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Chasing Pokemon to illustrate biology

CMU professor turns popular game into classroom tool

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

​In the first lab session of his Honors biology course Foundations of Evolution and Diversity, Brad Swanson chose a trendy, unconventional vehicle to illustrate his point. Using the mobile game "Pokemon Go," Swanson split his class into three teams and unleashed them onto Central Michigan University's campus with a single directive: gotta catch 'em all.

"In this lab, we used "Pokemon Go" to estimate diversity levels," said Swanson, a professor of biology. "One of the interesting things about Pokemon is there are lots of different ones, and many different numbers of each. It's an interesting way to get the students to think about biological concepts and integrate that with a game they're already playing."

"Pokemon Go" is an augmented reality mobile game that launched in July. It requires users to walk, usually near landmarks, to uncover characters in different locations. The game also uses the real-world concepts of biodiversity and evolution, which are key components of Swanson's course.

"After playing, I want them to be able to bring these concepts into the natural world, where they can actually see how diversity is applied in reality," he said.

The students – divided into Pokemon teams Mystic, Valor and Instinct – are part of the first cohort in CMU's new biology curriculum. The track features five new core courses, including Swanson's, created to provide a strong foundation in basic concepts through hands-on experimental learning. The core classes also were developed to emphasize the development of critical thinking and communication skills.

"This class seeks to give them an overview of everything – microbes to mammals – as we introduce them to biology," Swanson said.​​


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