A research team from the University of Texas at Dallas is developing a means of teaching real-world science through using a popular computer game, and to see if it is a more engaging and effective educational approach than conventional ways of teaching.
The UT Dallas research team is made up of a materials scientist, two chemists and a game design expert, They conducted a study wherein 39 college students from different majors played an enhanced or modified version of the popular video game Minecraft, and learned the subject chemistry in the process, and were not given any in-class science instruction.
The game was called “Polycraft World”, it is an adaptation of mod for the game Minecraft, which allows the players to incorporate the properties of different chemical elements and compounds into various tasks in the game. The mod and game instructions are provided on a Wiki website. Some of the game activities are, for example, harvesting and processing natural rubber to be able to create pogo sticks, or converting crude oil into a jetpack by means of distillation, chemical synthesis and manufacturing processes.
According to Dr. Walter Voit, a materials science and engineering professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, as well as the research team lead, “Our goal was to demonstrate the various advantages of presenting educational content in a gaming format. An immersive, cooperative experience like that of ‘Polycraft World’ may represent the future of education.”
Dr. Ron Smaldone, an assistant professor of chemistry, also joined this study so that the mod would be an accurate chemistry teaching tool. Dr. Christina Thompson, a chemistry lecturer, was in charge of supervising the course wherein the research was conducted. She also joined Smaldone in mapping out the assembly instructions for the complex compounds. Voit led a team of programmers who spent a whole year on the development of this learning platform.
Source: University of Texas at Dallas
The team was able to develop more than 2,000 methods for building more than 100 different polymers from thousands of available chemicals.
According to Smaldone, “We’re taking skills ‘Minecraft’ gamers already have — building and assembling things — and applying them to scientific principles we’ve programmed,”
Voit said that some of the Polycraft World gamers have become surprisingly proficient in processes that they weren’t given instructions about prior to the game.
“We’ve had complete non-chemists build factories to build polyether ether ketones, which are crazy hard to synthesize. The demands of the one-hour-a-week class were limited, yet some students went all-out, consuming all this content we put in.” He added.
This shows that it is really possible for games to teach students, Not only will it help students learn the topic more efficiently, it also lets the students be more engaged in learning and having fun in the process.