Min Liu

“Alien Rescue,” a game set in a science-fiction world designed by a UT professor for sixth graders, is working to educate students on space science. 

“Alien Rescue” is created by Min Liu, a professor in College of Education with support from the McDonald Observatory. According to Prof. Liu, “Alien Rescue” is an immersive multimedia-enhanced problem-based learning (PBL) environment for space science. It is designed for sixth graders to learn science by providing educational video games.

Liu said “Alien Rescue” serves a part of the science curriculum and may play a crucial role in sixth graders' science performance.

“Numerous research studies […] have shown sixth graders’ science knowledge scores increased after using it and they are highly motivated in using it,” Liu said 

Mary Kay Hemenway, a researcher at McDonald Observatory, said the goal of “Alien Rescue” is to help students learn basic science in many areas.

“Science affects their lives in so many ways, and as citizens, they will be asked to make decisions based on logic, reason and their scientific knowledge,” Hemenway said. “Science can be an awarding subject just for its own sake.”

Graduate students in the College of Education’s Learning Technology program are also using “Alien Rescue” for research.

Lucas Horton, a doctoral student working for the center, said through this project, students explore theories related to teaching and learning.

“It allows students to get a first-hand view of how instructional innovations can be designed and used, […] and understand how to best design learning environments,” Horton said. “It allows us to explore the relationship between theory and practice in ways that are very tangible.”

Horton said the work on “Alien Rescue” encourages people to use it.

“I expect that Alien Rescue will continue to be a useful tool for teaching space science. At the same time, we will continue to learn from our experiences in sixth grade classrooms to refine and expand the program to make it an even more robust and useful tool for learning,” he said.

Follow Gefei Liu on Twitter @gefeiliu. 

A recent study conducted by a UT professor and three graduate student assistants has shown that English language learners in elementary, middle and high schools gain more learning time and motivation from using iPod Touches outside the classroom. The data gathered from the devices show that they used resources such as translators, calculators and maps, as well as media tools such as voice recorders, still cameras and video cameras to complete their assignments.

UT education professor Min Liu and her research team conducted a survey at three different schools in a Central Texas school district. The three schools — one elementary school, one middle school and one high school — provided English language learners with iPod Touches. Liu said between 85 and 105 students participated in the program between 2010 and 2012. English language learners describes students who attend schools where English is the language of instruction but do not speak English.

A school district representative, who Liu asked to remain anonymous to protect the identity of study participants, said the district implemented the project to address gaps between then-TAKS scores for its English language learners and its native English-speaking students.

Liu said she designed the study to analyze the significance of an emerging technology for this specific group of students.

“The curriculum, the learner’s needs and the technology itself all come into play in terms of being able to help ELLs in the classroom,” Liu said.

She said the study group looked into the needs for monitoring and security on the iPods and determined that without any monitoring system, the program would not work.

Education graduate student Cesar Navarrete, who helped conduct the study, said expanding the use of iPods or similar technologies to more school districts still poses a lot of questions that must be taken into consideration. He said the infrastructure, including the iPods, the programs they run and in-class access points, creates a barrier for entry for some districts. Navarrete also said the training teachers receive on how to teach with the devices and how to keep them working poses a logistical issue for integrating them into the classroom.

The school district that participated in Liu’s study funded its initiative through a 2008 tax bond.

Navarrete said students also face connectivity issues outside the classroom.

“Students may get fine connection at school, but what about those who do not have connection away from school?”

Printed on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 as: iPods used in learning English