Team Teaches Science Through Video Game

UT Dallas News Center Natural Science And Mathematics

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Feb. 14, 2017
Dr. Walter VoitA University of Texas at Dallas team is exploring whether teaching real-world science through a popular computer game may offer a more engaging and effective educational approach than traditional concepts of instruction.In an article recently published in Nature Chemistry, a UT Dallas team — including a materials scientist, two chemists and a game design expert — describes how a group of 39 college students from diverse majors played an enhanced version of the popular video game “Minecraft” and learned chemistry in the process, despite being given no in-class science instruction.Dr. Walter Voit BS’05, MS’06 led the team that created “Polycraft World,” an adaptation or “mod” for “Minecraft” that allows players to incorporate the properties of chemical elements and compounds into game activities. Using the mod and instructions provided on a Wiki website, players can, for example, harvest and process natural rubber to make pogo sticks, or convert crude oil into a jetpack using distillation, chemical synthesis and manufacturing processes.“Our goal was to demonstrate the various advantages of presenting educational content in a gaming format,” said Voit, a materials science and engineering professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “An immersive, cooperative experience like that of ‘Polycraft World’ may represent the future of education.”Crafting a Teaching ToolDr. Ron Smaldone, an assistant professor of chemistry, joined the project to give the mod its accuracy as a chemistry teaching tool. Dr. Christina Thompson, a chemistry lecturer, supervised the course in which the research was conducted, and joined Smaldone in mapping out assembly instructions for increasingly complex compounds. Voit spearheaded a team of programmers that spent a full year on development of the platform.“Eventually, we got to the point where we said, ‘Hey, we can do something really neat with this,’” Voit said. “We could build a comprehensive world teaching people materials …

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