iSchool Researchers Create New Science Mystery Game to Teach STEM Skills

iSchool Researchers Create New Science Mystery Game to Teach STEM Skills

Researchers Kari Kraus, associate professor in the College of Information Studies and Department of English, and June Ahn, assistant professor in the College of Information Studies and the College of Education, are part of an interdisciplinary research team that has created an alternate reality game targeted at developing STEM skills.

Funded through a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), DUST is a web-based mystery game aimed at girls and minorities between the ages of 13-17. The game is played online, though unlike a traditional video game, it is played across different media channels including custom websites, mobile apps, and social media. It is the first of two games being developed as part of the grant, and can be accessed by visiting

DUST is both a fictional story and a collaborative game that plays out over a 7-week period. The opening scene, available as an online interactive comic book, shows adults falling unconscious after a meteor shower hits Earth. Players are immersed in a fictional world online, working alongside fictional characters to collectively unravel the mystery and revive the adults before it is too late. Players advance through the game by using the scientific process to solve problems, building their confidence in skills needed to excel in STEM academic fields.

Kraus and Ahn collaborated with Brigham Young University researchers Derek Hansen, Abell Professor of Innovation, Steven Shumway, associate professor, and Jeff Sheets, Director of the Laycock Center for Creative Collaboration on this project. Other partners on the project include NASA scientists and Tinder Transmedia. Over 100 students from UMD and BYU have been involved in the development and running of the game. DUST’s narrative and interface design also benefited greatly from co-design partnerships with middle schoolers (13-15 years old) who collaborated across Maryland and Utah. The result is an interactive experience designed for teens in close partnership with teens. 

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