DIP: BioSourcing: A Crowdsourcing Approach to Increasing Public Understanding in Computational Biosciences

PIs: Kurt Squire, Michael Ferris, Enid Montague, Bilge Mutlu, Benjamin Shapiro
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Award Details

This project explores the hypothesis that compelling learning games based on contemporary science that offer opportunities to contribute to scientific inquiry will lead to increased interest in science, increased career choice of science, increased conceptual understanding of science content, and better scientific literacy around what scientists do. The idea is to capitalize on crowd sourcing both to shed light on the answers to open scientific questions and to engage the public in authentic and needed scientific inquiry in meaningful ways. The PIs will extend four games that are already designed and built or that are under construction and develop a platform for supporting a broad range of participatory science games that offer the public opportunities to contribute to scientific inquiry. The chosen games all encourage sustained and deep participation, include apprenticeship opportunities and opportunities for practicing authentic science, promote reflection in and on action, and are designed to be emotionally compelling. Games come from four game genres: role-playing, strategy, action, and puzzle, as different people are drawn to different types of experiences. All are in the areas of bioscience and biotechnology, and each addresses some open question in bioscience or biotechnology that participants might shed light on. The broad range of games serves several purposes — offering a substantial enough range of experiences that a broad range of participants can be expected to join in, offering enough diversity to know that the infrastructure tying the games together has all of the functionality required to support a broad range of such games, and offering enough diversity to answer targeted research questions. Research focuses on identifying the challenges in creating a broad and diverse public gaming community that interacts with more formal and established scientific and educational cultures, how learning occurs in such an environment and how to promote sustained engagement and deep learning, identifying core features and mechanisms of games that promote sustained engagement and science learning, and understanding the design features in the particular games being studied that contribute to sustained engagement and learning.

There is an increasing awareness among scientists that many contemporary science problems require (or could benefit tremendously from) an actively engaged public. Communicating the challenges and opportunities of science, and mobilizing the public to participate in and support scientific inquiry, requires shared understandings about the values, methods, and epistemologies of science (e.g., observation, data collection and analysis, reasoning from evidence, skepticism). This project focuses on design of learning opportunities that are both engaging and informative with respect to scientific literacy. The public is invited to participate in a variety of science-related “games,” experiences with scientific inquiry that are engaging and exciting and that can contribute to scientific findings. Participants engage as scientists, carrying out the practices of scientists and reasoning about evidence to draw conclusions, in the process experiencing the thrills and frustrations involved in scientific discovery and inquiry. Investigators observe the participants in these games to draw out principles for designing additional learning experiences that can engage the public in science and promote scientific literacy and learning at the same time. What is learned in this analysis will also be applicable to designing engaging science experiences for use in schools.

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