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Broader Impacts and Game-Based Learning

In the world of grants, the NSF SBIR program can be a powerful and effective way to turn your idea into a reality – and we should know, as we’ve cumulatively secured more than 3 million in funding since 2010. We’ve published guides and presented at conferences like SXSW EDU on the process (and perils) of submitting SBIR funding proposals, but today’s focus is on a specific – and extremely important – component of SBIR funding: broader impacts.

Described as, “the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes,” in the National Science Foundation’s Perspectives on Broader Impacts brochure, broader impacts are a required component of each grant which help to ensure that all NSF-funded projects help to better the world around us. Broader impacts initiatives come in many forms and serve a variety of sub-objectives, including helping to disseminate research and improve public understanding, broadening outreach to local communities and underrepresented groups, promoting teaching, training, and learning objectives, and more. As one of two merit review criteria (along with Intellectual Merit) which must be highlighted in each NSF application, nailing this section can play a huge role in the success of your grant proposal – so it’s key to have your broader impacts plan in place prior to submitting your application.

There’s no shortage of examples of successful broader impacts initiatives from past NSF grant recipients, but as an industry-leading educational game developer, our aim today is to highlight an oft-overlooked method of achieving broader impacts goals – digital games. When you think “disseminating cutting-edge science research,” video games may not be the first things that come to mind – but we think they’re worthy of serious consideration! Here’s why:

Games are Efficacious

Game-based learning has the power to create many types of efficacy – games can engage, inspire, motivate, educate; the list goes on. Whether you’re trying to tell the story behind your research, impart critical knowledge, or inspire the next generation of creators and professionals, digital games harness the inherently educational power of play to create a level of engagement simply unmatched by other mediums. And this isn’t conjecture on our part – these claims are backed by decades of academic research which have proven the effectiveness of game-based learning for K-12 students, adult learners in training settings, and even older adults. Digital games are an incredibly powerful medium for sparking imagination and fostering deep learning through exploration and discovery – and in our view, there simply isn’t a topic that’s too big, too complex, or too abstract for a learning game.

Games are Engaging

There’s a reason that Netflix is more worried about competition from video games like ‘Fortnite’ than other streaming services – digital games are inherently engaging (or as the kids would say, “fun.”) As educational game developers, we leverage a suite of engagement strategies – identity, feedback amplification, empowerment, production polish – to help players feel capable, challenged, and rewarded for playing our games. Imagine someone who has no prior knowledge of your field becoming immersed in your research while playing a game – perhaps not even realizing they’re learning in the process. To learn more about our strategies for transferring learning objectives into meaningful, engaging gameplay mechanics, check out these insights from our founding partner and Chief Creative Office Dan Norton.

Games are Expanding

The video game industry is growing – and it’s growing fast. According to a 2019 report from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), over 150 million adults in the United States play video games, a diverse cross-section of the population which encompasses folks of every age, gender, and ethnicity. And while much mainstream press focuses on the commercial end of the industry, serious games and games for education and training are gaining popularity, too – whether as full-fledged curriculum solutions, museum installations, or experimental interactives that seamlessly combine play and learning. Digital games – no matter the play context – can be a powerful and effective way to expand the reach of your research findings, particularly when it comes to engaging with underrepresented groups.

Of course, digital games are simply one of many ways to go about accomplishing your broader impacts goals. If you or your organization would like to further explore how to harness the power of game-based learning to disseminate and promote your research, get in touch with our team today!

Related articles on the Filament Games Blog:

SBIR Funding: Dreadfully Wonderful
We Want To Be Your Grant Partner
How Researchers Can Work With An Educational Video Game Studio

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