Science, STEM, Technology

Playing the Biology

Playing the Biology

By Lisa Tran

In the words of Bill Nye, “Science Rules” and it certainly does with the arrival of Canadian based, Genomics Digital Lab (GDL), an interactive online game that teaches students about core cell biology. Bill Nye’s TV program is still remembered today because it delivered many scientific theories and concepts in a memorable and fun format. The days of Bill Nye the Science Guy are long gone, but the need for a fun and educational science teaching platform still exists especially because “adolescent students often complain that they cannot see the relationship between school participation and real life,” says Mark Oehlert in 2007, Director of the Defense Acquisition University’s Game and Simulation Department.

With the evolution of computer graphic software and gaming technology, it is now even easier to recreate and simulate many scientific theories and models. But it seems that little of that technology has been vested in innovative educational games. There are many games on the market today selling under the guise of “educational”, but all they contain are games followed by rounds of multiple choice quizzes.

GDL is unlike any of these so called educational games. It truly bridges the gap between gaming and learning. When you teach biology, you tell a story. GDL is a series of games built around the story of energy – how plants harness it from the sun, how cells use that energy, and how humans use that energy from plants for food and fuel. It has received many acclamations including the United Nations Summit Award in the e-science and technology category. GDL contains 8 different types of unique games that can be played in either French or English.

Biology is often a difficult subject to grasp because it is very much a three dimensional concept conveyed two dimensionally in a textbook. Images transcend language. GDL uses graphics and animations to help break the barriers around abstract concepts such as photosynthesis, DNA transcription, and creating proteins.

GDL uses an immersive, discovery-based approach. Users get to “play the biology” and manipulate the conditions surrounding a dying plant, for example. They get a real sense of what will happen in the cells using their critical thinking skills and creativity instead of merely reciting a chart from a textbook.  GDL allows students to view, examine, manipulate, and experience some of the natural biological processes that occur in real life, everyday; processes that they otherwise would not be able to witness on their own or from a textbook.

The games were developed for grade 7 to 12 biology students and are based on a trial and error basis. They grow progressively difficult with each level, just like a video game. In order to win the game, players needs to learn, and to learn they need information obtained from playing the game.
For teachers and educators, GDL is an effective accompaniment to the classroom. Teachers can assess a   student’s progress as it is recorded in real time online. A student’s performance, the length of time they spend on each game, and the notes they make in their online notebook can be viewed.

For students, the star attraction of GDL will certainly be the Guitar Hero-like game for DNA transcription. Not only does this game work with an actual Guitar Hero guitar with USB plug-in, but with one’s own music too. In today’s video game generation, the creators of GDL have made surely made every effort to make biology relevant again. Science rules.

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