Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies,
Critter Cards: Playing with National Science Standards
The Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab is creating "Critter Cards," a National Science Foundation funded learning game intended to meet educational, game design, and research goals. Critter Cards is an easy to play web-based learning game playable in a 20 to 30 minute time frame designed to impart a visceral sense of the curious history of vertebrate life on earth as well as to teach a subset of the National Science standards on adaptation and evolution to middle school children.
In creating the game we are applying the tenets of designing games to appeal to girls derived from our "Girls As Designers" NSF-funded study. Prior research findings demonstrate that older girls are interested in learning games. Other prior research findings confirmed through our study, include a tendency for girls to want clear instructions and in-game help and to like to read instructions before playing, to prefer useful as opposed to frivolous play, and to enjoy playing and exploring more than rushing to beat the game. These factors combine to form a hypothesis that girls will learn more than boys from the same learning game, particularly if learning is part of instructions, popup help, and in game exploration beyond what is required to complete the game.
To make this kind of outcome testable, Critter Cards game play is designed to include more content than is necessary to play and win the game. For example, in the game there are "critter cards" that contain information about 52 prehistoric animals, there is a game board that contains the tree of life from the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras, and there are "action cards" that outline the rules of play. Both types of cards and the game board contain additional "popup" information that can be explored. While kids interact directly with the cards and the game board as they play, they do not need to explore the complete set of this additional information to successfully play and win the game.
The face of each critter card has the critter name, how many million years ago it lived, an artist's conception of what it looked like in the environment it inhabited, and a short interesting comment about what is notable about that critter. Three icons on the upper right of the card let players explore deeper. The SCALE icon reveals size comparison to an adult human, a timescale visual, and the location of earth's continental landmasses when the critter existed. The FOOD WEB icon describes who the critter ate and who ate the critter. The ADAPTATION icon describes the critter's environment and one or more adaptations that contributed to its survival in that environment. The Tree of Life game board offers similar optional explorations of eras, periods, and evolutionary branches.
Play style and learning data is collected during the game play, allowing for thorough data collection to test the above hypothesis. Beyond the in-game data collection, pre and post knowledge tests are built into the game as part of the research.
At the conference we will exhibit the Critter Cards game and present a poster that explains the educational, game design, and research goals of the project and how they were addressed in the implementation.