UT Games provide new avenues for classroom learning

AddThis

UT researchers in the Simulations and Game Applications Lab, a division under the College of Fine Arts, have been exploring the educational use of video games for the past several years.

SAGA specializes in collecting sample data and enhancing a student’s learning experience through video games.

SAGA’s games and projects have mostly targeted science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects in order to broaden their appeal to students. For example, mathematics professor Michael Starbird said in a promotional video for SAGA that his online math course would be entertaining.

“Actually we’re going to have a bunch of puzzles,” Starbird said in the video. “That’s one of the first things we do.”

Ezra Smith, Asian cultures and languages senior, said he would learn better if a gaming platform was incorporated into his least favorite courses, English and economics.

“Remembering information for a game is a lot easier than just cramming for a test,” Smith said.

SAGA’s latest breakthrough project is an economics game called Environ in which the user is challenged to create a prosperous Earth that balances the requirements of environmental protection and economic prosperity in the face of scarce resources.

Although the game is only in its beta version, SAGA lab director Paul Toprac said in an interview with the Austin Chronicle that its reception was largely positive.

“I have shown Environ to sustainability experts, game professionals and students, and they have been almost unanimously impressed,” Toprac said.

SAGA has also created a museum app called iBeacons that helps faculty in visual and performing arts courses track how much time students spend in a museum, what they see and how they contextualize the content. This especially benefits large classes because it helps faculty judge class engagement and interests.

Health promotion senior Trey Trentham said SAGA’s app technology would be a helpful replacement for the iclicker, a device that logs student attendance and activity, because it could be more accessible.  

“The iclicker is expensive,” Trentham said. “I’d prefer a replacement that I can download on my phone that can also be useful in class.”

SAGA is currently funded from grants, and over 30 percent of its staff are student researchers.