Collaborative success: TAMU students develop award-winning stormwater awareness game
When a group of students and faculty members from Texas A&M University’s Dwight Look College of Engineering wanted to develop a game to help the public understand stormwater runoff and what they could do to lessen the effects of that runoff, the group turned to Dr. Joshua Barbour, assistant professor of communications in the College of Liberal Arts.
“The public at large does not have a sense of personal responsibility or efficacy about stormwater sustainability and is not aware that their decisions about where to live, their landscaping, home construction, and adoption of LID (low impact development) technologies affects the amount of stormwater runoff,” Barbour said.
The goal of the team’s research, funded by a $10,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, was to investigate how the average person perceives engineering information and environmental policies, and then test an online game to raise awareness about stormwater sustainability and encourage sustainable choices.
Dr. Emily Zechman, civil engineering assistant professor and a principal investigator on the project, says the research project was as much about how to communicate to a lay audience as it was about the science involved.
“The question we wanted to answer was, ‘How effective are games and new metrics for raising awareness about sustainability of water?’” Zechman said.
She said they needed civil engineering expertise to construct realistic flooding scenarios and to provide the background about how engineers typically measure the effects of new buildings and parking lots on downstream streams and lakes. Liberal Arts expertise was needed to help design a game or quiz that would be fun and instructional, and computer engineering expertise was required to implement the quiz.
The result of the group’s collaboration was an online game in which participants learned how their current living arrangements affected stormwater runoff. In fall 2010, Barbour worked with the engineering team to design a pre- and post-test experiment about stormwater runoff and sustainable home building and landscaping choices.
The experiment involved testing the game with 510 Texas A&M students during the spring 2011 semester. Barbour said different versions of the game were administered to test which stormwater measurement metric was better understood by the students. He found that playing the online game did increase knowledge about stormwater and improved attitudes towards environmentally friendly development.
“The broader impacts of this research are that the project demonstrated that computational games can be used to change attitudes and awareness about scientific issues related to sustainability,” Barbour said.
The project’s student team of Tommi Jo Scott, Alyssa Politte, Sam Collard, Sean Saathoff, Jenna Kromann, and Marcio Giacomoni won first place in their category for undergraduate posters in Texas A&M University Student Research Week. Politte, a civil engineering major, also won the 2011 Best Thesis Award as a Texas A&M Undergraduate Research Scholar.
The team also entered EPA’s P3 competition held on the national mall and earned Honorable Mention recognition.