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Student presents game research at Chicago's Field Museum

September 4, 2013

The museum, known for its skeleton of Sue the tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur, is regarded as one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world.

The Field Museum of Natural History, ChicagoMost people wouldn't think of The Field Museum as a place to make an online connection, but that's exactly what brought a University of Wisconsin-Stout student there recently.

Cody Jolin visited the museum to present research on WhyReef, The Field Museum's online, interactive educational game for children ages 8 to 16. Players don virtual scuba gear to explore a coral reef, see its inhabitants and learn how to keep reefs healthy.

"There's a social aspect to WhyReef, but kids are learning firsthand about science," Jolin said. "It's a real-life application."

It's a new age. Since 2009 the game has reached more than 160,000 unique players and continues to have a strong following, Jolin said.

"Electronic games, particularly those designed for entertainment, have become a part of modern popular culture. If time spent playing video games could be enhanced by including educational game-play and design elements, then the elusive goal of combining learning and 'fun' will be one step closer to becoming a reality," Jolin said.

Jolin visited Shedd Aquarium near The Field Museum.Jolin, from Altoona, is double-majoring in applied mathematics and computer science; and in game design and development. His project grew out of a Games in Education class he took from Associate Professor Sylvia Tiala. Jolin also has a bachelor's degree in physics in 2011 from Ripon College.

Jolin conducted research on the effectiveness of the game. He then received a UW-Stout Student Research Grant for a trip to Chicago, where he met WhyReef staff and presented for 45 minutes on the results of his study, which was assembled via five Excel spreadsheets. Jolin made three recommendations:

- Although WhyReef increases activism, he pointed out ways it could do a better job of delivering scientific content.

- The best time for staff to launch new game initiatives is a summer weekday, if they want to increase player engagement.

- More meaningful motion should be added to the game to increase player comprehension of the game's scientific goals.

Jolin's conclusions were based on analysis of 85 player-written articles, information from a focus group, player statistics and his own game design expertise and research.

Jolin also presented his research at the Games Learning Society 9.0 Conference in June in Madison.

Tiala, who attended the Madison conference, said Jolin's project has opened the door to other UW-Stout students collaborating with The Field Museum. Two sections of Tiala's class have since analyzed and provided feedback on a new game being developed at the museum.

"There are ongoing discussions with The Field Museum regarding future projects and possible collaborations. These collaborations are the direct result of the initiative and quality Cody demonstrated in completing his research," Tiala said.

Jolin expects to graduate in December 2014.

"It has been a very informative and fun experience over this past year and something that certainly would not have been possible without UW- Stout, the Student Research Grant Program and the student-faculty collaboration with Dr. Tiala," Jolin said.

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