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The Indiana Daily Student

campus academics & research

IU Center on Representative Government receives $5.7 million grant to fund VR learning tool

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The U.S. Department of Defense recently awarded Indiana University’s Center on Representative Government a $5.7 million grant under the National Defense Education Program’s Civil Society program, according to an IU News article.

According to a U.S. Department of Defense brief, IU was one of 13 recipients of the grant awarded in September 2023. The center will use this grant for three years to fund the development of Democracy Quest, an interactive virtual reality learning tool to help high-school students learn about and engage with civics and government.

Elizabeth Osborn, the director of education at the Center on Representative Government, said the first module of Democracy Quest will focus on the Constitutional Convention and works to highlight varied perspectives. Rather than placing students in the convention itself, the VR will introduce students to those who have been affected by this particular event and share their perspectives.

“We’re interested in the people on the street,” Osborn said. “We need to understand more than our point of view.” 

Osborn said she believes Democracy Quest will be a vital tool in furthering the center’s mission of developing informed and engaged citizens who voluntarily and actively participate in representative government. 

In previous years, the center developed 2D interactive learning tools to aid in civics education, including Action Citizen and Engaging Congress. Osborn said both learning tools are apps developed by the center to help facilitate education about the U.S. government. After playing around with the idea of a virtual reality program for the past few years, Democracy Quest will mark the center’s first 3D, virtual reality learning tool.  

Until now, VR learning tools have been predominantly used in STEM education, she said. Through Democracy Quest, the center hopes to bring this new type of innovative learning tool to education in the social sciences.  

Osborn said Democracy Quest will help fight the common perception social sciences are uninteresting.  

“If we want students to learn civic knowledge and participate as good citizens, we have to teach it to be appealing to them,” she said.  

Democracy Quest will be developed in partnership with Half Full Nelson, an Indianapolis-based software development company founded in 2015 by IU alumnus Andrew Nelson. The Center on Representative Government will also make use of resources at IU to aid in underlying research and testing of Democracy Quest.  

Osborn said she hopes the project can help advance the Transformative Research and Creativity pillar of the IU 2030: The Indiana University Strategic Plan.

Stephanie Serriere, the director of research at the center and a professor of education at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, recalled her experience learning history.

“History learning, in our memory, often involved reading the textbook and answering questions in the back of the book,” she said. “Democracy Quest is moving history and civics learning to be a more full-body experience.”

Serriere said Democracy Quest will help students analyze and understand more perspectives.

“By learning civics like this, experiencing others' beliefs, students are more likely to engage,” she said.

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