Patrick Keller, a doctoral student in Organizational Learning and Instructional Technology is building his own world in the video game "Spore."  He believes he can find a way to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) concepts in a video game.  Keller is using a $15,000 grant that he received from the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Competition to work on the programming with a partner, Francisco Garcia.

Keller taught high school English for 17 years in Colorado before he decided to return to the classroom to develop his media skills.  He was interested in becoming an academic librarian, and as a lifelong gamer himself, he was drawn toward game theory and building a game that will teach.

Keller wants to teach middle and high school students how to develop games, by playing games.  The program he is developing, based on the game "Spore," is a specific teaching level game that will give students the keys they need to develop their own games.  Students need the critical theory, he says, so that they will have the basic tools to put together a good game.

"We're hoping that when students play in our world within Spore that they will learn how to develop their own games.  The neat thing about it is that on their adventure through our world, they will also be getting STEM-related content.  They will be facing a series of challenges in which they will have to solve logical problems.  They will also have to solve critical technological problems and engineering problems in order to get themselves the next component to create their game," Keller says. "We want to teach students how to come up with a good story line and along the way actually teach them STEM-related content."

Keller says Garcia handles the technological side, and he concentrates his energies on the application of gaming theory.  His wife, Julia is a doctoral student in psychology at UNM, is interested in neuropsychology and putting gaming and neuropsychology together is their ultimate goal.  They would like to study the effects that gaming has on the brain.

Keller won the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Competition grant to develop a specific product.  The next step is to find out whether the game will teach students the way he believes it can.  He hopes they will be able to develop their game in Spore in time to compete for funds to actually set up a digital learning lab to test and refine the game.   In the meantime, Keller has cut back his own class load to take time to work on the game.  He wants to see how far he can go toward making his own future in a technology that has fascinated him since his first game of "Pong."

Media contact: Karen Wentworth (505) 277-5627; e-mail: kwent2@unm.edu