RIT Wins Microsoft Research Grant to Assess Use of Computer Games in Curricula

Gaming integrated into introductory computer science and information technology courses

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Rochester Institute of Technology continues to capitalize on the popularity of the growing gaming industry by integrating games into its information technology and computer science curricula.

Microsoft Research recently selected RIT as one of six funded experiments, Assessing Games Across Introductory Computing Curricula, from a pool of 71 entries submitted by universities from around the world. The $80,000 grant, secured by Jessica Bayliss, RIT professor of computer science, and Andrew Phelps, RIT professor of information technology and director of game design and development in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, is the latest funding stream provided by Microsoft Research over the past several years.

In 2005, Bayliss developed a pilot program, Reality and Programming Together (RAPT), integrating game concepts into introductory computer science courses. Microsoft Research was a primary funder for the launch of the program. The goal is to increase student interest and retention rates in the computer science curriculum.

“One of the most often heard complaints in such courses is that they are divorced from the reality of the application,” says Bayliss. “Unfortunately, it is difficult to find areas for application that all students have background knowledge in and that are also challenging and engaging. We believe one such area is computer games. In our courses, we use various programming languages like C# and Java to teach algorithms and data structures while students study how they are used in games for graphics, audio and artificial intelligence.”

Rob Peaslee, a third-year RIT computer science student adds, “I like the lab exercises for a couple of reasons. The first and most important is they are challenging. This push to make me think about what I’m doing, and the collaboration with other students is incredible. The second reason I enjoy the lab exercises is because programming with an objective is a wonderful motivator, and seeing the results of what you are doing is instant positive feedback and inspiration to continue.”

Phelps’ collaborative virtual world, Multi-User Programming Pedagogy for Enhancing Traditional Study, known as MUPPETS, also caught the attention of Microsoft Research, winning a targeted funding award for $84,000 in 2005. MUPPETS educates students about programming and graphics. This virtual world is fostering collaborative relationships between undergraduate students at all class levels. Other universities such as University of California Santa Cruz and the University of Hawaii are using the MUPPETS technology in their computing curriculums.

“RIT has gained a great deal of visibility within Microsoft Research in the past several years due to the work of Jessica Bayliss and Andy Phelps,” says John Nordlinger, program manager for external relations and programs at Microsoft Research. “The development of the game programming environment MUPPETS and the integrated game curriculum Reality and Programming Together has created a synergy in producing better computer scientists. And because of that, RIT is outshining other universities and generating an abundance of highly skilled graduates for hire in the game industry and beyond.”

With this latest grant, Bayliss and Phelps will use various assessment tools to look at how both programs impact student retention rates.