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Creating games that teach

March 8, 2016

Jacqueline Hill receives Joseph T. Taylor Academic Award.

Junior Jacqueline Hill, left, a student and research team member in the School of Informatics and Computing, received the Joseph T. Taylor Academic Achievement Award during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner from Vicki Bonds, program coordinator of the Diversity Scholars Research Program. | IU COMMUNICATIONS

"It's surreal. I can’t believe it," said Jacqueline Hill after receiving this year's Joseph T. Taylor Academic Achievement Award during the 2016 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner.

The IUPUI Diversity Research Scholar and junior in the Media Arts and Science program at the IU School of Informatics and Computing said, "I was shocked, and really honored."

Helping children cope with their health issues is not something Hill ever expected she would do. But in her freshman year, a research mentorship opportunity through the Diversity Scholars Research Program paired her with Informatics and Computing professor Joseph Defazio and his research team, looking at innovative ways to improve serious games in health education.

What makes the games serious? They aren’t games for gaming’s sake, but have a critical purpose -- in this case, helping adolescents who have diabetes manage the disease more efficiently. The diabetes game, which has a Vikings theme, is the first children’s health education game that tells a story.

Players ride on Viking ships to collect specific types of food that help manage diet and blood sugar. As a bonus, they pick up lessons about the history of Vikings on the journey. This pioneering storytelling approach, which draws on initial work from professor Josette Jones and her Ph.D. students, will be a model for developing health education games of its kind in the future.

A Pixar fan who loved playing Nintendo with her grandmother, Hill knew from a young age she wanted to create something that other kids could enjoy or play. And she is happy to be applying that childhood dream toward a higher purpose.

"A lot of people at research conferences don't know about health education games," Hill said. Last year, she said, she visited a local high school where students were also surprised to learn about her work: "It was eye-opening for them to learn that games aren't just for gaming."

An integral member of the research team, Hill worked with Defazio to co-author an article that has been submitted to an international research journal.

"He's a wonderful person to work with -- so understanding and appreciative," she said. Hill and Defazio presented the work at the annual IUPUI Research Day in April 2015 -- impressive achievements for an undergraduate researcher whom Defazio calls "absolutely great."

"When I encounter a student who has that enthusiasm, energy, respect and thirst for knowledge, that is the ideal," Defazio said. "What can I say? She is the exemplar."

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