Viz prof-led firm, Texas A&M create $1M department chair

Andre Thomas

Jorge Vanegas

Tim McLaughlin

Triseum's "Variant" game helps university calculus students.

Triseum, an educational video game development company headed by André Thomas, a member of the Texas A&M Department of Visualization faculty and director of the department’s LIVE Lab, has partnered with Texas A&M University to establish the $1 million Triseum Endowed Chair of Visualization.

"This is an extraordinary time to be involved with the visualization department’s faculty and students, whose work impacts the way we work, play and live," said Thomas, announcing the endowment that was created by a charitable gift with matching funds from Texas A&M. “With this gift, Triseum aims to boost the department’s efforts to prepare students for professional success and motivate them to be imaginative and resourceful learners,”

Triseum was established in 2014 to make video game-based learning an integral part of education with products that enhance critical thinking skills and learning outcomes for students at all levels. Since it’s inception, the company, located in downtown Bryan, Texas, has partnered with the Department of Visualization, hiring its graduates and collaborating with student game developers in the department’s Learning, Interactive Visualization Experience (LIVE) Lab.

Prior to Triseum’s Jan. 23, 2017 endowment announcement, Texas A&M president Michael K. Young toured the company’s offices, met employees and learned about games currently under development. The company, Thomas told President Young, is eager to work more closely with university departments, identifying educational needs and developing fun and exciting games that fulfill them.

“The Triseum Chair establishes a permanent partnership between academia and industry aimed at benefiting future generations of students,” said Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture. “It exemplifies what happens at the intersections of vision and action, learning and teaching, research and scholarship, and creativity, innovation, design and entrepreneurship.”

Triseum hires visualization graduates, and employs viz students as interns and part-time workers. The Triseum team develops games in a partnership with the LIVE Lab, in which student game designers and coders, applying skills learned in visualization classes, collaborate with campus educational specialists from visualization, educational psychology, computer science and engineering to create instructive, entertaining games.

The Triseum Endowed Chair, to be held by future visualization department heads, is a significant investment in our program, said Tim McLaughlin, head of the Department of Visualization.

“With this endowment we will be in a great position, to attract outstanding department head candidates,” he said. “The chair communicates the importance we place on leadership — which isn’t surprising given how quickly Triseum has demonstrated vision and leadership in the educational game world.”

The Texas A&M/Triseum partnership benefits all participants, said Thomas. The university receives licensing fees for games sold, and student developers receive royalties for the life of the game — a rare, generous arrangement since student developers are not often considered project authors.

Thomas said he often learns as much from his student developers as they do from him.

“I treat students as equals,” he said. “True teamwork establishes the right environment for creativity. It’s really a win-win partnership.”

In June 2016, Triseum released its first game, “Arté Mecenas,” designed to supplement a traditional, college-level art history course. After initial development and testing in the LIVE Lab, Triseum further readied, then licensed and marketed the game. It became part of Texas A&M’s online art history curriculum in fall 2016.

In the game, a player belongs to the powerful 15th century merchant/banking Medici family, which played a pivotal role in creating Italian Renaissance art, monuments and institutions through its relationships with city-states, merchant factions, and the Catholic Church.

By following the historical footsteps of the Medicis, game players rise to the status of “Mecenas,” an influential patron of the arts, while navigating the tumultuous political, social, and economic conditions of the day.

Along the way, students learn the interconnectedness of local and international economies in Renaissance Italy and how those economies influenced art and art patronage.

“Each game segment targets specific learning objectives, such as social and religious context and style,” said Thomas, “allowing students to truly understand artworks and not simply memorize details about them for exams.”

In January 2017, Triseum released “Variant,” aimed at helping students succeed in introductory undergraduate calculus classes. The game earned rave reviews at a national mathematics conference in January 2017.

Dozens of math educators at the conference who played the game asked if they could test it in their classes this spring, said Thomas.

posted January 30, 2017