The Game's Afoot

March 04, 2016
CBS professor teams with local startup to create a tablet-based lesson on cell respiration and photosynthesis. 
Sehoya Cotner


Recent developments aside, there is no way Sehoya Cotner could ever be described as a gamer. “I think the last video game I played was Pong,” she confesses. Still, the Biology Teaching and Learning professor is making a splash in the world of educational gaming, writing the curriculum for an interactive game on cell respiration and photosynthesis.

Startup Andamio Games, in partnership with Cotner and Barbara Billington, professor of STEM Education at the College of Education and Human Development, received a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to design a series of tablet-based lessons. Pilots will be conducted with classroom teachers this summer, and the interactive series will eventually be provided free of charge to schools throughout the country. 

Why is someone who doesn’t know a joystick from a popsicle stick so interested in bringing gaming into middle and high school biology classrooms? “I’m a firm believer in the ‘any means necessary’ method of education,” says the developer of the university’s popular “Evolution and Biology of Sex” course. “It doesn’t matter how you get the information across as long as students understand the concepts. That’s why I use the topic of sex to teach basic biology to non-science majors.”

Andamio means “scaffold” in Spanish, and Cotner says that a scaffolding approach is built into her educational approach. “We’ll start with a base of understanding and build on that solid core,” she says. Gaming provides natural opportunities to ensure formative assessment, which tests that knowledge is in place before allowing students to move ahead. In gaming parlance, “you can’t get to level two until you understand level one,” she explains.

Looking ahead, Cotner says the team’s eventual goal is to develop a curriculum that can be scaled up and refined for more advanced students, including those in AP and IB classes. “It could certainly be used for non-major course work in a collegiate environment, as well.”   — Julie Kendrick

“It doesn’t matter how you get the information across as long as students understand the concepts."

Related: Minneapolis start-up wins federal grant to develop educational biology game