NSF awards ASU’s Janssen for gaming research

April 17, 2008

How can a computer game contribute to sustainable development? Just ask Marco Janssen, associate director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity.

Janssen has earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his innovative work, which includes using group experiments with computer simulations to test how people share common resources – such as forests, pastures and irrigation systems – and craft institutional rules governing those resources. The award is among the most prestigious for scientists and engineers early in their careers. It recognizes researchers and educators for their potential to be leaders in their areas of expertise. Download Full Image

In a typical experiment, recruited undergraduate students – who can interact only online – receive instructions and then kick back and enjoy a “Pac-Man”-type game, in which they maneuver an avatar around the computer screen collecting renewable resources. They receive monetary rewards for the amounts consumed, but uncoordinated greedy behavior leads to a collapse of the resource and lower rewards for the students.

Between the various rounds, the students can use a chat room to coordinate their strategies.

“Using games can help make the experience fun and allows for ‘resources’ to be safely destroyed by the participants,” says Janssen, an assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and the School of Computing and Informatics. “Also, it is difficult to observe in natural resource management how people develop rules, but in this scenario we can collect all online chat from the students and analyze it. It may help us determine why one group does better than another.

“The goal is to get better formal models about society. We need realistic solutions to the problems we face, and we need to understand which institutions fit best in which cases. Ecology varies among locations, and social organization doesn’t necessarily fit with the environment. Many naïve concepts are being used, and that creates bad or inefficient outcomes.”

Janssen’s award will provide more than $400,000 over five years to help fund his research on institutional innovation in the governance of common resources. It also will be used to develop interactive sustainability games and educational material on computing in the social sciences for middle and high school students.

Though Janssen was trained as an applied mathematician, he has long been interested in environmental issues and has aimed his research in that direction since the early 1990s.

Janssen, who is driven to produce research that has real-world applicability, became frustrated with the boundaries of traditional disciplinary research and turned to the flexibility of intellectual fusion. His work at ASU’s Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity allows him to meld his interests in ecology, mathematics, anthropology, economics and computing in pioneering endeavors.

Janssen’s award is the second for the center, which officially launched earlier this year. J. Marty Anderies – an assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, in addition to the School of Sustainability – earned the center’s first National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his work regarding resource degradation.

Rebecca Howe, rebecca.howe">mailto:rebecca.howe@asu.edu">rebecca.howe@asu.edu
(480) 727-6577
School of Human Evolution and Social Change

Rebecca Howe

Communications Specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


ASU partners to mentor, assist foster kids

April 17, 2008

For five early childhood education students at Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership, it is a chance to make a difference and earn course credits. For 15 children in foster care, it is the chance of a lifetime, an opportunity to take a meaningful step forward, both academically and socially.

A partnership formed by the college with Aid to the Adoption of Special Kids (AASK) and Sunshine Residential and Group Homes is bringing a tutoring program and a place to learn to children in foster care. The relationship is part of the college’s field experiences curriculum for undergraduate students in its Early Childhood Teaching and Leadership program. Download Full Image

During the fall of 2007, five students under the guidance of Assistant Professor Nancy Perry tutored 15 primary school-age children two times weekly. Interagency agreements with AASK and Sunshine were facilitated by Maureen Gerard, coordinator of the Professional Field Experience program at ASU’s West campus. Gerard also secured tutoring space in the teacher ed college’s Curriculum Resource Library and assisted with the supervision of the students when Perry was unavailable.

“There are almost 10,000 foster children living in Arizona, most of whom lag behind academically and socially,” says Perry, who redesigned her teacher research course to allow her students to conduct research and program evaluation on the tutoring process. “Our project supports only a small fraction of these children, but we are committed to helping AASK secure more tutors for these children in foster care homes across the valley because the program benefits both the children and the pre-service teachers involved in the program.”

Sascha Mitchell-Kay, an assistant professor of Elementary Education, has brought the project into the classroom on the West campus, implementing the home design learning assignment in her Classroom Management/Environmental Design course. She has also mentored her 14 students as they have solicited donations and conducted shopping excursions at Goodwill, used furniture stores, Teachers Treasures, and other outlets featuring inexpensive goods that can be used to create a healthy and stimulating teaching and learning environment. The early childhood ed students participating in Perry’s research and program evaluation coursework have engaged in fund-raising for materials, built work tables and bookshelves, and worked together to organize the home learning settings that have been unavailable or out of reach for most of the foster children. Sunshine has provided students with transportation to ASU to attend tutoring. The company’s home managers have worked with the college students on designing the home learning environments.

“Having these ASU students step up as tutors has allowed us to leverage the resources we have to help even more children in foster care,” says Hydee Landes, coordinator of AASK’s Special Friends Program, which is designed to match foster children with committed adults who can serve as role models, advocates, mentors and friends. “If the example set by ASU and the College of Teacher Education and Leadership motivates others to get involved, then we are well on our way to our goal of helping hundreds of children still waiting for a tutor or mentor match.”

Perry says the benefit to ASU students is an important step in their career path.

“The program benefits our students by offering them first-hand opportunities to learn about language and literacy development and to be of service to disadvantaged youth residing in the local community.

“It provides students with ‘real-world’ leadership skills, opportunities for community collaboration, experience in advocating for quality educational programming for disadvantaged youth, and opportunities for undergraduate research – all of which are goals of our Early Childhood Teaching and Leadership program.”

While the children at the receiving end of the partnership are rewarded daily with a structured, quality learning experience, they will also receive an up-close-and-personal look at where their journey might one day end. Approximately 50 foster children will receive a tour of the West campus later this month, as well as festivities celebrating their academic accomplishments.

“Our goal is to help one child at a time in whatever way possible,” says AASK CEO Ron Adelson. “Collaborations such as this one with the college are invaluable to help kids in the foster care system succeed.

AASK is currently conducting a campaign to find 100 new mentors during the first 100 days of the new year. Interested volunteers can contact 602-930-4900 or go online at specialfriendsaz.org.

Steve Des Georges