Before I decided to become a journalist I dabbled in psychology as a major. One philosophy that stood out to me was the importance of play time. The premise: children learn through play. I bet if I were to take a course today, there would be a case study on the success the folks over at the University of Texas at Dallas are experiencing via teaching real-world science through a popular computer game.
According to Science Daily, the UT Dallas team -- including a materials scientist, two chemists and a game design expert -- describes how a group of 39 college students from diverse majors played an enhanced version of the popular video game Minecraft and learned chemistry in the process, despite being given no in-class science instruction.
In Polycraft World, gamers build and assemble things based on scientific principles that have been programmed by the research team.
Some of the Polycraft World gamers became surprisingly proficient in processes for which they had no prior instruction, says Dr. Walter Voit, who led the team.
"We've had complete non-chemists build factories to build polyether ether ketones, which are crazy hard to synthesize," notes Dr. Ron Smaldone, an assistant professor of chemistry who joined the project to give the mod its accuracy as a chemistry teaching tool.
Voit and Smaldone see Polycraft World as an early step on the road to a new format for learning without classroom instruction.
"The games that already exist mostly serve only as a companion to classroom learning," Smaldone said. "The goal here is to make something that stands alone."