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The fusion of MOOCs, gaming and citizen science


I have long believed that MOOCs offer a tremendous platform for doing social good.  We’ve seen with various gamified citizen science projects for instance, that there are a huge number of people willing to pull together and contribute their own bit to various projects, whether it’s enhancing our understanding of neuroscience or the way proteins operation.

Penn State are attempting to combine the two things with their MOOC on the spread of infectious diseases, that is being launched on Coursera this month.  Alongside the course, the team have launched a massive multiplayer game called Moocdemic.  The game is billed as the first multiplayer epidemic game on the web, and offers players the opportunity to try out their learning in a game environment.

The course itself looks at the basics of infectious diseases.  Students will cover things like the history of epidemics, how they often spread throughout communities and how they can be contained and controlled.

The game itself is a natural addition to that, with players using both their computers and mobile devices to detect when infectious diseases germinate, and monitor and control its spread.  The developers believe that the game offers players the opportunity to try out disease control from the safety of their living room.

“The game allows players to experience a global disease outbreak in real time without being exposed to any real risk, other than game addiction,” they said in a recent interview.

It’s undoubtedly a nice fusion of games and community, albeit it does fall short of some of the citizen science based games that actually use the crowd for proper scientific work.  It would be great to see that kind of activity done in conjunction with a MOOC, thus utilizing the large numbers many MOOCs attract, alongside the education they’re receiving on the course, to do some really good work via the games themselves.

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