It began with a simple question: “Why can’t students earn digital rewards for being awesome?” A research group comprised of university faculty, staff, and students at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) decided to find out. The team delved into the everyday travails of college life—from academia to social activities—and developed a real-world game, Just Press Play, which helps students earn a digital reward for the ultimate achievement: collegiate success.
Each game participant receives trading cards equipped with secret codes and a radio-frequency identification (RFID) keychain that they can swipe to “check-in” at permanent and temporary locations. The cards and the keychain are just the first two tools that the students must learn to use in order to progress through the various aspects of the game. The game is based around challenges that occur both online and in the real world. The challenges are designed to encourage students to venture out of their comfort zones and get involved in all aspects of school—including interactions with school faculty and staff. Completing the challenges also gives the player access to web pages and videos that tell the story of an alternate history of RIT.
Blending Technology and the Humanities
The alternate history of RIT describes a battle fought between two rival factions: The Athenaeum and the Mechanics Institute. The Athenaeum represents the creative and exploratory aspects of a student’s academic journey and the Mechanics Institute represents technical mastery. In order to succeed, the student must understand both aspects, although they may ultimately join one side or the other.
As the program manager who chose to fund this project, it should come as no surprise that I have a background in both science and art—and that I manage programs in games for learning as well as digital humanities. Our project team likes how RIT blends the technology and humanities disciplines. RIT focuses not only on STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—but also on what we like to call STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.
Financial support for the development of Just Press Play was provided by Microsoft Research. This project is also the culmination of three years of collaboration with RIT’s School of Interactive Games and Media as part of our Games for Learning Institute. The mission of the institute is to study and create games that are fun, educational, and effective. Just Press Play fits that bill perfectly.
Just Press Play officially launched on October 13 at the RIT School of Interactive Games and Media. The kick-off event was streamed live to project partners at the University of Wisconsin, Teachers College at Columbia, and the New York Law School. These partners are assessing the effectiveness of the program and also exploring legal issues related to gameful education.
The Just Press Play team intends to expand the game throughout RIT next year if the initial pilot is successful, but other educational institutions will have to wait a bit before trying out the technology for themselves. Just Press Play will initially be available exclusively to students enrolled at RIT. The Just Press Play team will refine the structure of the game based on early results and then roll it out to partner schools at a later date. The developers are hopeful that the lessons learned from these early “games” could eventually be expanded to include more college-level institutions and, potentially, all education starting with pre-school and extending through lifelong learning and professional training.
The ultimate goal of the Microsoft Research Gameful Education project is to support the development of a unified game layer for education, one that can unify gameful experiences across schools and technologies. This platform will drive better educational outcomes and enable entirely new types of educational research.
—Donald Brinkman, Research Program Manager, Games for Learning, Digital Heritage, Digital Humanities, Microsoft Research Connections