Suna Ryu is a PhD student in the Psychological Studies in Education program at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Her research interests focus on the development of scientific inquiry aided by technology-rich learning environments. She is interested in how to design technological scaffolding for student inquiry, especially by allowing them to visualize and model scientific ideas. She is also interested in peer collaboration, communication and mentoring facilitated by innovative technology. She currently works on the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing Education cyberInfrastructure, a National Science Foundation funded project developing web-based science inquiry curriculum materials for middle school science. Suna received her MS in math, science, and technology education at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign and holds her BEd in chemistry and BS in computer science from Korea National University of Education. She has designed several educational software programs, including a distance learning science program, web business training simulations, a school information system and a multi-user online educational game at Samsung Data Systems. She also taught chemistry and computer programming at an IT-specialized high school in Korea.
Bionia, an MMORPG, facilitates student understanding of human immunology through social interactions
The platform of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) is very popular with online game audiences. However, there have been few educational games that utilize this tool. Indeed, it has been a challenge to integrate educational content into MMORPG. Bionia, an MMORPG, which was developed as a collaboration of the Department of Genetic Engineering at Korea University and Internuri Software, Ltd., was designed to help students understand the human immune system and related genetic concepts by simulating the human immune system as a battleground. Each student plays the role of an immune cell such as a phage or plasma, and their goal is to defeat various virus and bacteria invaders. This helps students experience the human immune system as a relevant real-life phenomenon. Students identify the items and actions that defeat specific viruses in the game, reflecting the latest understanding of how the immune system works and how it interacts with genetics. It has become very popular and students enjoy the game. Currently, 33,000 registered users voluntarily play this game, 57.5% of which are middle and high school students and 16.5% are in their 20’s or 30’s (Scienceall, 2003).
I invited 7 students to better assess their interest, their use of discourse, and changes in their conceptual model of human immunology. Data analysis included a comparison between students’ pre and post test, pre and post concept maps, as well as ongoing observation and site interviews during four months of playing the game. My results indicate that while interaction with the game environment improved students’ interest and use of terminology, it was insufficient to improve their conceptual knowledge. Five out of seven students showed no noticeable improvement in their conceptual change of human immunology.
On the other hand, two students who had active discussions with other players through the chatting window of the game or in an online community showed dramatic changes in their concepts about the human immune system. Not only did these players receive comments from more advanced players and/or guidance to solve their problems, choose the best strategies, and understand the underlying immunology and genetics, but they also developed their own ideas through such interactions. In addition, these two students were motivated to develop their projective identity, making their virtual character reflect their own personal identity (Gee, 2003).
These results suggest that game playing can be helpful for increasing interest and/or becoming familiar with scientific terminology. Yet, the results also suggest that high-level learning (i.e. changes in conceptual models) can best occur based on the social system that surrounds the game (e.g. game guilds). Therefore, a game that triggers active social interaction as an essential component rather than as a voluntarily option should be a goal when designing MMORPGs for education.