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NIU professor teaches engineering through video games


At Northern Illinois University, engineering professor Brianno Coller teaches both "Dynamic Systems and Control" and "Computational Methods." Rather than simply employ traditional methods of teaching, though, Coller instead creates video games to actively engage his students in engineering principles.

According to an AP piece on Mr. Coller, he began showing his students Mars Rover landing footage from NASA (computer generated) and "Students would always be sort of on the edge of their seat watching this thing because it's just so cool to see how it works, but that sentiment ended as soon as you turned off the video, and then they're back to their boring old homework again," he says.

Coller came to the conclusion that he needed a "simulation that allowed students to design a desired movement or action using the required formulas and algorithms that apply to all types of engineering." In so many words, Coller was thinking about a video game to explain engineering principles to his students. And now, five years later, he's found success with his games -- one of which has students applying rate of speed and geometrical calculations to a car being driving around a track -- and The National Science Foundation is offering financial support for future development. "You're applying what you learn throughout the semester, so you apply stuff without even knowing it," one satisfied student told the AP.

For those of you future engineers thinking Northern Illinois University might be the place for you (after reading this piece, naturally), the school will be expanding Coller's "gaming as teaching" approach to new engineering classes in the future.

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