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Landmark College Students to Help Develop NSF-funded Virtual Reality Education Game

Landmark College has been named as a subawardee in a research project aimed at using virtual reality (VR) technology to increase access and broaden participation by students with autism in learning Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

The project, known as UniVRSal Access: Broadening Participation in Informal STEM Learning through Virtual Reality, is being led by a team of game-based learning designers and researchers from TERC, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization dedicated to innovation and creative problem solving in math and science.

Landmark College’s involvement will largely take place in the first year of the project, according to Dr. Manju Banerjee, vice president for educational research and innovation. Using the prototype of a VR STEM-learning experience called Mission to Europa Prime, students will co-design puzzles and user interfaces that support learners with sensory, attention and social issues that will eventually be expanded into a fully immersive, STEM-based mystery game.

“The participatory design process will ensure the VR experience is designed to reduce barriers that currently exclude learners with autism and related conditions from many informal learning opportunities,” said Banerjee.

Students at Landmark College have previously worked on VR-based applications with members of the Landmark College Institute for Research and Training (LCIRT). In 2018, a team of students studying computer science and digital arts developed Passage to Hunza, an immersive game that taught statistical concepts to students with learning and attention challenges.

“Educational games, particularly immersive VR games, present a significant potential for leveling the playing field for student populations that face language and attention-based barriers in traditional learning environments,” Dr. Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Haikki said of Hunza when he was Director of LCIRT. Dahlstrom-Haikki is now part of the TERC team leading the UniVRsal Access project.

TERC received a $750,000 grant for the three-year project from the National Science Foundation earlier this year. Other partnering organizations include MXTreality, the Pacific Science Center and the Boston Museum of Science.

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