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FAS Public Interest Report
The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists
Summer 2004
Volume 57, Number 3
FAS Home | Download PDF | PIR Archive
Front Page
FAS Plans Learning Game to Train First Responders
Diesel Hybrids: Back to the Future?
The Hype About Hydrogen
Congress Cools on New Nukes
Senate Committee Forgoes Action on Crucial Small Arms Treaty
Space Assets Can Be Protected Without Space Weapons
Secrecy Project and the Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal
Kelly Calls for Private Sector Investment in IT Learning R&D

FAS Plans Learning Game to Train First Responders

As the Boston and New York areas tighten security for the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer, many people are asking how enough emergency responders can possibly be trained in all the scenarios now feared – a radiological (“dirty bomb”) attack, detonations of chemical or biological weapons, or even high explosive bombs like those that killed 191 people in Madrid. Shouldn’t our firemen and medical workers stay at their firehouses and ERs? How can they possibly drill and practice so that they can save more lives when one of these events or a natural disaster occurs? In its report Training Technology Against Terror, FAS outlined a coherent national approach to this urgent problem and highlighted the fact that only with new information technologies can we meet the need.

FAS recently received funding from the Centers for Disease Control to design an instructional game, or distributed simulation, called Mass Casualty Incident Responder Training, to demonstrate how technology-enabled instruction can meet this need.

“Without technology, we can’t hope to train enough responders in time,” said Michelle Roper, Project Director. “The project’s collaborators in the New York City Fire Department have indicated they see technology as key to their ability to efficiently deliver the essential training their members need to make informed, split-second decisions under life-threatening conditions,” says Roper.

Mass Casualty Incident Responder Training is just one of three “games” projects FAS is developing to show the use of distributed simulations and games to improve learning. (See PIR Vol. 57, No. 2 page 10.) “Studies show people learn by doing” says Kay Howell, who heads FAS’ information technologies programs. “Many decades of learning research have shown that trainees must have frequent practice with exposure to the requisite information and cues. With simulations it is possible to present essentially the same learning scenario and cues again and again. Our goal is to combine the motivational techniques of computer and video games, while presenting the learner with practice environments that provide real-world cues and automatic instruction and feedback.”

“We want to make the mass casualty game a platinum in the first responder training world,” Howell says. “we want to build a game that is so absorbing that firemen and others will play it in their down times at the station, or even on their days off.

“Simulations of how police, firefighters, medics and others should respond are far more cost-effective than staging real-world exercises and disrupting the life of a city–not to mention taking emergency workers away from their posts for long periods. With our game, players in remote locations, including some with older computer terminals, will be able to repeat the rehearsals and vary the kind of emergency from a fire to a chemical attack.”

Another game under development is Immune Attack. In this game, players interact with the human immune system to learn how disease and resistance to disease works. The target audience is high school and college biology students. The National Institutes of Health has provided preliminary funding.

Distributed game-playing as a medical teaching tool is the subject of a conference FAS will co-sponsor in September at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

FAS is currently seeking to develop Discover Babylon, an instructional math game targeted at 8 to 16 year old players. It will use sophisticated video gaming and realistic environments to teach math and science through a series of mysteries set in ancient Iraq, so the game also will teach players about Mesopotamian society, business, and trade.

The games projects are but demonstrations of broad cognitive and technological principles of a national project FAS is leading, the Learning Federation project. It aims to ensure that technology-based solutions for learning are developed systematically, with scientifically validated principles.

In its first phase, the Learning Federation Project identified instructional design for game- and simulation-based learning as one of five priorities the research community must address. The project completed its two-year first phase by publishing research and development “road maps” for each of the five focus areas. They are:

  • Instructional Design: Using Simulations and Games in Learning
  • Question Generation and Answering Systems
  • Learner Modeling and Assessment
  • Building Simulations and Virtual Environments
  • Integration Tools for Building and Maintaining Advanced Learning Systems

In the second phase, the Learning Federation project will develop the prototype games and work with national policymakers, industry leaders, and the education community to implement a national research program. We are encouraged by our progress to date.

The project is supported in part by Members which include Microsoft and Hewlett Packard.

FAS Resources

Training Technology Against Terror report is at http://www.fas.org/main/content.jsp?formAction= 325&projectId=15

Learning Federation home page http://www.thelearningfederation.org/