IntoScience is an awesome concept: A 3D environment packed with science activities including virtual experiments and activities covering a range of scientific fields. The reality, sadly, comes close but falls short of the potential.
Built using the Unity 3D engine, the IntoScience environment will be familiar to many students. You control your character in third-person perspective and navigate using the keyboard. Thanks to the underlying engine the application is available on all platforms. What the creators have done is take a game-making engine and use it to teach science, and that’s a simply wonderful concept.
The good thing is that the game environment makes for an engaging learning experience – at least at first. There has clearly been a lot of effort put into the educational aspects of IntoScience and, given it comes from 3P Learning the people behind Mathletics, they have the history to make it work.
Once the initial coolness of a 3D environment wears off, however, there’s a feeling that all the running around and fiddling can distract from the learning experience. For example, when you’re looking at classifying animals after the first one it’s just a pain to find the next and go through the quiz-like process of classifying it. Not only would reading a book be more straightforward, the choose-between-three-possible-answers approach makes it as much, or more, an achievement in quiz-solving as in biology. In another example the player has to scan some rocks, but then you spend forever running around trying to find the rocks – which is probably part of the challenge in a game but doesn’t teach anything about the rocks in question.
The other problem we saw was that the science activities do not seem to scale to the student – which means some of them can come across as simplistic, others as a bit patronisingly cute. There’s a lost opportunity there to make the game respond to the individual student’s level more clearly.
I’m afraid my group of test subjects gave IntoScience a damning review, much harsher in fact than I felt it deserved. I wonder whether in this case, though, some of the ‘wow’ factor that parents experience when seeing IntoScience simply fails to translate into the actual experience of playing with the application in an educational environment. Getting the balance between entertainment and education right is an enormously complex undertaking. IntoScience has enormous potential, but I can’t help thinking that it’s a way off fulfilling that potential yet.
All that said, IntoScience is aimed at high school science classes and the experience of using it might well turn out to be quite different in a classroom environment guided and backed up by an experienced teacher. The application comes with facilities to encourage classroom use – for example teachers can summon the class to activities, but we didn’t see those in action. In addition, although all our testers felt that the science challenges were too simple, the activity is mapped to the Australian curriculum so the problem may well lie outside anything IntoScience can influence.
With those caveats, here’s what our Senior Junior Science Correspondent, backed by his team, had to say:
IntoScience is an interesting concept, but became a let-down in reality. It has very basic science concepts, and controls that aren’t explained, or intuitive. It has bad avatars, and though hunting down and identifying animals is quite fun, it won’t be used as an educational tool, but as a game.
Some of the sounds are awful. The observatory encourages people to never come there, because of the drone of the telescope moving. And then there’s the robot, which has the most annoying voice in the world, and has useless advice, like that you should come to the lab, even though there’s nothing happening there.
But the thing that really annoyed me when I came and had a look at IntoScience, was that its challenges were so basic. They seemed just too basic for a high school audience and didn’t really interest me.
IntoScience is a fabulous idea, that I would have loved to see be brilliant. But it’s not, especially for high school kids – it might be better for primary school though.
Schools and individuals can sign up for a free trial on the IntoScience website.