College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

The intersection of geotechnical engineering, game design, and learning

Geotec game board
Geotec game board

From “Geo-pardy” to “Geo-pong,” Civil Construction and Environmental Engineering’s Geotechnical and Materials group has implemented game design in CE 3600: Geotechnical Engineering.

Throughout the semester, civil engineering students build their geotechnical knowledge and understanding. As the coursework concludes, students work in teams to build an engaging geotechnical engineering-themed game. The teams design, test on audiences, and rework their games based on user feedback.

“Using creativity in technical courses goes beyond fun. Creative problem-solving skills, conveying complex ideas in consumable ways, and working collaboratively develop professional skills that are hard to learn without experiencing it first-hand,” said Associate Professor Cassandra Rutherford.

The games take geotechnical engineering reviews and transform the technical content into a fun and competitive experience. To truly create a game worth playing, Associate Professor at the College of Design Alenka Poplin taught students about the work that goes into effective design, consumer perspective, gameplay timing and communication.

Waker Cler, a junior in civil engineering, presented his Headbands-inspired game at a recent game night. Students, staff, and faculty tested the games and gave feedback for the next version. “This is the first time I have had to present information from a class in this way. It definitely made me think about things from a new perspective,” said Cler.

The geotechnical faculty group secured multiple grants from organizations like the United States Universities Council on Geotechnical Education and Research and the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, allowing students to create games at no cost.

This effort is in combination with a larger group of interdisciplinary faculty from colleges across the university in a program called Game2Work, driven to strengthen work and learning through game design, development, and research.