Professor creates game to help students learn how COVID-19 spreads

Professor creates game to help students learn how COVID-19 spreads
September 23, 2020
Meghan Krein

Mina Johnson-Glenberg, a research scientist in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology and an affiliate faculty member at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, created a web-based and augmented reality COVID-19 modeling simulation game to help college students learn more about the virus in an interesting and interactive way. The game was made in conjunction with ASU’s Learning Futures Collaboratory

“Last year, the Embodied Games Lab that I lead was modeling the Ebola viral outbreak in Africa. We created an augmented reality version to model data to help people understand the spread of that virus. So when the COVID-19 pandemic became real to us, in early spring, we shifted our efforts to understanding COVID-19,” says Johnson-Glenberg. 

That Ebola model was a finalist in ASU’s XR Challenge Award

The COVID-19 game shows the effects of physical distance between avatars and how effective wearing a mask can be. The player chooses an avatar, and makes several key choices throughout the day, such as where to eat lunch and what to do if a class is crowded. After each  decision is made, the player is able to see how those decisions affected the probability of infection. To play, visit.:

“The game is designed so you can go back through your day, as many times as you want, and make different choices. It’s like the Groundhog Day movie,” Johnson-Glenberg says. The goal, she says, is for players to understand not only how their decisions affect their own health, but also how individual decisions affect group health. 

Johnson-Glenberg and her students want to assess the user’s experience so they embedded a survey that, when taken, gives the player a 1 in 20 chance of winning a $20 Amazon gift card. 

“We have all seen many poorly designed learning games over the years,” Johnson-Glenberg says, adding, “some are referred to as ‘chocolate-covered broccoli.’” It’s incredibly difficult to create an engaging game that also helps someone learn complex information, she says. “There is large literature on the positive learning gains seen from well-designed games because games are motivating and, among other things, allow players to ‘fail productively.’ Players can make bad choices, but also learn from those,” says Johnson-Glenberg.  

We think our game can serve as a powerful reminder to students that their small decisions throughout the day have a significant effect on them and others, she says. 

Next month, Johnson-Glenberg is hosting a webinar series, FEVAR: Future of Education in Virtual and Augmented Reality, for students and faculty. She will be joined by colleagues as they tackle a different subject in each webinar. Register for one or all below. 

Wednesday, Oct. 14: Stealth Assessment in Educational Video games

Wednesday, Oct. 28: MakerSpaces and AR: Benefits and Drawbacks for Learning

Wednesday, Nov. 4: XR and Indigenous Peoples