Building a Virtual Seagrass Aquarium for Marine Education

Presenter: Gwendolyn McManus

Research Category: Interdisciplinary Topics, Centers and Institutes
College: College of Science
Major(s): Marine Biology
Graduation Date: 2021

COVID-19 has forced a redesign of education unlike anything we ever could have imagined in the modern school system. The difficultiesÑfor both educators and studentsÑposed by virtual education are particularly pronounced for subjects like biology, where hands-on experiments and demonstrations constitute an integral part of the curriculum. NortheasternÕs Marine Science Center is extensively involved with marine science education in local communities, including programs like the Beach Sisters and the High School Marine Science Symposium (HSMSS). These programs help teach students about valuable coastal ecosystems, such as seagrass beds and oyster reefs, which are often overlooked in more mainstream science education. The cancellation or virtualization of marine science outreach programs calls for equivalent virtual options to take their place, giving students the chance to engage with their local marine habitats in novel ways. To address this need, I developed Seagrass Explorer, a virtual aquarium and educational video game. The main aims of this project were to (1) provide a way for middle and high school students to learn about the ecology, conservation, and restoration of seagrass beds, (2) explore the potential of educational games as teaching tools in a time of virtual education, and (3) assess the gameÕs value as an educational tool using pre- and post-game surveys. Students participating in the first virtual HSMSS in March 2021 tested Seagrass Explorer and provided valuable feedback that was used to refine the game and assess its effectiveness as a digital game-based learning tool.