National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion Grant to Aid Unique Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Effort

Boston, Mass. – North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has received a $498,803 grant from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion (NSF) to assess next gen­er­a­tion learning through computer-​​facilitated net­worked play. The project focuses on a coop­er­a­tive inter­dis­ci­pli­nary com­puter game, Short­fall Online, devel­oped by fac­ulty and staff from the Depart­ment of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering and the Depart­ment of Visual Arts and Mul­ti­media Studies.

In an effort to encourage learning and cater to the needs of tech­no­log­i­cally savvy stu­dents, the project will bring the growing con­cerns of envi­ron­mental aware­ness and diverse learning styles together in an inno­v­a­tive learning model aimed at edu­cating future engi­neering leaders.

This grant demon­strates our pas­sion and com­mit­ment to the idea of raising envi­ron­mental aware­ness,” said Jacque­line Isaacs, Pro­fessor of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. As the prin­cipal inves­ti­gator of the project, Isaacs, along with co-​​PIs Thomas Cul­li­nane, James Ben­neyan and Donna Qual­ters, have worked as a team on a pro­to­type game that led to the grant.

Over the course of the next three years, Northeastern’s cross-​​disciplinary team of engi­neers, game designers and edu­ca­tional asses­sors will explore the extent to which stu­dents increase their under­standing of com­plex trade­offs among envi­ron­mental, eco­nomic and tech­no­log­ical issues in the auto industry through repeated play of Short­fall Online. The team-​​oriented com­puter sim­u­la­tion of an auto­mo­bile supply chain engages stu­dents as the decision-​​makers in the design, civic and busi­ness impli­ca­tions of caring for our environment.

Stu­dents today are raised in a dif­ferent con­text in our society,” Isaacs said. “They are learning in a dif­ferent way and games like Short­fall might be more effec­tive teaching tools.”

Working with the North­eastern team is the staff of Metaversal Stu­dios, a com­pany spe­cial­izing in the design of edu­ca­tional games and sim­u­la­tions. Metaversal’s lead game designer, Jay Laird, recently appointed Assis­tant Director of Game Design Pro­grams at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, said that the NSF grant pro­vides the under­pin­nings for inter­ac­tive mul­ti­media games to infil­trate more con­tent areas besides that of envi­ron­mental engi­neering in hopes that stu­dents engaged in other dis­ci­plines will learn to com­mu­ni­cate more effec­tively and con­tinue to learn in a variety of ways.

We’re devel­oping ways of assessing sys­temic learning,” Laird said. “We’re trying to under­stand how stu­dents think.”

Laird and Isaacs hope to net­work and fur­ther dis­sem­i­nate the game in such a way that would allow stu­dents to play across col­le­giate net­works. In fact, Isaacs plans to test Shortfall’s edu­ca­tional ben­e­fits at uni­ver­si­ties such as the Rochester Insti­tute of Tech­nology, MIT, Georgia Tech and UMass-​​Lowell.

Laird said the majority of game devel­op­ment will take place in the first of the three-​​year project, while the bal­ance of testing and iter­a­tive devel­op­ment will occur in year two. But the most ambi­tious part of the project involves cre­ating the tech­nology to allow users to upload real­istic cur­rent events that affect decision-​​making and reflect the changing auto­mo­tive market and nat­ural world.

In what is an example of Northeastern’s use of inno­v­a­tive, human-​​computer inter­ac­tion to develop and expand knowl­edge in a spe­cific field, Laird said games such as Short­fall sup­ple­ment more tra­di­tional means of teaching.

There’s a new gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents and pro­fes­sors who are more respon­sive to dif­ferent styles of learning,” Laird said.

For more infor­ma­tion about the grant or the Short­fall Online game, please con­tact Jason Korn­witz at 617–373-5471 or at j.​kornwitz@​neu.​edu.

About North­eastern

Founded in 1898, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is a pri­vate research uni­ver­sity located in the heart of Boston. North­eastern is a leader in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, urban engage­ment, and the inte­gra­tion of class­room learning with real-​​world expe­ri­ence. The university’s dis­tinc­tive coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram, where stu­dents alter­nate semes­ters of full-​​time study with semes­ters of paid work in fields rel­e­vant to their pro­fes­sional inter­ests and major, is one of the largest and most inno­v­a­tive in the world. The Uni­ver­sity offers a com­pre­hen­sive range of under­grad­uate and grad­uate pro­grams leading to degrees through the doc­torate in six under­grad­uate col­leges, eight grad­uate schools, and two part-​​time divi­sions. For more infor­ma­tion, please visit www​.north​eastern​.edu.