a student playing Variant, the calculus video game

University students who play calculus video game score higher on exams

A Texas A&M study shows that a video game developed by students and faculty in its visualization department helps improve outcomes for students studying calculus, a prerequisite for STEM degrees with a high failure rate

An educational video game initially developed by Texas A&M University visualization students significantly boosts students’ scores in introductory calculus, one of the toughest classes to pass on a university campus.

The calculus video game, Variant: Limits, connects mathematics and gameplay in a 3D adventure in which students stop geomagnetic storms that threaten their planet’s survival by solving a series of increasingly challenging calculus problems. It was born in a collaboration of viz students and an interdisciplinary group of university faculty who work together in the Department of Visualization’s LIVE Lab.

It’s time for innovative teaching in higher ed

Innovative, effective measures to teach introductory calculus are in demand because too many students are failing. In fact, 22-38 percent of university students, depending on their preparation, failed calculus at more than 200 colleges that participated in a Mathematical Association of America study.

Related: Say what? Gaming boosts knowledge by 25 percent

Without successfully completing calculus requirements, they are unable to earn degrees in most science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, as well as many business and architecture disciplines.

“We know students have fun playing Variant: Limits and that playing the game helps them connect more deeply with the class content, but now we have empirical evidence that directly ties gameplay to stronger learning outcomes,” said André Thomas, a visualization professor and CEO of Triseum, a game-based learning company that developed the game.

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