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Heroic: IUP Team Takes Top Prize at International Education Conference for Their “HERO 1” Game Project

Communications Media Professor Luis Almeida and doctoral student Ahmed Yousof, assisted by a team of undergraduate students, won a top prize for their video game proposal at the 2013 Education Without Borders (EWB) conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 26–28.

The proposal, written by Yousof, conceptualizes an educational video game called “HERO 1” to teach English language and American culture to Arab students. It was one of only 32 papers that EWB organizers selected for conference presentation out of about 3,600 submissions worldwide, and went on to take first place in the category “New Media and Mobile Learning” at the conference.

The great win spotlights IUP’s place in the vanguard of instructional technology development, brings the chance to explore opportunities with Microsoft, and crowns six months of mentorship and collaboration by the team in the Communications Media Applied Media and Simulations Game Center in Stouffer Halll.

HERO 1 Group, Comm Media Motion Capture Lab

The HERO 1 project team. Front, from left: Students David Algeo and Shawn Yutzey. Back, from left: Student James McHenry, student Ahmed Yousof, Professor Luis Almeida, and student Caleb Byers. Absent: Student Jake Saures.

How a “HERO” Is Made

“The Education Without Borders conference assembles some of the world’s most innovative students in educational technologies,” says Almeida, faculty mentor to the HERO 1 team and director of the Applied Media and Simulations Game Center and the Motion Capture Lab. “Microsoft, Apple, and other leaders in business, education, the humanities, and other fields attend to identify talent and ideas.”

Presentations must include not only a concept proposal but also a marketing plan and detailed budget, and are judged by preeminent thought-leaders in education, including, this year, eight Nobel Laureates.

IUP’s road to the EWB began when Almeida and Yousof, a student in the new doctoral program in Communications Media, collaborated on a paper. Rather than submitting it to an academic journal, they decided to “go even bigger,” says Almeida.

Yousof explored the protocol for submissions to EWB, and they began to brainstorm ideas for a video game concept. Almeida zeroed in on an educational game, because “the edutainment industry is much smaller than the billion-dollar commercial game industry and its products aren’t that great yet.” He considered the utility of a language and culture game that might be used, for example, by Olympic athletes traveling to foreign countries.

Yousof, who is an international student from Egypt, led the story development. Drawing from his own observations, he created a character named Malik, an Arab teenager in the United States, and wrote situations in which Malik learns to speak English and understand American cultural norms, such as how to help strangers in distress or personal space boundaries, and makes friends along the way.

“You can learn English by watching TV, but you can’t rely on that to learn the culture,” says Yousof. ”Why not have a video game that bridges language and culture?”

Five Comm Media undergraduate students who are beta-testers in the MoCap Lab—James McHenry, David Algeo, Shawn Yutzey, Caleb Byers, and Jake Saures—came on board to produce a trailer. Though the resources were modest—a couple computers with iClone and Windows Kinect—the students worked hard with Almeida and Yousof to help put the “entertainment” into the product.

Yousof represented the IUP team in Dubai, addressing a packed auditorium. He gave a knockout presentation—a proposal that incorporated a strong concept as well as a budget and marketing plan and a game trailer incorporating photorealism, game flow, terrain, graphics, story and character development.

“Our proposal was practical, innovative, real, and firsthand,” says Yousof. “It’s what people need in an educational video game.”

The team is now exploring opportunities with Microsoft.

HERO 1 graphic - characters

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