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Can video games save the honeybee?

  • Science Highlights

While many of us know that bees and other insects face a precarious future, few people have concrete plans to do anything about it. A Purdue professor is hoping to change that by using virtual learning modules, developed in collaboration with ITaP’s Envision Center, to educate high school students about the problems pollinators such as bees and butterflies face and what can be done to help them.

“In the long term, the big change has to come from our future generations,” says Tim Gibb, a Purdue clinical professor of entomology, who led the project. “They’re our policymakers in the future.”

The high school teachers Gibb consulted with all told him their students learn better through interactive, hands-on activities than through lectures, which gave him the inspiration to develop the engaging, video game-like virtual modules.

He was connected to the Envision Center through his collaborator Christian Oseto, a professor of entomology, who previously worked with the center on an insect dissection virtual reality application. Together they collaborated with George Takahashi, the center’s technical director, to brainstorm the specifics of the applications, which George’s team of students then implemented.

With the Envision Center, Gibb developed three virtual learning applications:

  • Design Your Own Landscape, which encourages students to design a residential yard in a way that’s not only pollinator-friendly but also aesthetically pleasing.
  • Flower and Pollinator Dissection, which allows the students to dissect a flower in three dimensions, and then dissect the insect that pollinates that flower, and see why they match up.
  • Visit to the Royal Palace, where students have the opportunity to virtually visit a honeybee colony and interview different types of bees about their role within the colony.

A fourth application, The Plight of the Forager Bee, was designed to allow students to take virtual foraging flights with honeybees to understand the dangers they face whenever they leave the hive. Kelsey Getzin, multimedia specialist for agriculture communications, assisted with the audio.

Gibb has made the learning modules widely available to schools this spring, as teachers everywhere have moved to distance learning due to the COVID-19 situation, and the response has been “very positive,” he says.

For more information about working with the Envision Center, contact

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