Trying to meet the future work force where it is, some Maryland biotech executives are backing a unique strategy to help market an educational video game to students.
A version of one game, developed by Hunt Valley gaming company BreakAway Ltd., was previewed this week at the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization International Convention in Boston. The MdBio Foundation, an affiliate of the Tech Council of Maryland, will offer the game to science teachers free of charge beginning next year, with help from financial partners.
“This is a great way to get [students] interested in really difficult subject matter,” said J.J. Finkelstein, chairman of the MdBio Foundation and president and CEO of Rockville biotech RegeneRx Biopharmaceuticals. “Subjects like heredity and genetics are not easy to teach. I believe this will be a much better way to get them interested in bioscience and add to the work force eventually.”
The President's Council of Advisors on Science & Technology warned in a 2010 report that the U.S. lags many other nations in science, technology, engineering and math education at the elementary and secondary levels. In Maryland, nearly two-thirds of eighth-graders are not proficient in science, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
MdBio’s online platform, called MdBioSphere, debuted its first game at the convention this week. “Survival!” covers topics such as DNA structure and genetic code. In the game, players form a creature by selecting certain genetic traits that must survive the virtual world against predators.
“Serious games and simulations are some of the most innovative tools available to educators today,” Douglas Whatley, CEO and founder of BreakAway, said in a statement. “As a pioneer in the serious games market, BreakAway harnesses the power of game technology to transform the way people work, learn and live their lives.”
BreakAway was founded in 1998 and has more than 100 employees.
There is not a game “on this level” — a serious one mapped to the new federal science education standards — that MdBio officials know of, said Finkelstein, who was among the Maryland biotech executives attending the Boston conference. Response from area science teachers through a survey has been excellent, he said.
“They are looking for innovative, creative tools,” Finkelstein said of teachers. “Everyone thought it was a great idea.”
Also this week at the Boston convention, MdBio was one of 41 state bioscience organizations to become founding members of the Coalition of State Bioscience Institutes. The group will work on industry-led life science education, work force development and entrepreneurship programs.
The foundation’s signature program is MdBioLab, a state-of-the-art mobile laboratory that travels to Maryland high schools.