Schell Games Awarded Nearly $1 Million to Bring History to Life in Class­rooms


PITTSBURGHJULY 25, 2019 Leading virtual reality (VR) game developer Schell Games is proud to announce it has been awarded almost $1 million from the U.S. Depart­ment of Education to further develop its VR content creation tool Histo­ry­Maker VR. The award is from the Small Business Inno­va­tion Research (SBIR) program of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The company was one of only eight who received Phase II funding for their projects in 2019. These funds, which amount to $900,000, will allow Schell Games to create an immersive learning tool that motivates and encour­ages middle school students to learn about history and civics in a new, engaging way.

Histo­ry­Maker VR is a playful virtual reality puppeting tool that allows students to embody histor­ical char­ac­ters in immersive settings, record perfor­mances featuring those char­ac­ters, and share their perfor­mance files to demon­strate material mastery. Students can select a histor­ical figure to use as a puppet and record them­selves as that person while inter­acting with era-specific props. They can also upload speeches into the tool and recite them using an in-VR teleprompter. Students can choose different vantage points inside the teaching aid to watch the recording, or the student or teacher can export the recording to watch it outside of VR. Histo­ry­Maker VR can also be streamed to monitors/​projectors so the entire classroom can watch and learn. Perfor­mances recorded via Histo­ry­Maker VR can also serve as or enhance reports and presen­ta­tions about partic­ular topics.

The most recently published National Assess­ment of Educa­tional Progress report (NAEP, 2014) cites only 18 percent and 23 percent of 8th grade students performed at or above the profi­cient level in U.S. history and civics, respec­tively. What’s more, students commonly report they find history to be boring and they lack moti­va­tion to under­stand or remember the content,” remarked Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games and Principal Inves­ti­gator of Histo­ry­Maker VR. The generous grant from the IES coupled with the talented Histo­ry­Maker VR devel­op­ment team could play a signif­i­cant role in helping those numbers climb in the near future by offering students an enter­taining way to learn about the past.”

The IES’s SBIR program for education tech­nology products aims to stimulate tech­no­log­ical inno­va­tion in the private sector and strengthen the role of small business in meeting the Department’s research and devel­op­ment needs. In 2018, Schell Games received the Phase I SBIR award for Histo­ry­Maker VR. The goal of Phase II funding is to further expand the devel­op­ment of Phase I projects. It requires a more compre­hen­sive plan that outlines the project in detail and describes the commer­cial potential of the product. Phase II awards can reach a maximum $900,000 and are granted for a period of up to two years. The combined Phase I and Phase II grants for Schell Games for the Histo­ry­Maker VR project equal more than $1 million. Previ­ously, the company was awarded Phase I and Phase II grants for Happy Atoms, a chemistry learning tool designed to teach molecular modeling in an intuitive, hands-on way, and HoloLAB Champions, which teaches high school students best practices for working in a chemistry lab envi­ron­ment.

With this grant, Schell Games will further develop Histo­ry­Maker VR with addi­tional digital character capa­bil­i­ties, prepa­ra­tion tools, presen­ta­tion options, and profes­sional devel­op­ment docu­men­ta­tion. In an effort to prepare for the broadest possible software dissem­i­na­tion, Histo­ry­Maker VR will be developed for mobile, all-in-one VR hardware solutions (e.g., Oculus Quest) that are more afford­able and conve­nient for class­rooms as compared to high-end, tethered systems. Schell Games has also partnered with RAND Corpo­ra­tion to conduct iterative research during devel­op­ment and a post-devel­op­ment pilot study comparing student learning outcomes and teacher instruc­tional practices in class­rooms that use Histo­ry­Maker VR versus those who do not.

A Histo­ry­Maker VR Phase II video is available for viewing here: