NIU Teaches Complex Engineering With Videogames


A professor at NIU is using videogames to better engage engineering students.

Northern Illinois University Associate Professor of Engineering Brianno Coller has spent the past half-decade figuring out how to successfully implement videogames into his courses, and today they are concrete parts of the curriculum. Due to Coller’s success, he’s become a pioneer in the implementation of new interactive educational methods.

Learning “Dynamic Systems” and “Control and Computational Methods” at Northern Illinois University might not be like playing a game of deathmatch, but these classes and two others have become more engaging thanks to Coller’s efforts. Rather than playing, students actually program videogames to complete certain tasks. One game has students inputting the formulas and algorithms required to steer a videogame car around a racetrack, where all necessary conditions such as rate of speed must be considered. One student said: “You’re going to remember the process better than just going through 100 test questions. The video game allows you to figure out the process.”

For this reason, Coller says that “the learning levels were just so much higher and excitement levels were just so much higher than anything I had done before.” The proof is in the pudding, as according to Coller’s metrics students are more than twice as engaged in the videogame courses compared to traditional courses, they score better on tests in 18 out of 21 categories, and are more likely to enroll in advanced versions of classes with one such enrollment increasing 900% in one year.

Coller’s results have attracted funding from the National Science Foundation to the tune of $550,000. The most recent for $150,000 is meant to help him discover exactly how and why videogames enhance the educational experience.

Coller believes that it’s the unique assignments he can create that are more similar to the real field of engineering that students enjoy over typical textbook problems. He says: “These projects are very open-ended, meaning that I’m not going to tell them everything that they need to know. They have to go find stuff, and they have to put things together. There’s no one right answer, oftentimes, so different students can get to a solution in different ways, and that’s what real engineering is like.” Coller is not just using videogames in education, he’s creating a more realistic educational curriculum. You go boy.

Source: AP via Joystiq, and NIU

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