PowerPoint slides and memorizing facts through a 15 inch screen, is not exactly Ariel D. Anbar’s idea of science. A professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, Anbar has taken it upon himself to make learning science as easy as playing a video game.
Mastering facts doesn’t mean that students are developing the problem-solving skills they need to really be successful. According to Anbar, that’s the problem with presenting 200 students with a series of PowerPoint slides that deliver a ton of information.
Anbar wondered how he could get online students more excited with designing a hypothesis, testing it, and learning from it. He thought; If we could design a course like a video game, would it work?
The Online Science Lab
Anbar knew an online science lab with a video game appeal would be a breakthrough for student learning. The easiest part? Getting the most innovative school in the nation on board. ASU Online gave professor Anbar the green light to explore this area of interactive education.
He worked together with Lev Horodyskyj, an instructional designer with a gaming background, and Smart Sparrow, a technology company, to create ‘HabWorlds’. HabWorlds, which stands for Habitable Worlds, introduces science to nonscience majors by exploring the possibility of life beyond Earth.
HabWorlds was professor Anbar’s solution to getting his students to engage with science on a problem-solving level, using logic and reason. Students must look for hypothetical habitable planets, and test their ideas through a simulator.
In one example, students are told about the different types of stars, and then are asked to hypothesize which one lives the longest. Being able to Hypothesize a possible answer is key to students gaining critical problem-solving skills, which is the point of the science lab. Lastly, students run a test on their hypothesis and are told if they are correct or not.
Looking to the Future
The formation of the gaming-like program was met with an outpouring of support from NASA and the National Science Foundation for the HabWorlds online lab. Anbar notes that had he not worked with ASU on this project, it may have never come to life. Arizona State University continues to excel in innovation and inclusion, and sees ideas from its professors, as a normal part of the process.
The best part about HabWorlds is that instructors can see how their students work through solving a problem. For instance, if they are making choices at random or making them systematically, which is a much better measurement of student success.
Anbar believes the lessons he’s learned can be applicable to other disciplines. He claims that with facts starting to be a commodity, the true value becomes knowing how to wield them.
“You can’t just show up with lecture slides that are cobbled together and glue it all together with your clever insights and commentary,” Anbar said. Instead, developing an online course makes you more aware of what you are trying to accomplish with students.
With developments like HabWorlds and professors like Anbar challenging the status quo, the future of higher education has never looked so promising.