone wild. And the delightful images from the Geo A Day blog show that there is no limit to what you can create when you see the world in terms of shapes. This kind of geometric lens on the world is something we strive to provide students who play Radix!
One of the earliest pieces of concept art we got from Filament was this image of a marketplace. It was an instant favorite with our team because of the way the colors make it feel both dark and mysterious as well as warm and intriguing. As a player exploring this world, we can’t resist peeking in to see who is behind that curtain and what exotic wares they may have to offer.
At the time, we didn’t know exactly how we would use this setting but we knew we wanted to have a marketplace in the game world. Later, as we were working on the algebra curriculum, we decided on a bartering system for the marketplace that would play up the desire to explore the unique goods on offer there, while creating a place where players will need to think about unit conversions, ratios, and systems of equations. Using math skills in a realistic context, players will be able to get the best deals on their much-needed berbuckles, myzle flowers, and exploding fruit.
We are a small research group at MIT and one of our current projects is designing, building, and studying an educational MMO called The Radix Endeavor. You can read more about the game here and about our lab here.
As part of our design and development process, we collaborate with a number of advisors, teachers, and students. Together, we are designing the curriculum, game mechanics, assessment, prototypes, and all the other facets that will fit together to produce a successful educational game. This process can be lots of fun but it’s never easy, and on this blog we’ll be giving you a glimpse of what goes into it and keeping you in the loop on all of our progress. So stay tuned to be a part of all our exciting adventures!