Million-dollar grant awarded to research startup company founded by NDSU computer science professor
The National Institutes of Health has awarded a two-year, $1.08 million competitive grant award to Brian Slator, NDSU computer science professor, for his faculty startup venture known as WoWiWe (pronounced Wow’ ee) Instruction Co. The group develops internet-based educational software. The Small Business Innovation Research grant through the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Research Resources will be used to develop a multi-user virtual biology environment for discovery-oriented science education. The award includes $369,276 for NDSU’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education, led by Donald Schwert, professor of geosciences.
While Hollywood film crews create blockbusters with Academy Award-winning animation software, a team of researchers at NDSU develops software that creates virtual worlds to teach science. For a generation of students whose daily existence is tethered to the Internet, the World Wide Web Instructional Committee at NDSU has developed unique methods to reach them. Slator established the WoWiWe research startup company to commercialize educational simulation games developed by NDSU’s World Wide Web Instructional Committee.
The virtual worlds created by these educational software developers transport students inside cells, helping them learn complex biology. Students seamlessly enter a virtual world to become scientists: performing experiments, interacting with the world and with each other, applying the scientific method. “This approach represents the notion of learning by doing,” explains Slator. “You are having experiences in the role of a scientist.”
The grant award will make it possible for Slator and his team to produce educational software that helps students grasp complex biological concepts. The resulting software products will be targeted toward parents and high school students who want to better prepare for college-level science courses. Brad Vender, who earned his master’s degree in computer science from NDSU, serves as principal investigator for the grant award.
Through NDSU’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education, graduate students in computer science and Tariq King, assistant professor in computer science, will provide software engineering expertise and testing of the educational software products being developed.
WoWiWe, Slator’s startup company, stems from a decade of educational media research at NDSU, which includes the web-based Virtual Cell Lab. The simulation game and related animations transport students into virtual worlds that help them learn cell structure, cellular respiration, photosynthesis, mRNA processing and other cellular and molecular operations. The Virtual Cell has received recognition in Science magazine, the journal Cell Biology Education and the National Science Foundation Discoveries, as well as first place in the education division from the South Beach International Animation Festival.
Virtual Cell represents a portion of the worlds created by the World Wide Web Instructional Committee at NDSU, an eclectic group of educational disciplines including geosciences, computer science, anthropology, education, statistics and cell biology. Through a variety of online educational software, students discover geology, explore archaeological digs or operate a virtual retail store to learn about business and economics.
As WoWiWe Co. enters its next phase of research and development, it is planning to locate in NDSU’s Business Technology Incubator, working to create seven educational software modules. “We try to make the learning engaging and keep the fun in learning,” said Slator.
More information: WoWiWe Co. – www.wowiwe.net
NDSU Center for Science and Mathematics Education – www.ndsu.edu/csme
NDSU World Wide Web Instructional Committee – wwwic.ndsu.edu