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ITN sponsored Seed Assistance Grant creates ongoing collaborations at Harrisburg University.

Posted June 19th, 2014 by admin

A start-up company was in need of development services to advance their product prototype in order to attract venture funding. The company president contacted ITN in search of funding and expertise to get them to the next step of the development process. As a company they specialize in envisioning educational games to enhance class room learning. Specifically, for this project they were interested in a cardiac physiology activity which would teach how the cardiac system functions and assess students on their grasp of this knowledge. The company had illustration and physiology expertise but needed gaming, social media and pedagogy expertise.

I am Spike Moyer a faculty liaison with ITN and I travel among our network of 15 colleges and universities to acquire a 10,000 foot view of academic expertise in Central PA. No one does educational gaming better than HU and I was sure this collaboration would create a win-win situation. HU has a Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies and an undergraduate degree in Interactive Media. I met with Professor Charles Palmer, Executive Director of the Center at HU and he immediately recognized several synergies and was interested in collaborating.

One important synergy is a philosophy: “Changing perspective improves understanding.” HU has been experimenting with a virtual reality simulator called the Virtusphere. So far they have used the tool to develop a training module for an industrial plant and a prototype of an “inner space” style game called Plasma Runner. The game uses a racing mechanic to facilitate physical locomotion through a virtual body. The race cumulates with a “walk through” the heart but also quizzes players on their knowledge of the various systems in the human body. Another synergy is experiential learning. HU has a requirement for undergraduate experiential learning and this collaboration was good opportunity to engage students in a real project. http://www.harrisburgu.edu/faculty-staff/research-centers/virtusphere.php

I arranged an informal meeting with Mr. Palmer and the company president; they shared goals and interacted well. Within a few weeks, they developed a work plan and were ready to write a Seed Assistance Grant proposal. The time frame was short. It was November 2013 by now and we had a deadline of Dec 15 to submit the grant proposal. HU would provide their gaming and educational pedagogy knowledge and the company would provide an illustrator and subject matter expertise. The project would then start with the beginning of the Spring 2014 semester.

The proposal was accepted and the grant was awarded. HU hired an undergraduate student and alumnus to work on this project. The deliverable was mutually defined after the team began taking a closer look. It was completed on time and it demonstrated that a classroom process like a laboratory exercise can be converted into a game. The company is using the result to attract funding and expects an award in July. The company plans to continue this collaboration and would like to fund the HU team in the Summer and Fall semesters to carry their product development to another funding round. The next phase is including multiple players using social media so that an entire class could compete in the game environment and digitally share their achievements with the outside world. Sounds like interactive media to me.

Who wins what?
HU now has a full featured prototype that is getting polished and can be used as a teaching tool. A student and an alumnus are benefiting from experiential learning and receiving an income. The alumnus is acting as a mentor to the undergraduate student. HU’s primary mission is to educate students. ITN acted as an advocate to introduce a company to HU they would not have encountered. Aside from Professor Palmer, staff member Tony Ortega serves as the team’s project manager and lead designer managing all client and team interactions as well as designing the game’s mechanics and visual aesthetics.

This program is expected to continue generating experiential learning opportunities. The client wins by completing the demonstration phase. They have used this result to attract additional funding. They are growing a collaboration relationship with HU and at least two HU graduates may be hired.