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2006 Campus Technology Innovators: Gaming

2006 Campus Technology Innovators

Innovators: University of North Carolina-Greensboro
& Southern Adventist University



:: Innovator: University of North Carolina-Greensboro

2006 CT Innovators: North Carolina

D'ES IT MAKE economic sense for ECON
201 students to return to their alien planet?

Challenge Met

Educational games have been used effectively for years to supplement traditional teaching. But at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, they’ve turned an entire course into a game, incorporating all the elements of effective education: content, communication, interactivity, application, and assessment.

Spurred by a need to boost “less than stellar” success rates in traditional economics courses, a dedicated team of more than 30 faculty and staff from the Department of Economics and the Division of Continual Learning (DCL) collaborated on the development of a game called REGEN. Robert Brown, UNCG’s dean of continual learning, cites two main reasons they turned to gaming: the intrinsically engaging and motivating nature of games; and the belief that the application of knowledge—the way learners apply knowledge to advance in a game—is essential for both comprehension and retention of theory.

By deciding to commit to the game-ascourse format, the team seized a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate that gaming is indeed an effective pedagogy. This fall semester, students can earn three undergraduate credit hours for taking ECON 201 entirely as a game.

How They Did It

Despite the obvious inferences, gaming is not child’s play. Economics is a difficult discipline, and the developers created the ECON 201 game format to teach economics as a way of thinking. Students learn by doing as they play the role of leader of an alien species that crash-lands on a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Earth. As the students build a society and evaluate whether or not they should attempt to return home, they learn to understand tradeoffs and deal with issues such as scarcity, savings and investment, supply and demand, market failures, and sustainable growth. To progress in the game, students must anticipate consequences and make decisions based on logical economic analysis.

The large interdepartmental development team received the oversight and endorsement of both Brown and Economics Department Head Stuart Allen. Key team developers included Assistant Dean of Continual Learning Nora Reynolds, DCL Director of Online Development Scott Brewster, and Economics faculty member Jeff Sarbaum.

To accelerate development, REGEN uses a two-dimensional environment with 3D images added only as needed for operability, with some layering to give the illusion of 3D. To save programming time, the team relied on commercial applications as much as possible.

The product list is extensive:

  • Autodesk’s 3D Studio Max and Maya
  • BodyPaint 3D from Maxon Software
  • Daz Productions’ Bryce
  • Adobe’s Dreamweaver, Flash, Flash Communication Server, and Photoshop
  • Apple’s Final Cut Pro, Garage Band, Motion, and Soundtrack Pro
  • Peak from Bias
  • PHP
  • Microsoft SQL server

Most entertainment games allow players myriad gameplay choices, but REGEN focuses its players on a central mission. The players are given optional paths to explore their micro-world, but not unrestricted roaming or multiple side missions that could potentially distract them. The game environment is retained at all times; students are not required to leave the game to work on academic problems.

Next Steps

After the initial course offering this coming fall, the team will conduct assessments of student performance and design a research project on gaming effectiveness. Further, they’ll incorporate learning objects from the game into other courses and begin to create a second course based on gaming technology.

Brown comments on the potential for gaming: “Games will be the next big advancement in education, because educators are going to learn how to tap into the power of gaming to motivate and teach students. It will require a tremendous change in thinking by educators. Most of us enjoy teaching by lecturing. The classroom is a stage, and we’re all performers. But if we value learning more than teaching, we’ll start to adopt gaming techniques.”


The team’s best advice: Estimate the time and effort you think game development will take, then double it. Better yet, triple it.

:: Innovator: Southern Adventist University

Challenge Met

Two years ago, when Dan Lim was hired by Southern Adventist University (TN) and charged with revamping the institution’s online learning programs, finding a way to engage students in learning was a big priority. But so was helping faculty embrace technology. What Lim brought with him from the University of Minnesota-Crookston was a lot of experience in working with faculty on learning technologies—and seven years’ development of Flash Learning Games Generator. Both skill sets would allow him to help faculty easily create online games in multiple, interchangeable formats.

Now dean of the virtual campus and director of online learning and faculty development, Lim explains his mission at Southern Adventist: “I wanted to bring about some culture change among the faculty. I wanted to convince them that teaching and learning drives technology; that we can build technology around how faculty teach and how students learn.”

Lim rolled out Flash Learning Games Generator 2 on campus, to support gaming and simulations in both campus-based and online courses. The generator helps Southern Adventist instructors create games in their disciplines without the need for technical or programming skills. Educators can spend their time solely on content generation and produce games in a matter of minutes. A variety of gaming objects allows them to provide students the same interactive content in several different gaming formats, so that the students themselves can choose how they will learn.

The games have become immensely popular with students,who even collaborate while interacting with the games. “They get others to play with them, or encourage each other to try them out,” says Lim.

How They Did It

The project was driven by the Office of Online Learning, working closely with faculty. The learning game objects were built using Adobe’s Flash. The learning game generators were created with PHP, for web-based deployment, and in Microsoft’s Visual Studio .NET, for standalone PDA deployment. Flash was selected as the gaming platform for its ubiquity, animation power, and robust scripting.

The game objects are designed to get students “hooked” on interacting with difficult learning content. Multiple levels of content randomization provide what students perceive as “fresh” content, providing concept reinforcement with less apparent redundancy. Students often want to play again and again, moving from one challenge to another. There is adequate content in the data bank to support hours of playing.

Lim takes advantage of a monthly technology faculty showcase to spread the word on campus about the learning game generator. He comments,“The faculty have exceeded my expectations in the way they embrace technology. There’s nothing like a faculty member to influence another faculty member.”

Next Steps

Currently, Lim is completing the rollout of the PDA version of the game generator. “The PDA/mobile game engine will have a farreaching impact due to its portability, mobility, and ubiquity,” he says.

Beyond that, Lim is working to identify more gaming objects. He explains, “Educators should have hundreds of gaming objects available to them that are intuitive to learning. And in the future, game pedagogy, popularity rankings, and usage statistics should be included with each game object.”

Lim is also planning to use WebCT’s PowerLinks to integrate with the school’s WebCT course management system. With an integrated question bank, future content creators who use the CMS will only have to enter the data once.


Lim’s advice for learning game developers is to focus on developing reusable game objects so that they can benefit a wider spectrum of faculty. He notes, “Content is king: If students don’t learn much, games have very little value.”

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