Pandora Project

In Pandora Project, students become negotiators who debate the ethics of transplanting organs from animals into humans. Along the way, they learn about biology, international relations, and mediation.

X-Gen is a leading global pharmaceutical company with world headquarters in the Republic of Swindonia. Researchers at the company have been working for over a decade to make it possible to transplant organs from one species to another, a technique known as xenotransplantation. Yesterday, X-Gen’s scientists announced that they are ready to begin clinical trials on humans at their research center in the capital city of Hoggopolis.

Their announcement created a firestorm within the scientific and medical community. Proponents argue that xenotransplantation might end the shortage of organs for patients suffering from late-stage organ failure who need transplants to survive. Opponents say there are too many potential problems associated with transplanting animal organs into humans: not least is the risk of disease transmission, which could lead to epidemics. It is clear to the scientific community that this is a possible risk. But no one knows how likely such a scenario is.

This is the situation students face when they begin Pandora Project. The scientists of Swindonia aren’t sure how likely the worst-case scenario of a global pandemic from xenotransplantation might be, and neither are scientists in the real world. X-Gen and Swindonia don’t exist, but the organ donor shortage and the risk of diseases that migrate from one species to another are all too real.

The game begins with an introduction to the issues of xenotransplantation. Students take on stakeholder roles in groups of three and spend several class periods conducting a conflict assessment, using internet links in the game to research their positions on xenotransplantation and the positions of the other stakeholders. They gather information on genetics, epidemiology, and cell biology, which they use to support their position. Based on their research, each stakeholder group prioritizes the issues in the dispute and the various options for each one. Using these priorities, players divide into groups, with each player representing a stakeholder in one of three separate negotiations. The negotiations take place over several hours, and the game ends with the same kind of debriefing that takes place in a negotiation practicum.

You can learn more about Pandora Project in How Computer Games Help Children Learn.

Further Reading

Shaffer, D.W. (2004). When computer-supported collaboration means computer-supported competition: Professional mediation as a model for collaborative learning. Journal of Interactive Learning Research 15(2): 101-115.

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This work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (DRL-0918409, DRL-0946372, DRL-1247262, DRL-1418288, DRL-1661036, DRL-1713110, DUE-0919347, DUE-1225885, EEC-1232656, EEC-1340402, REC-0347000), the MacArthur Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The opinions, findings, and conclusions do not reflect the views of the funding agencies, cooperating institutions, or other individuals.