Metafocus: Using Educational Video Games as College Courses

Written By

Matt Sparks

January 11, 2018

I recently interviewed André Thomas, founder and CEO of Triseum, a creator of educational video games. He also founded and serves as director of the LIVE Lab in the Department of Visualization at Texas A&M University. Thomas teaches game design, game development, and interactive graphics techniques at Texas A&M.

This interview is packed with great info about game-based learning and how to get educational video games adopted by schools. The interview was edited for length and style.

Matt Sparks: André, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start with a brief description of what Triseum is, how you got started, and your relationship to Texas A&M.

André Thomas: At Triseum, we develop entertainment-quality learning games that are designed to measurably improve learning outcomes—think high-stakes adventures and lifelike graphics translated into a productive and engaging academic setting. Our games immerse students in subjects where they don’t just memorize information, but they apply it as they go for the epic win. We push the boundaries to create thorough educational value, immersive visual appeal, and inspiring game play. Every game starts with rigorous research and clearly identified learning objectives.

Triseum grew out of the LIVE Lab in the Department of Visualization in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M. Both our Variant: Limits calculus game and our ARTé: Mecenas art history game began as concepts in the LIVE Lab, where students, faculty, and others worked closely with Triseum’s team on the research, design, development, and testing process. Triseum took the games to market, and they are now used by colleges and universities around the world.

MS: As I understand it, both of these games were recently accepted by the university as stand-alone courses at Texas A&M. What did the process look like to get them approved as courses? What research or data did the university need you to provide? How did you get the administration and academic departments on board and excited about it?

AT: We worked very closely with the visualization department in the College of Architecture and the math department in the College of Science to help them design courses centered around ARTé: Mecenas and Variant: Limits that would both fulfill their current needs [and] serve a long-term objective to offer students an alternative to traditional classes. Both courses not only offer college credit in just four weeks, instead of the traditional semester-long 16 weeks, but they allow students to achieve a higher level of mastery.

Being backed by rigorous research and coming out of the LIVE Lab in the Texas A&M visualization department, it was straightforward to work with both departments to get these courses created. Both departments are focused on innovation in education and providing students with learning experiences that are proven and engaging. A big draw to this approach is each course’s ability to reduce the cost for students and schools, shorten the time to graduation, and empower students to achieve a higher level of mastery.

MS: What, if anything, was difficult or surprising about the process?

AT: This was our first foray into designing an entire course in collaboration with faculty and administrators, and we learned a lot—not just about everything that goes into the creation of a full course, but also about making students aware of the opportunity. Course creation requires diligent effort, and even more so when there isn’t a template to follow. It was a real pleasure to work with both departments and faculty on creating such innovative courses. We couldn’t have wished for better partners—everyone was fully committed to making this happen.

MS: Are you looking to license these games to additional universities?

AT: Texas A&M is the first of our clients to embrace the game-based course model, a true testament to its student-centered focus and innovative mindset. The school’s approach has opened doors and spurred additional conversations in the market for wider game-based course adoptions.

Right now, we have about 200 institutions across the country either using our games or that have expressed interest in using our games within existing courses. Texas A&M also is among the schools currently using our games within its courses, with a three-year agreement in place to integrate ARTé: Mecenas across all of the school’s art history survey courses.

We have student ambassadors on more than 200 college campuses, helping students and faculty get better acquainted with game-based learning, and we are quite encouraged by the traction and exposure our games are getting. Our games are also available for direct purchase through our online store, so students don’t have to wait for their universities to sign on—they can get in on this game-based learning movement now!

MS: Once finished, how long did it take you to get the games approved by the university as stand-alone course offerings?

AT: Since the courses were designed with the faculty and administrators of both departments, approval was very fast and took but a few days.

MS: Will you have to get each new version approved by the administration before release? Each update to a current version? Each new bug fix? How granular or hands-on will they [be], or should they be involved?

AT: We are continuously investing in our existing games and are listening to both students and faculty in order to improve our games. Our approach is very collaborative. Before we release a new version, we ensure that our customers are satisfied with the changes and/or improvements and that it meets their needs; thus, approval of each release is somewhat built into our development philosophy.

MS: What books or resources do you recommend for someone who wants to build a game that could potentially work as a college course?

AT: Karl Kapp, a gamification analyst and professor at Bloomsburg University, provides a great introduction to learning-game design in his book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-Based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education and his accompanying how-to book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Ideas into Practice. I also encourage those in the space to follow education thought leader Rod Berger and Jim Kiggens, director of Engage Learning Technology at Adtalem Global Education. Additionally, there are great books on game design from experts such as Tracy Fullerton, Jesse Schell, and Lee Sheldon.

MS: If a school or educator wanted to start using one of your games in their classrooms, how would they go about doing that?

AT: It’s easy—just get in touch with us! Our products pages on our website include game trailers and information on piloting our games.

MS: Do you have any asks of my readers before we finish?

AT: Visit our website, see our games in action, buy a game, and spread the word! We also welcome feedback on our games and new ideas for games that have the potential to make a measurable impact on the teaching and learning experience.

MS: Thank you again for your time. My readers appreciate your insights, and so do I!

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