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Doc Student Awarded NSF Grant

Doctoral student Geoff Marietta, Ed.M.’13, the co-founder of Giant Otter Technologies, was recently awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation. The six-month $150,000 grant will be used to develop SchoolLife, a 3-D virtual school where players take on the roles of a bullying victim and bystander, interact with characters controlled by artificial intelligence, and learn about their own social and emotional skills.

Marietta, along with Giant Otter co-founder Jeff Orkin of the MIT Media Lab, developed SchoolLife due to the overwhelming statistics regarding the number of students being bullied each year. “Bullying is one of the greatest threats to children’s health in the developed world,” Marietta said. Nearly one in three students is a bully victim every school year, and four out of five children will report being bullied before entering high school, they said. Marietta and Orkin also point out that the negative effects of bullying persist well into adulthood, costing society up to $25 billion per year.

SchoolLife innovates by integrating advances in artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and data mining, producing psychologically vivid, safely-controlled interactions that mimic the complexities of actual human interaction. “Students can interact with the virtual characters as they would with another human, and in doing so, generate measurable data about who they are, and how they behave socially,” Orkin said.

SchoolLife will be available to schools for free and can be played on any computer or mobile device with internet access.

Founded in 2013, Giant Otter is a Harvard I-Lab resident team, MassChallenge Finalist, and was a winner at both the Harvard Education Innovation Contest and the MIT iGame Entrepreneurial Competition.  Schools interested in SchoolLife can find more information at, or contact Marietta at


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