A game creator and a chemistry teacher have pioneered a computer game that makes learning chemistry not just fun but effective.
Contributed By Jonathan Teo
With its complex nomenclature and intricate equations, organic chemistry does not typically rank high on a student’s list of favorite subjects. Junior college chemistry teacher Sharon Koh and her husband Loi Hui Min, a games programmer, have come up with a “tool” to enhance the learning of organic chemistry—a computer game, complete with spell-casting orcs.
Named OrCganic, the game is the first of its kind developed in Singapore. It made its public debut in the organic chemistry gaming competition, OrCganic Reactrics 2011, at Singapore’s biggest LAN center, the Colosseum at Iluma on March 12. Thirty-one teams of five members from various tertiary institutions came together in an elimination-style competition to take home a set of Xbox Kinect each. The tournament tested the teams on A-Level organic chemistry.
OrCganic is a real-time multi-player strategy game. The objective of the game is to capture the opponent’s flag before the opponent gets to it. At the start, each player controls an orc avatar and is given a set of reagents for casting spells. The avatar then roams around the terrain to collect random chemical compounds. Here’s where the player’s grasp of organic chemistry is tested—the player has to get the right combination of compounds to activate their spells and battle their opponents. As such, the game’s interactive and dynamic platform serves as a “hook” to help students absorb the chemical equations quicker, and admittedly, more engaging.
Originally created as a personal project three years ago by both Koh and Loi, OrCganic took its name from the main characters in the game—the orcs, while “Reactrics” is derived from the fact that players will be creating chemical reactions in the game; setting off a matrix of many other similar reactions.
According to Loi and Koh, the intrinsic motivation and self-directedness a player applies to his or her favorite computer game can be constructively channelled toward academic learning. This is especially true for “digital natives”—the generation which grew up with 21st century technology. As the learning profile of this generation of students changes along with the rise of information technology, new pedagogies need to be developed in order to cater to the learning needs of students in this digital age. As such, OrCganics offers a game-based learning experience to augment a student’s understanding of organic chemistry.
Koh said that the project would have remained a dream without the support of the junior college she teaches at, which is also the couple’s alma mater, St. Andrew’s Junior College. Headed by the principal, Lee Bee Yann, a pilot study conducted by members of the school’s academic staff found evidence for OrCganic’s potential as an alternative teaching tool in organic chemistry—preliminary statistical analyses revealed that students who were put in the OrCganic gaming group achieved comparable results to those who were subjected to a self-study group and a teacher-led remedial group.
Loi has set up an IT company with his partners, Angler Pte. Ltd. to share the benefit of OrCganic with teachers and students at other tertiary institutions—hence the idea of the OrCganic Reactrics tournament was conceived.
FROM THOUGHT TO TAKE-OFF
Loi and Koh faced many challenges in funding as well as finding the support and venue for their tournament, but were encouraged to pray everyday, taking cue from the book The Fourth Dimension by Dr. David Yonggi Cho.
The couple initially wanted the project to start small in SAJC, with a maximum of 16 teams. However, they felt led by God to dream big and thus raised the number of participating teams to 32. Registration progressed slowly, but it did not deter Loi and Koh from pressing on to pray and believe for teams to come in. Response came in the last few days of registration, and they wound up with 31 teams. As it was the couple’s first time organizing such a big scale event, there were many details to look into, but they are thankful to God for seeing them through it all, and for providing them with a capable team of helpers.
One of the big breakthroughs came when Lee connected them with the Microsoft Education Alliance Director, Chua Horng Shya. Out of that connection, Microsoft provided a sponsorship of five Xbox Kinect sets as the first prize; the sponsorship was a big morale booster for the couple. On top of that, they were able to leverage on Angler’s existing connections with the Colosseum and secure the venue for the tournament, thus resulting in a tri-partnership among SAJC, Angler and Microsoft.
The tournament proved to be a success as the participants enjoyed themselves tremendously. Not only did the participants have fun, they were able to gain a deeper knowledge and appreciation of organic chemistry. Additionally, through the process of collaborating with their teammates on game strategies, the tournament helped foster a spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie not only within each team but between various institutions.
The huge success of the tournament has opened up the exciting possibility of the game being distributed to other schools in the near future; Angler is in the process of commercializing OrCganic with the Ministry of Education.
Both Loi and Koh are grateful for the dream that God has given to them. “Without Him and His anointing, OrCganic would not have achieved the impact it is seeing today. We want to give Him all the glory. We also want to thank our friends who have stood by us in prayer and encouragement,” said the couple.
For more information on OrCganic, log on to visit www.orcganic.net/orcganic.php