I came across an interesting link the other day, and it reminded me a little bit of the benefits of gamification because:
1) It’s fun (it’s a game).
2) It involves learning through hands on activities.
3) It’s score based (so it has a bit of a competitive element).
But here’s the part that really made my eyes pop out of my head: by playing this game you are actually advancing science. Woah.
The game is called foldit. Have you heard of it?
The purpose of the game is to interactively move around protein molecules into a configuration that puts them in their lowest energy state. The lower the energy of your molecule, the higher your score in the game. Molecules in real life will tend to exist in their lowest energy state. Once scientists figure out the shapes of the bad proteins that are involved in diseases, they can create other proteins to combat the bad ones!
The only problem is, proteins are really complicated. Devising a program that will systematically solve for all of the degrees of freedom in a really complicated protein would be extremely time consuming. The solution? Use people! People are great problem solvers. So, a bunch of scientists decided to set up a game where players can figure out the protein shapes just like a puzzle.
The craziest part of all: it actually worked. Recently, the people behind foldit released a journal article discussing how players of the game were able to discover the actual shape of a protein that causes AIDS in monkeys.
I think it might be neat to introduce this game in a biology class. Students could get a ‘hands on’ feel for hydrogen bonds, amino acids as building blocks, hydrophobic and hydrophilic portions of the molecule and how this all relates to the interactions with other parts of the molecule. The only issue I will say after spending some time with this game: it’s kind of hard. The intro puzzles would probably be useful to play within class and would generate some discussion, but working up to the really complicated puzzles might take a bit of time.
Here’s one that I’ve really caught on to: Moon Zoo. It’s not actually a competitive game, but it’s another one that relies on input from participants to advance science (cue Space Odyssey music). Basically, you are shown a bunch of zoomed in photos of the moon (taken by the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter) and you are asked to pick out craters (larger than a certain size) as well as other interesting features.
This one might be neat to introduce to a science class after talking about the evolution of the solar system. By using the data from Moon Zoo, astronomers are going to get a really great picture of the moon’s history and age. A much better picture, it turns out, than if computers alone were used to pick out the features! It tickles me to my geeky core to think that I’m looking at a part of the moon – up close – that very few people have seen.