Watershed game app developed by Iowa State to reach large audience as a platform for fun and learning


AMES, Iowa – It’s a teenage computer game. This is an online learning app for college courses in Agriculture and Natural Resources. It is a training tool for professional conservation planners. It’s PEWI!

People in Ecosystems Watershed Integration, better known as PEWI, is a game-based learning app based on “what if” scenarios on land use. On screen, it simulates a colorful 6,000-acre watershed where players can test the impacts of decisions and solutions. Behind the graphical display, the application relies on an in-depth background of data, coding and modeling that continues to expand to include new information and new decision paths to deliver ever greater results. robust and realistic.

The evolution of PEWI

Originally created by Lisa Schulte Moore, MacArthur Fellow, professor of ecology and natural resource management at Iowa State University, PEWI started out as a worksheet for a classroom exercise. Since then, PEWI has grown into an interactive tool for formal and non-formal education with the help of a creative and interdisciplinary team of faculty and students.

PEWI 4.0 was released earlier this year, building on a web platform introduced in 2014. The latest version gives players 15 land use options, including conventional corn and soybeans, pastures, mixed vegetable crops, wetlands, forests and short rotation woods. bioenergy crops. These are linked to 19 ecosystem services, such as crop yields, habitat, soil quality, carbon sequestration, erosion, water quality and habitat. Users can track the results and the economy over the years and changing weather conditions.

John Tyndall, Natural Resources Economist and Associate Professor of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, is one of the faculty members who have made significant contributions to PEWI. The improvements Tyndall and his students have made are reflected in recent components that estimate the financial impacts of different scenarios – significant additions that reflect feedback from farmers who have used the game.

Graduate and undergraduate students have also helped shape PEWI. They include Robert Valek (’20 PhD Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry), now owner of a new Iowa startup, Scientific Agile Software Consulting, who is credited with major improvements to the game’s content and playability; and Richard Magala, currently a doctoral student in forestry and DataFEWSion work on new and improved modules for stream biology, greenhouse gases and pollinators.

“When designing PEWI, we made an effort to prioritize the concepts, but also to keep in mind that we wanted it to be a sandbox style game that offered what are called ‘degrees of complexity. optional ”to create an environment rich in many decisions. to explore, ”said Valek, who based his doctoral work on the game.“ There’s a lot of deep context that you don’t often see. This increases the replayability of the game – and its “cool factor”.

Education is the heart and soul of PEWI

Nancy Grudens-Schuck, associate professor of agricultural education and studies and director of higher education and certificates, has been involved with PEWI since the early days, leading efforts to make PEWI an effective learning technology for students. classroom. She created a PEWI-based teacher’s guide adaptable to many ages and learning situations and worked with a team to align the material with national education standards.

“Education is at the heart and soul of PEWI,” said Grudens-Schuck. “It’s a dynamic and engaging way to bring science practices into learning about agriculture, science, technology, engineering and math, based on real science from pools. actual hydrographic. It’s fun to explore, and students can see how factors intersect and influence each other, allowing them to understand relationships that otherwise could quickly become overwhelming! “

The free, open-source app and curriculum is primarily used in agriculture and science courses offered to high school and undergraduate students, including the Iowa State curriculum. Science related program. Grudens-Schuck notes that it is also attracting interest from 4-H leaders and agriculture and conservation professionals who work with adults.

Most PEWI users have been in Iowa and Minnesota, but the game has found its way into curricula across the country and around the world, at the University of Vermont and Stanford University in California, McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and as far away as Portugal.

PEWI and associated data on its use as a learning tool has been shared in a number of peer-reviewed journals, including recent articles in “Natural science education” and “Ecological modeling.

Born of creativity

“Thanks to the talented teachers and students who helped develop our early ideas, PEWI has become an exciting, fact-based, fun game that teaches important concepts and is easily adaptable to a variety of applications and audiences,” Schulte Moore said.

“PEWI was born from creativity. I was curious if we could bring together the concepts of land use and ecosystem services in one tool for learning. I am proud of what it has become thanks to the contributions of many ISU students – 25 and over – and faculty, ”she said.

Support for PEWI comes from a variety of public and private sources, including the National Science Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the US Forest Service Northern Research Station, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and the USDA. McIntire. Stennis Program, Iowa State University and Iowa State Extension and Outreach.

Try PEWI and learn more about https://www.nrem.iastate.edu/pewi/.


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