Whyville & Field Museum create virtual coral reef to educate about biodiversity

WhyReef Screen shot
We are excited to share the news that our friends at the Field Museum of Chicago have teamed up with the tween virtual world Whyville to launch Whyreef: a virtual educational experience for young people to teach them about biodiversity and ecosystems. In Whyreef, you are challenged to observe different coral reefs and carefully record the species of animal and plantlife you encounter there, such as the spinner dolphin, the hawksbill sea turtle, and the humphead parrotfish. Beyond just basic biology education, the players will "work together to address environmental challenges threatening these fragile ecosystems" according to the press release.

Check out the recent RezEd podcast, where Barry Joseph of Global Kids interviews Jim Bowers, founder and CEO of Whyville, about the educational tools provided by this virtual world. And you can play the game yourself here. The full press release from the Field Museum and Whyville follows...

PR contacts:
Nancy O’Shea, The Field Museum, (312) 665-7103, noshea@fieldmuseum.org
Laurie Densen, Numedeon Inc., (917) 589-9334 email: laurie@whyville.net


Made possible with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, WhyReef brings the coral reef straight to kids and teens to educate them about reef conservation.

(Chicago, IL – April 13, 2009) – The Field Museum has expanded its tradition as one of the world’s great natural history museums by once again entering online virtual worlds—this time to inspire interest in and educate about coral reefs. The WhyReef project, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, uses virtual world simulation technology to actively engage the users of Whyville.net in an array of activities, ranging from assessing coral reef biodiversity to effecting change in an unhealthy reef. WhyReef went live March 30, 2009 and has received more than 40,000 visits in its first ten days.

The Field Museum chose to partner with Whyville because of its web-leading ability to engage young learners aged 8-16, with over 4 million registered users. Whyville citizens, Whyvillians, explore and compare two coral reefs, identifying the significant species in each and monitoring species populations under different and changing conditions. The activities have been a great success with over 270,000 identifications recorded. Like a real coral reef WhyReef has many colorful and charismatic species. Whyvillian favorites include the spinner dolphin, the hawksbill sea turtle, and the humphead parrotfish. Whyvillians also explore the complex system of “who-eats-whom” on the reef by playing the food web game, and will work together to address environmental challenges threatening these fragile ecosystems. This project highlights Whyville’s unique brand of collaborative and cooperative learning embedded in a simulated environment informed by The Field Museum’s experts on coral reef biology and science education.

In WhyReef, the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is used as a primary source for information about reef species. EOL, a free online encyclopedia, strives to make people more aware of the living planet through thousands of webpages that include text, images, maps, and videos. Exploring the underwater world through new media platforms like WhyReef is a terrific way to introduce children and families to a vital part of our planet’s ecosystem teeming with fascinating creatures and important environmental relationships.

“The kids in Whyville love the beach and the ocean, both in real life and in our virtual world,” says Dr. James Bower, Whyville’s founder and chairman of the board of Numedeon Inc. “WhyReef is an engaging way for them to learn more about ecosystems and marine life in general, as well as the complex issues involved in protecting nature under changing environmental conditions. We are very excited about this project.”

“The Field Museum has a long history of innovation in education and outreach programs, aimed at serving diverse audiences and improving the public’s literacy in science,” says Dr. Elizabeth Babcock, The Field Museum’s Director of Education and Libraries. “WhyReef is an important avenue for engaging families in learning about marine life and the consequences of biodiversity loss.”

About The Field Museum
The Field Museum is one of the world's great museums of science, environment, and culture and is a focus of public learning and scholarly research. It's a treasury of more than 23 million artifacts including ancient mummies, endangered plants and animals, and Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever found. Above all, The Field Museum is an unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages. Named for its founding donor, department store magnate Marshall Field I, the Museum first opened its doors in 1894. Today, it presides proudly over Chicago's lakefront Museum Campus, its majestic halls and exciting exhibitions welcoming visitors from around the world. The Museum is increasingly taking to the internet with its mission to increase public understanding of science. Recent innovative partnerships include the Encyclopedia of Life, an international consortium to create a website for every species on Earth (www.eol.org), and digital learning projects like WhyReef in Whyville.net and I Dig Tanzania in Teen Second Life, with partner Global Kids.

About Whyville
Whyville.net is the premiere educational virtual world for children. Launched in March of 1999 as the first virtual world for children, Whyville now has more than 4.5 million registered accounts. For ten years the site has successfully engaged its “citizens” to learn while having fun. In Whyville, children play, socialize, earn and manage virtual money, explore, design, eat, start businesses, dance, write, vote, campaign, and much more. Numedeon, Inc., the parent company of Whyville, was founded by scientists from the California Institute of Technology. The result of combining research and practical experience in learning and education with expertise in simulation, gaming, and virtual world technology, Whyville is a unique platform for learning and engagement. At greater than 30 minutes per log in, Whyville is the stickiest and most engaging of all virtual worlds (ComScore Media Metrics). A testament to Whyville’s dedication to education and safety, the site has won numerous media and parent awards, including a 2008 Gold Award for the National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Children’s Products Competition. Numedeon works with sponsors, like the Field Museum, to bring immersive learning experiences to the important but hard to reach 8 to 15 year-old “tween” demographic within the virtual world of Whyville.

About the MacArthur Foundation
The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. MacArthur’s grantmaking in migration and human mobility seeks to improve the governance of international migration and supports research about the relationship between migration and economic development. More information is available at www.macfound.org.