Jan Update: Gamifying Science Data

This post is part of an ongoing monthly series of posts that will focus on our current efforts in the Museum’s Science Bulletins team to create and test prototypes of Hall-based digital interactions using AR and VR using our scientists’ digital science data, and to share some of the lessons we learn along the way.

For the last few months we’ve been exploring what happens when visitors have the opportunity to interact with science data, using digital tools, in our Museum halls. In January we aimed to explore what happens when that interaction comes in the form of a game.

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Does gamifying the interaction change how visitors experience or feel about the science data, and if so how? And does it change their interactions with the people around them?

To collect some data we created Escape the Planet. Inspired by the rise of both escape rooms and their educational applications, our goal was to create a 20-30 minute experience, in the Big Bang Theater (a small room off the lower level of the Hall of the Universe) focused on astro content. The narrative involved the crew of a crashed ship, on Mars, struggling to survive and contact a rescue ship. To do that, a series of puzzles needed to be resolved, which ended with the delivery of a Communications Crystal (an amethyst purchased in our Museum store) to the game facilitators.

The two puzzles each required their own Hololens to resolve. One used the VR Constellations we tested in December, which put the viewer within a real star field, with a number of constellations that can be observed from different angles. The second used a solar system simulation. The idea was that each would need to be manipulated in some way in conjunction with work being done by others in the room. In other words, neither the person in the Hololens nor those working with the physical materials would have complete knowledge – only by collaborating together could the puzzles be solved.

Below is a short video giving a sense of what it was like when we ran a play session with a local school to test the prototype.

(and LOTS of great photos can be viewed here)

Some (and far from all) of the key lessons we took away from this round of prototyping:

  • GAMIFICATION can provide motivation for visitors to engage with science data. Initial evidence suggests that interacting with the digital science data was often driven by intrinsic motivation generated through game play.
  • GAMIFICATION can increase visitor interaction. Hololens users playing Escape the Planet regularly maintained social contact with the rest of their group, as required by the design of the game, and appeared to have done so more often and with more intensity than when the same data was offered to the visitors in the Museum outside the context of the game.
  • GAMIFYING science can be an effective Hall-based pedagogy. Half of those surveyed report that Escape the Planet increased their interest in the science content, and the vast majority (15 of 16) expressed a preference for learning about astronomy in museums through games like Escape the Planet over more traditional methods (e.g. interacting with content, watching a movie, reading text or looking at an image on the wall).

(If you want to learn more, check out this earlier post on Youth as Co-developers in a Process to Gamify Science Data.)

Come back soon to see some of what we did, and learned in March.

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About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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