New video game by Viz prof-led firm aiding calculus students

Andre Thomas

Triseum and Texas A&M have created a new endowed chair in visualization.

This semester students in almost 50 universities are getting help with introductory calculus, one of the toughest classes on campus, by playing “Variant,” a new video game developed by Triseum, a Bryan educational video game development company led by André Thomas, a member of the Texas A&M visualization faculty.

Triseum, staffed with visualization alumni, developed and tested the game in collaboration with viz students and an interdisciplinary group of university faculty who work together in the Department of Visualization’s LIVE Lab.

“Variant” was designed to stem the nearly 38 percent failure rate of university science, technology, engineering and math majors taking first-year calculus, which is foundational for all STEM careers.

“‘Variant’ will improve the calculus students’ success rate by helping them successfully master higher concepts, propelling them beyond the basic ability to make calculations and leading them to further development of their analytical and critical thinking skills,” said Thomas. “The game’s direct interaction and immediate feedback encourages students to take an active role in the learning process.” 

 

Since the game’s January 9, 2017 release, 243 mathematics faculty from 195 universities have acquired the game and students in 49 schools are playing it this semester.

At a January mathematics conference in Atlanta, educators from across the country raved about the game after playing it in a conference expo hall.

“Variant” players guide an avatar to overcome obstacles on a planet governed by calculus principles by applying concepts and skills they’ve learned in class. Game analytics allow instructors to monitor student progress.

“After playing the game, dozens of math educators asked to test it in their classes this spring,” said Thomas. “One teacher said the game is a cool way to make students think about calculus concepts and functions. Another teacher liked the game’s clever use of puzzles and functions and praised the game’s graphics.”

Students at the conference also loved the game, he said.

A group of college sophomores helped each other solve puzzles and discussed calculus topics as they played, said Thomas.

“I would do this before any of my other homework,” said one of the students. “I would love to play the game for class,” said another.

One seventh grade student, said Thomas, played the game for about an hour and stopped only when his mother pulled him away from the booth.

Students also described the game as “engaging,” “motivating” and “awesome” during fall 2016 testing.

Educators who are interesting in using the game in their class can visit the “Variant” website for more information.

Triseum and Texas A&M recently established a $1 million endowed chair and hosted university president Michael K. Young, who toured the company’s downtown Bryan headquarters, met employees and learned more about the games it’s creating.  

posted January 30, 2017