Researchers to create free educational game

Ahsika Sanders

UT researchers are developing a computer programming game that will engage Central Texas middle and high school students in engineering and computer science by merging robotics and sports.

Associate education professor Taylor Martin and Matthew Berland, an assistant education professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, received a National Science Foundation grant in September for $474,000 and over three years to develop the game.

Berland said schools will introduce the game to students individually through the use of free computer software and iPhone and iPad applications.

The research developers have taken early versions of the application into schools, supplying students with an iPod for the duration of the project.

Students play the soccer game online, with each user programming a player on one of two teams that play each other in a match.

Berland said the game is accessible to all students at no cost to them or the schools.

“By pairing the app with a short curriculum, we’re trying to figure out how learning beginner programming concepts can be easier when it’s structured as a mobile game in which students can move around and share ideas,” Berland said. “We’re looking to release it as a free product that will be open to everyone.”

Similar educational games developed at universities are important because they support learning and understanding of concepts through real life situations, said Joan Hughes, an associate instructional technology professor.

“In many cases, the students can team together in several ways, such as building games and playing against each other,” Hughes said. “This is the epitome of good learning that resembles what we do as adults in real world professions.”

Hughes said in the case of Martin’s game, the students will develop an understanding of how computer scientists and engineers work because they are essentially doing the same thing.

Education professor Min Liu said instructional games keep learning from happening in isolation.