Engineering game

Students from Bath University are using a computer car-racing game to help them to learn the principles of engineering.

The computer simulation game ’ Racing Academy’ allows first-year engineering students to theoretically design aspects of a racing car, such as the tyres, gearbox and engine, before racing it against a computer-generated car.

The teaching tool has now been analysed by psychologists and engineers at the university to gauge how effective gaming can be as a learning tool in undergraduate education.

Dr Richard Joiner, lecturer in psychology, and Dr Jos Darling, senior lecturer in mechanical engineering, carried out the research with the help of the game’s developers, Lateral Visions and Martin Owen at Futurelab.

Dr Jos Darling said: ’The game has been designed so that the emphasis is on the engineering rather than the driver’s skill.

’We also test their engineering knowledge before and after the game.

’We found that the game not only motivated the students to learn about engineering, but also helped team-building.’

RacingAcademyhelps students learn which aspects of car design affect performance by analysing data collected during the race.

This allows them to fine-tune their design to achieve optimum performance.

The students first practise individually and then compete against each other for the best time.

Dr Richard Joiner and Dr Jos Darling try out Racing Academy

Dr Ben Drew, a mechanical engineer at the university, and Jo Iacovides, now a PhD student at the Open University, implemented the software and carried out surveys and focus groups.

They found that not only did the students embrace computer gaming as part of their syllabus, but also confirmed it as a useful learning tool that led to a deeper understanding of the fundamental engineering principles involved.

The software, funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and Bath University Teaching Development Fund, was awarded the prestigious ’Best Application of Gaming & Simulation to Learning Prize’ at the IMS Global Learning Awards 2009, which took place in Barcelona last month.

The researchers hope to further develop the game to incorporate other aspects of engineering, such as fuel economy, into the racing-car design.