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10 Best Colleges For Game-Based Learning

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If you were busy playing Call of Duty and you missed it, July 8 was Video Games Day. While most people’s experience with gaming involves mindless destruction or sports competition, educators have begun to see the value in the medium for helping students learn. While the research is still developing and some professors are still skeptical, these 10 colleges represent your best bets for learning while playing video and other games.


The Educational Communications and Technology department at UW has overseen the creation of the Games, Learning & Society Initiative to study how the practice can be used to change the way students learn. Two highly publicized learning games have already come from the UW-Madison campus. “Cool It” is an interactive engineering game designed to teach cryogenics. “Melody Mixer” allows music majors to experiment with different sounds and materials to learn music theory. The school is also working to turn out teachers who use learning games in their instruction, offering classes like “Teaching with Technology” and “The Design of Game-based Learning Environments.”


Over the last several years, Purdue has built a strong base of game-based learning classes and programs. The Purdue Serious Games Center is the school’s hub for developing and studying educational games and digital environments to enact in their own classes and to share with schools for K-12. Standout classes at Purdue include “Introduction to Aerospace Design,” a School of Aeronautics course that featured gaming in its curriculum. The computer science and educational departments have offered courses with game-based learning, and a number of faculty members on the Gaming and Immersive Environments Steering Committee have contributed research to the field or created their own educational games.


Role-playing game Reacting to the Past has been used by more than 300 colleges since its development by Barnard College and five other schools. In the game, students take on roles of real historical figures and try to “win” debates and discussions without the benefit of a script. U of Oregon educators in the arts and sciences department believe in this game so much they offer at least one course in it every semester, with three courses available in Winter 2012. Students run the entire class meetings; instructors only guide the discussion and grade students’ work. Oregon had already made news in 2009 when a marketing instructor began using Madden to teach business concepts.


Games and simulations have been popping up in business school courses for a while now, but Penn’s Wharton School makes it an integral part of the curriculum rather than an afterthought. The Alfred West Jr. Learning Lab has fostered the development of at least 30 games for supplementing education in courses from economics and finance to legal studies and management. There’s “Fare Game,” in which students engage in a simulated airline war over fare prices. “FutureView” lets marketing students learn how to market a completely new product by putting them in the virtual shoes of consumers.


Trojans have the opportunity to use serious games to learn … serious game design. Although many schools offer courses in non-educational video game design, Michigan State is one of the few to provide coursework to prepare students to work as game designers of serious games. The coursework is part of its master’s degree in telecommunication, information studies, and media. Students study under such experts in the field as Carrie Heeter, the co-director of the program, who’s been studying interactivity since 1982.


Instead of being shoved in front of real-life children to practice their skills, education majors at UCF can learn good classroom management through the school’s unique learning game. With the STAR Classroom Simulator, student teachers strap on a headset and face down five virtual students at an urban middle school, projected on a large screen. Actors a mile away lend their voices and motions to the virtual kids through motion capture, and can see the teacher through cameras and adapt their behavior accordingly. An in-class operator can throw curveballs at the teacher by raising or lowering the volume of the class.


Math has become a popular subject for educational games, with titles like MathBlaster catching on with kids and teachers. At the college level, one prof is capitalizing on the Xbox Kinect to get her students’ brains moving. Professor Rogin Angotti allows students to come as close as humanly possible to literally getting their hands on math, using their bodies to move graph lines around on a screen. Meanwhile, students themselves at Bothell have gotten in on serious game education, developing games like Facebook: UWB Wetlands Restoration through the school’s Center for Serious Play, to educate other students and the public on the need to protect the wetlands.


At this small private school in Erie, Pa., the intelligence studies department is where you’ll find students learning through video game play. After attending a conference on serious games a few years ago, associate professor Kristan Wheaton decided to incorporate the teaching method into his repertoire. The result? He began to have students play the massively popular and massive multiplayer online game World of Warcraft. The tactics and strategies needed to successfully play the game are a perfect fit for the intelligence studies program, which involves the disciplines of law enforcement and national security. Keaton has also had students sharpen their skills playing the board game Clue.


Although the Austin campus has been known to have teachers incorporate game-based learning into their curriculum, UT-Brownsville has been recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Education for the efforts of one of its professors to use video games to teach physics. Associate professor Soumya Mohanty created and taught the school’s inaugural “Elementary Physics Through Video Games” course in the 2010-2011 school year. He said the increased level of reality in modern games has made them valuable teaching tools for physical principles. He used three Playstation 3 consoles and two plasma screens for the course.


NIU has become the poster child of game-based learning, basically through the work of one man. Engineering professor Brianno Coller noticed in his “Dynamic Systems and Control” and “Computational Methods” classes that computer simulations seemed to capture students’ attention, so he created a video game called Spumone to let students build and race virtual race cars to learn both math and engineering. The game has become a central part of the curriculum, even a part of the final exam, and two other classes also use the game. After the success of Coller’s game, NIU has pledged to bring more such cutting-edge technology into its classrooms.

Contacts and sources:

Tim Handorf

Read more at Nano Patents and Innovations


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