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Lessons Learned From Teaching Dynamic Systems And Control With A Video Game

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Computational Tools and Simulation II

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.844.1 - 14.844.12



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Paper Authors

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Brianno Coller Northern Illinois University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Lessons Learned from Teaching Dynamic Systems & Control with a Video Game


Playing digital games on personal computers and game consoles is a massively popular form of mediated entertainment, which is particularly effective at commanding the fascination and attention of adolescents, young adults, and some not-so-young adults. There is a growing number of education scholars who argue that video games (or at least the aspects that make them so engaging) should migrate into the classroom as well.

Since 2005, we have used a customized race car simulation game to teach a computational methods course to mechanical engineering undergraduates. The introduction of the game has been a demonstrable success. However, when we adapted the game-based instructional model to a different course, a dynamic systems and control course, the improvements, so far, have been less dramatic. In this paper, we re-think how a video game can be used to teach Dynamic Systems & Control.


In the Spring of 2008, we began teaching a core mechanical engineering course, Dynamic Systems & Control (DS&C), with a video game. At its heart, the video game is a sophisticated vehicle simulation that runs in real-time. On the surface, though, it has much of the look and feel of a commercial video game. A screen shot of the game, EduTorcs, is shown in Figure 1.

Students do not “play” the video game in the usual way. They interact with the game through a software interface. Instead of spending countless hours, joystick in hand, honing one’s eye-hand coordination and reaction skills, the mechanical engineering students improve their “driving” skills by applying engineering analysis to the problem. They write driving algorithms in C++, and their programs get linked to the game at run time. Although they drive a virtual car in a virtual world, students solve authentic engineering problems. To succeed in the game students must think and act like engineers.

We originally developed the game for use in a computational methods course. In that course students devise algorithms for driving the car as fast as possible around the track. In addition to steering, the driving programs needed to calculate optimal times to shift gears; to determine the maximum speed it could navigate corners; to compute the best time to begin braking before entering a turn; and much more. When the game was first introduced in the computational methods course in 2005, we saw immediate and dramatic improvements in learning outcomes.

Coller, B. (2009, June), Lessons Learned From Teaching Dynamic Systems And Control With A Video Game Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5374

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