The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Gao’s Team Wins $150,000 MacArthur Award

A web-based teaching game developed by two Northeastern University faculty members in collaboration with Assistant Professor of Transportation Engineering Song Gao, from our Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, has won a 21st Century Learning Lab Award of $150,000 from the MacArthur Foundation. The game, NOx NO MORE, uses GPS data to teach students about the environmental impact of their family’s transportation choices. The game was one of 10 projects chosen for awards out of more than 800 international submissions to the innovative digital media and learning projects competition.

NOx NO MORE is the brainchild of Gao and  Notheastern’s Associate Professor of Marketing Rosanna Garcia and Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Interactive Media Ann McDonald. Kwong Chan, Assistant Professor of Marketing from the Isenberg School of Management, is also part of the team.

“We have a truly diversified team,” said Dr. Gao, “where Rosanna is in business, Ann in design, and I am the transportation engineering person. My work will mostly focus on the ‘science’ part, including modeling emissions from driving trajectories recorded by GPS points, and providing a solid background for the game with my knowledge on traveler behavior and transportation system dynamics.”

The MacArthur Foundation created the program to help educators re-imagine learning for students immersed in digital environments and social networks. The MacArthur Foundation digital and learning initiative looks at how young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life, and how digital technology affects their behavior.

The concept behind NOx NO MORE is grounded in research indicating that people are more likely to change behaviors and make environmentally friendly choices when learning is linked to their own personal experience. Players upload GPS-gathered personal travel data and attempt to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution in game play and real life through use of alternative fuel vehicles, public transportation, consolidation of trips, and walking or biking.

“The goal is to educate students of all ages about simple, everyday actions that they can take now to impact the environment tomorrow,” Garcia said. “Today’s kids will soon be making their own transportation choices, and those choices will include tomorrow’s alternative fuel vehicles.”

The pilot phase of the game project will be launched this fall. In 2011, members of the Northeastern University student Husky Energy Action Team will bring a beta version of the game to middle school students as part of an environmental science curriculum. The game will encourage students to involve their parents in gathering the GPS data and to influence the family’s transportation decisions.

“Utilizing in-game data visualization and participatory challenges,” said McDonald, “NOx NO MORE will give kids creative ways to consider the pros and cons of their actions and take steps to help their family and friends make meaningful changes.” (May 2010)